The Berlage Archive: Thom Mayne (1996)

In this 1996 lecture Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne describes his views of architectural theory and his unique approach to the architectural process at a time when firms had begun the transition to 3D digital models. As one of the founders of Santa Monica based firm Morphosis, Mayne speaks about the evolution of their built and unbuilt projects in the late 70s and early 80s by giving insights into three general topics including objects, context, and the role of nature in architecture. His discussion touches on everything from music and art, to philosophical questions regarding the process of architecture and its role in society.

In the development of his first projects, Mayne reveals a preoccupation with objects, their materials, and their relationship to the craft of architecture. He also describes how context shapes his designs, using the example of his Sixth Street House of 1983. For him, the project's site in Los Angeles was particularly influential to his work in the way that it is a “prototype of the modern metropolis” in which “…there’s no inside, there’s no outside, there’s no way of perceiving it, its growing, its moving, its changing, quicker than one can absorb it.” These notions of context were reflected in many later works, and tied into his interest in “the space between randomness and order.”

For his third theme of the lecture, he explains how his first project outside an urban area led to the discovery of new theoretical territories and the role of nature in architecture. Throughout the lecture, he displays many analog forms of representation and briefly reveals his thoughts on the transition to computer drawings in the 90s. Describing these early computer models Mayne states, “I refuse to call these drawings because computers don’t draw, they do something else.” These digital models were already becoming an important part of his practice, and would later serve an integral function in developing many of the complex geometries in his work. 

To introduce his own creative approach, he describes a housing project in Vienna as an example of his experimentation with auto-generative processes. He relates this type of creative process to that of Jackson Pollock’s method of throwing paint and examining the results. For him, this method resulted in a departure from Euclidean geometries in many of his works. Perhaps some of the most engaging topics of conversation happen during the question and answer session in which Mayne repeatedly touches on the difficulty of describing something as ephemeral as architecture without words or preconceived notions of theory.

Don’t miss the other lectures in The Berlage Archive series:

ArchDaily has teamed up with the The Berlage to provide exclusive access to their newly digitized archive of lectures. The Berlage is a postgraduate international institute where some of the world’s most renowned architects, thinkers, designers, photographers and other professionals come to share, exchange and critically reflect upon their ideas. Over the last 23 years, The Berlage has built up an extensive archive of seminal lectures. Thanks to this partnership we can now share them with you. ArchDaily is committed to providing inspiration and knowledge to architects all over the world, so please look forward to monthly publications of these lectures during the coming year.

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Cite: Evan Rawn. "The Berlage Archive: Thom Mayne (1996)" 22 Sep 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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