The Binary Large Object of Blob Architecture

Architect Greg Lynn and Blobitecture

free-flowing multi-story building covered with silver discs, openings on the narrow end
Selfridges Department Store in Birmingham, England, 2003, Future Systems Design. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images (cropped)

Blob architecture is a type of wavy, curvy building design without traditional edges or traditional symmetric form. It is made possible by computer-aided-design (CAD) software. American-born architect and philosopher Greg Lynn (b. 1964) is credited with coining the phrase, although Lynn himself claims the name comes from a software feature that creates Binary Large Objects.

The name has stuck, often disparagingly, in various forms, including blobism, blobismus, and blobitecture.

Examples of Blob Architecture

These buildings have been called early examples of blobitecture:

CAD Design on Steroids

Mechanical drawing and drafting changed radically with the advent of desktop computing. CAD software was one of the very first applications to be used in offices transitioning to personal computer workstations in the early 1980s. Wavefront Technologies developed the OBJ file (with the .obj file extension) to geometrically define three-dimensional models.

Greg Lynn and Blob Modeling

Ohio-born Greg Lynn came of age during the digital revolution. "The term Blob modelling was a module in Wavefront software at the time," says Lynn, "and it was an acronym for Binary Large Object — spheres that could be collected to form larger composite forms. At the level of geometry and mathematics, I was excited by the tool as it was great for making large-scale single surfaces out of many small components as well as adding detailed elements to larger areas."

Other architects who were the first to experiment with and use blob modeling include the American Peter Eisenman, British architect Norman Foster, Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas, Frank Gehry,  Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, and Jan Kaplický and Amanda Levete.

Architectural movements, such as the 1960s Archigram led by architect Peter Cook or the convictions of the deconstructionists, are often associated with blob architecture. Movements, however, are about ideas and philosophy. Blob architecture is about a digital process — using mathematics and computer technologies to design.

Mathematics and Architecture

Ancient Greek and Roman designs were based on geometry and architecture. Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius observed relationships of human body parts — the nose to the face, the ears to the head — and documented the symmetry and proportion. Today's architecture is more calculus-based using digital tools.

Calculus is the mathematical study of changes. Greg Lynn argues that since the Middle Ages architects have used calculus — "the Gothic moment in architecture was the first time that force and motion was thought of in terms of form." In Gothic details such as ribbed vaulting "you can see that the structural forces of the vaulting get articulated as lines, so you're really actually seeing the expression of structural force and form."

"Calculus is also a mathematics of curves. So, even a straight line, defined with calculus, is a curve. It's just a curve without inflection. So, a new vocabulary of form is now pervading all design fields: whether it's automobiles, architecture, products, etc., it's really being affected by this digital medium of curvature. The intricacies of scale that come out of that — you know, in the example of the nose to the face, there's a fractional part-to-whole idea. With calculus, the whole idea of subdivision is more complex, because the whole and the parts are one continuous series." —  Greg Lynn, 2005

Today's CAD has enabled the building of designs that were once theoretical and philosophical movements. Powerful BIM software now allows designers to visually manipulate parameters, knowing that Computer Aided Manufacturing software will keep track of the building components and how they are to be assembled.

Perhaps because of the unfortunate acronym used by Greg Lynn, other architects such as Patrik Schumacher have coined a new word for new software — parametricism.

Books by and About Greg Lynn

  • Folds, Bodies & Blobs: Collected Essays by Greg Lynn, 1998
  • Animate Form by Greg Lynn, 1999
  • Composites, Surfaces, and Software: High Performance Architecture, Greg Lynn at the Yale School of Architecture, 2011
  • Visual Catalog: Greg Lynn's Studio at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, 2010
  • IOA Studios. Zaha Hadid, Greg Lynn, Wolf D. Prix: Selected Student Works 2009, Architecture is Pornography
  • Other Space Odysseys: Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan and Alessandro Poli, 2010
  • Greg Lynn FORM by Greg Lynn, Rizzoli, 2008
  • Sources
  • Greg Lynn - Biography, European Graduate School website at www.egs.edu/faculty/greg-lynn/biography/ [accessed March 29, 2013]
  • Greg Lynn on calculus in architecture, TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design), February 2005, https://www.ted.com/talks/greg_lynn_on_organic_design
  • Photo of The Sage by Paul Thompson/Photolibrary Collection/Getty Images
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Craven, Jackie. "The Binary Large Object of Blob Architecture." ThoughtCo, Nov. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-blob-architecture-blobitecture-177203. Craven, Jackie. (2017, November 19). The Binary Large Object of Blob Architecture. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-blob-architecture-blobitecture-177203 Craven, Jackie. "The Binary Large Object of Blob Architecture." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-blob-architecture-blobitecture-177203 (accessed December 18, 2017).