Putting Science to work in Art


Quasi brick, Blind Pavillion, Venice. Photo: Olafur Eliasson Studio

A&D graduate Andreas Eggertsen reports from an old train station filled with creativity in the heart of Berlin – the studio of visual artist Olafur Eliasson – reflecting on the application of his engineering approach in the work with art and architecture:

I started to work for Olafur Eliasson in Berlin one and a half years ago. Now when it has been time to move on I can look back on a very rewarding time, where I had the joy to work with space from an artist’s point of view, which opened my eyes on what is aesthetically pleasing. I learned to observe and to focus on spatial experiences as point of origin for design of spaces and objects with a story. To have followed the process from the first sketch to finished artwork made me realize that there is so much to learn.

But also that I could come far on enthusiasm and the sheer joy of being there on the edge, where I had to use all the spectrum of my education and my ambitions as an architect, not to forget that it is just as rewarding to live and breathe in a different culture, to meet new interesting people and to enjoy the pulse of a mega-city, where I was overpowered by impressions, where there always were something to use as inspiration. The feeling that I was not just reading about what was going on, but actually saw it with my own eyes was addictive and a never drying well for creativity.

Olafur’s ability to observe a phenomenon in our everyday life and show it to us in a spectacular and beautiful way, to ask questions about our presence and always incorporating the viewer in the experience are keys to understand his universe. Olafur is using the latest technologies, working with highly specialized people and always using contemporary know-how to realize his ideas. He is constantly searching for an object, an effect, a texture, a geometry, etc. that can be used in a new way, in order to create a beautiful experience.

Combining research and playfulness, he is jumping between macro- and micro-cosmos, crossing boundaries and pulling knowledge from all possible angles and disparate areas, always on the look out with his never ceasing curiosity. This is why the work of Olafur, in my point of view, is the essence of the ambition of A&D and why I could find a role to play in the studio.


Quasi brick, Blind Pavillion, Venice. Photo: Olafur Eliasson Studio

The studio is an environment for research and creative work, with architects, art-historians, craftsmen, artists, administrative personnel and numerous loosely connected people with special competences. The team is very devoted and there is a special atmosphere. The mixture of different cultural backgrounds from all over the world and a burning passion for art and architecture contributes to the feeling of crossing boundaries, challenging prejudices and keeping the mind open and alert. I found that the qualifications that I had developed in Aalborg were very well suited for this environment and that I could contribute with something different, something useful. That I was trained in a scientific way with a very methodical approach was very helpful in the versatile projects that I was involved in.

Like when we got an e-mail from Tadao Ando’s team regarding the project Olafur had proposed for Mr. Obayashi’s house in Japan, an artwork for the atrium of his new home/museum, just after they had started the construction of the piece. The idea was as simple as effect-full; to clad the entire atrium with platinum glazed quasi-bricks. Mr. Obayashi and Tadao Ando really liked the suggestion and the project had run smoothly until that point. The idea of the quasi brick is that it is an expression of high complexity. The quasi brick is a space filling geometry based on “fivefold symmetry”, a mathematical description of a quasi-chaotic geometry, which was found by a physicist in the 80´s.

The bricks can be rotated into 6 different positions, and put together randomly they create a very complex pattern. As the Japanese are a very thorough people they were not pleased when the construction had started and we had not supplied them with a list of how each brick should be rotated. As there were thousands of bricks, we had not figured out a way to indicate the exact rotation of each and every brick and thought that it would be easier for the construction workers to rotate the bricks themselves on site.

We did not realize that the Japanese were going to be so confused by this. They could simply not work without a drawing that showed them exactly what to do. So when we received this e-mail we got a bit frustrated. The construction had already started and in order not to delay the entire project we had to supply them with new and accurate drawings the following day.

To draw the rotation of each brick in Autocad would take us a week of work, so we had to figure out something else. We were getting a bit stressed, trying out different ideas to create a diagram that could illustrate the rotation of each brick, when the idea to use Matlab appeared to generate a random series of numbers from 1-6 dispersed over as many rows and columns as intended in the design. The numbers were then pasted into the Autocad file and soon the diagram was drawn and we could send the drawings before dawn.

This small episode is an example of how a scientific approach and the usefulness of the tools that we are taught at the university can give a unique ability to solve problems. With Olafur’s ambition to decode the geometrical harmonies of plants and animals and to use the underlying laws of nature to construct interesting patterns, which creates an echo of something organic that we can identify ourselves with, I found myself well adapted to the task.

What I believe is our force and what we can contribute with, is an ability to incorporate and think methodically, to be able to ask an interesting question, to use the tools of the scientist and to turn that into something aesthetically pleasing that reverberates in the soul. The fact that we are not afraid of science, but using science to create something new, beautiful and extraordinary, can be very refreshing and mind opening, but it also takes a vigilant mind to constantly challenge prejudices, preconceptions and the positivistic universe. Math and physics are mere tools that are at our hands in order to enhance the quality of the process and to understand and communicate with the special competences that are needed to realize an extraordinary project, not the goal in itself.

See more on: www.olafureliasson.net


One comment

  1. Pingback: Olafur Eliasson ind i Ando… « RASMUS BRØNNUM

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