Architectural Theory

Some Conjectures on the Interdependence
of Architecture and Design

Tom Steinert

In recent years we can observe a new kind of buildings intruding into the cities here and there. They are somehow familiar to us from the time of modernity, but at the same time they appear somehow unfamiliar and novel. Mostly these buldings are completely glazed, and they are telling the observer little about their function and utilisation. These buildings have in common an apparent demand for distancing themselves from the built environment around them. They indulge themselves in the novel, which lets the new buildings appear even newer and the other buildings exceedingly dated. – And somehow this new kind of buildings reminds one of the design of digital devices, smartphones and tablet PCs.

There was a time before, when new technologies and methods in industrial design provided the measure what architecture was modern or not: the machine age. The large and airy station halls of the railway, built from iron and glass, intruded into the cities and demonstrated the obsolescence of the densely built city centres. The painter Max Liebermann is supposed to have said about the Berlin Cathedral (1905), ›Very nice, very nice. Everything can be twisted off‹ – which is an indication of the parallels between architectural and industrial design of a certain era.

Also today technology is obviously determining architectural and industrial design. The introduction of so-called splines and NURBSs into 3d modelling software spread the possibilities to create curved or ›organic‹ designs. So it comes that a car may look like a current vacuum cleaner and a trendy detached house like a bicycle helmet.

It seems as if in a next step and returning to more geometric designs, a new kind of buildings emulates the design of the widely-used digital devices. This design is characterised by large, reflective glass displays, rounded corners, opacity and a kind of minimal design which expresses ›elegant simplicity‹. Examples are the multifunctional building at Vörösmarty Tér in Budapest by György Fazakas (2007) and the MuCEM in Marseilles by Rudy Ricciotti (2013).

The lecture will conjecture on the interdependence of architectural and industrial design. It will offer possible approaches which are apt to elucidate the phenomenon of these buildings which one could denominate as ›smartphone architecture‹ at a first glance. Besides, a new view of some buildings designed during the last 40 years seems to be possible.

Biographical Notes
Tom Steinert (Dr.-Ing.) holds a diploma (2003) and a doctor’s degree (2012) in Architecture. From 2004 to 2012 he worked as an academic assistant at the Chair of Urban Design II at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Since 2013 he is working at the Chair of Architectural Theory at the Technische Universität Berlin. His doctoral thesis Complex Perception and Modern Urban Design was accorded the Wolfgang Metzger Award 2013, and the Theodor Fischer Award 2013. His research is situated at the intersection of architecture, urban design, art history, psychology of perception, contemporary artistic positions, and the history of science and ideas.



Technische Universität Berlin
Institute for Architecture
Chair of Architectural Theory

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