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American Institute of Architects

Change or perish

on integrated
Remarks on building information modeling
at the 2005 AIA Convention, Las Vegas


Change or perish

Thom Mayne FAIA

Morphosis, Santa Monica, CA
Change or perish


May 20, 2005

Now its a great honor
and pleasure to introduce
our last panelist, 2005
Thom Mayne FAIA

Pritzker Prize winner,

Thom Mayne, Principal,
Morphosis. Thom.

Thom: Nice to be here this morning.

Morphosis, Santa Monica, CA

You need to prepare yourself
for a profession that youre not going
to recognize a decade from now,
that the next generation is going to
occupy. Our work begins with
desire, initiated by us as architects
not only in response to our
clients, but in response to something
much more active and engaged.
After 25 years, our projects conceptualize This is the San Francisco GSA in process today. One
collisions, intersections, intensications, and of our performance goals for this project is
juxtapositions, inventing conditions for represented by my wifes Honda hybrid. You can
an architecture we couldnt imagine. Ive always get 75 miles a gallon sailing this car; the key
been interested in the processes of archi- word is sailing, not driving. This car uses state-of-
tecture that are imbedded in the invention of the-art technology. This is what we should
something that you couldnt get to without demand of our work as architects, proactively: in-
that process, and of course the computer really creasing performance, responding to shifting
advances those ideas. The tools we now world conditions. This buildings envelope utilizes
utilize simplify these potentialities and make a dynamic, metabolic skin. It opens and closes.
them logical, allowing us to produce spaces Like the car, a hybrid, it replaces 70 percent of the
that even ten years ago would have been difcult AC demand with natural ventilation, a rst
to conceive, much less build. Anything that for a tall building in this country. We did no two-
is possible is realizable. Our conceptual thinking dimensional drawings for this project.
is increasingly embedding tectonic, construc- Three-dimensional models provided a continuity
tional, and material design parameters. from the initial concept to construction documents.
Less emphasis on designing in the traditional The design model connects directly with the
sensestyling, lets sayand more emphasis Permasteelisa Group, which continued through the
on making. design process, blurring the line between
the architect and sub-contractor. The model feeds
directly into prototyping; and nally, into the
fabrication and assembly of the construction. This
environment is no longer linear. It allows us
to continually move back and forth between micro
and macro. Think of Charles and Ray Eames
and The Powers of Ten.
We see landform as a diagram for architecture,
a departure point, Michael Heizers Double Negative
for example. We invent, imagine our work three-
dimensionally. Our organizations and forms are inter-
ested only in what is possible with these new
tools. There exists a new medium, a continuity, a ow
of thinking, a design methodology which is
more cohesive from the rst generative idea, through
construction, coordinating millions of bits of
discrete data. This is our courthouse in Eugene. The time
compression of digital models allowed us to pro-
I have an ofce that I couldnt even imagine ten
years ago. We can produce these kinds of
duce a large number of alternative concepts, models every evening and work at a pace thats
responding to the demands of a complex set of much more connected to how we think, both
variables programmatic, urban, and human. in terms of detailing and large issues and in terms
Youre looking at a series of models we did, maybe of the speed that we want to move at, since
45 of them. There would be times where I our minds are always moving much quicker than
would analyze one of these and work with it. We the mechanical aspects of the work. Here
would put it into a rapid-prototyping-model- you see the same model developed from the point
making machine at 9 oclock at night, come in at 7 of view of building systems. The courtrooms
in the morning, look at it, work on it, draw on represent a kind of critical mass, which represents
it. Wed spend a day at it and then go at it again. In a density of interacting systems. What these
this case, we did maybe 34, 35 models within a systems do is allow us to deal proactively with a
2 month period, which radically changes our ability huge number of integrative acts within a
to look at huge numbers of options. The key is complex building. From this output, we can analyze
that this integrated process allows us to maintain each building system in isolation with a high
the integrity of our evolving design ideas. level of specicity, starting from the structural sys-
In this project, we wanted uidity of connections, tems, solving the connection details and
which we translated into surfaces representing the distribution of mechanical systems. The duct
the iconic status of our court, which we tested and work is fabricated from these models, also the
modeled, both virtually and physically, using building envelope, which is the most architecturally
the same medium. Again, we used rapid-proto- challenging aspect of this particular project in
typing; hands are not touching this. terms of its geometry and mathematics and nally
its fabrication. All this leads to a completed
work, which translates into value, anticipating and
solving issues of a complex, integrative nature.

I end where I began, acknowledging the innite

potential of our architecture imagining, creating,
transforming, emerging from our desires
and our imagination. Anything you can imagine is
possible. Thank you.
Q: What one message should
every practicing architect take
home from this session?

Q: By what means can the architects A: Survival. If you want to survive,

in this audience accelerate youre going to have to change.
their understanding of this new If you dont change, youre going to
technology and all its implications perish. Simple as that. Its such
for practice? a basic thing. You will not practice
architecture if youre not up to
A: Gestalt. Total Gestalt. speed with this. You will absolutely
not practice architecture in
We computerized our ofce just ten years. I have no doubt about it,
a little over ten years ago. It no question. Its changing very
was a hunch on my part. It was also rapidly. My ofce doesnt resemble
about understanding survival. what it did fteen years ago.
I had no clue what to do. None. But Its a completely different ofce.
my instinct was that this was Different staff, different skill sets,
more of a revolutionary thing taking One of the problems with our different time sequences,
place, not an evolutionary thing. professiona problem that has different services. Its going to put
This wasnt just a better machine to made it somewhat weak us back as builders, which
do what we were already doing is that its so overly invested in is the absolute key. I graduated in
manually. It was something that incredibly antiquated ideas 1969. Since then architecture has
would completely and totally and style and history and notions been eviscerated. Were cake
affect the way we think and con- that should have been gone decorators, were stylists. If youre
ceive architecture, also the a hundred years ago. We should not dealing in the direct perform-
way we produce it and document- concentrate on the reality of ance of a work and if youre not
ing it for constructionthe way what architecture is in a modern building it and taking responsibility
we think about it for construction. society, and how it performs in for it, and standing behind
The most important thing is that society environmentally, your product, you will not exist as a
to understand that it isnt just culturally, socially, and politically. profession. We agree, yeah?
about the nature of how we Thats where the discussion
put together our packages. It has has to start. These tools let us
to do with a complete rethinking align desires with demands.
of our work. It can come from
several different directions. It has I havent drawn a plan for ve years.
to do with making an architecture, I go to schools now that are still
which has a complexity, which drawing plans and sections, and I
has demands, formal demands have no idea what to talk about.
that can only be executed with Because once you start getting used
these types of tools. For example, to these tools, its like ying a jet
the Frank Gehry model, which plane and then going back and ying
hes done so successfully it can a prop. Even though youre doing
also come from increasing the it for some nostalgic reason it would
performance requirement, like that be impossible to get used to y-
car I showed. ing from Los Angeles to New York in
ten hours. Once you get used to
working three-dimensionally, theres
no going back. It represents a
new totality.