DEFORMATION

May 19, 2010
marshmallow fabricforming
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman, 1984 (source)
The Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology, University of Manitoba (source)

 

Monsters rely on the process of deformation to produce fright. Vampires and their exaggerated incisers, Frankenstein with his ungainly proportions and bolted neck. Even the lexicon of naturally aggressive and cruel beasts that lurk on this world—the piranha, the great white shark, the gorilla, the tarantula—benefit from deformations by authors and directors in order to make them appear even more vicious. In James Cameron’s directorial debut, Piranha 2, the piranha’s have sprouted wings, allowing them to nip at victims in flight. The deformation also injects frightening qualities into otherwise harmless and inanimate objects, such as the lowly marshmallow that transforms into the one hundred foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the original Ghostbusters film.

 

In architecture, the use of the deformation is no less frightening. The great medieval cathedrals of Europe, whose slender towers extended to ever jarring heights, pushing the sublime to its limits, and sometimes falling down in the process. The American skyscrapers that reached for the skies, while reaching for profits. The mall, whose massive footprint smashed together the traditional main street and the amusement park. These are just some of the typological monsters that resulted from the deformation of common architectural types.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

Deformation is regularly used by contemporary formalist architects as a way of manipulating architectural elements into performing with a certain specificity for a given set of parameters. Does this pursuit of specificity result in an architecture which is necessary, useful, or functional to the user, or are deformations applied for the sake of creating complexity without any particular reason beyond satisfying the architect’s subjective aesthetic desires? While deformations are a popular method of tailoring architecture, they do not always serve a public need.

 

One instance where deformations satisfy both the architect’s ideals and the greater benefits of the design process is in the work of Mark West and his Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology at the University of Manitoba. His concrete structures and experiments are made using a flexible fabric mold which stretches and puckers under the weight imposed by the wet material. While his fabric forming approach fulfills an individual’s vision of beauty, it also creates a sustainable, resource efficient formwork for casting concrete.

 

Erandi de Silva

 

 

 

 

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