Cecil Balmond

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Informal review:

The Architect Renzo Piano once spoke of a book that he liked so much that he carried it around until all of its pages fell out. Cecil Balmond has written such a book: “Informal.”

Cowritten with Januzzi Smith, the tome is a visual and idea-filled tour de force. This isn’t your stuffy architectural historian’s coffee table book. It instead brims with ideas and dilemmas. Charles Jencks points out in a thoughtful introduction “that whenever there’s a revolution, or fast change, in architecture, professional barriers break down as specialists change roles.” He continues: “Architects become sculptors, and enigineers become designers, artists turn into architects, and all these job descriptions become fuzzy. This happened in the Early Renaissance, during the building of the dome for Florence Cathedral, when Ghiberti and Brunelleschi switched professions from goldsmith to sculptor and artist to architect.”

Balmond is a participant in this great adventure. An engineer by training, he is originally from Sri Lanka, a country known more for its tea. Mr. Balmond is one of the partners at the legendary engineering firm Ove Arup in London. He has worked with many of the world’s leading architects on some of the most interesting Architecture of our time and this book is a log of some of these projects.

But why write a book?

Balmond recounts the story of Thomas Telford, the designer of the first structural iron bridge, “He was in a coach that broke down. He got down, fixed the problem and then wasn’t allowed back inside, having got his hands dirty and revealed himself an artisan. That summed it up for me.”

Balmond said that engineers have historically been looked down upon as the profession that does other people’s dirty work.

He wrote the book to educate people and fight this misconception. The designers Michelle Januzzi and Richard Smith assisted Balmond. The layout of the book is remarkable — it’s colorful and put together with a picturesque-like informality that keeps it fresh. The designers justified all the text on the space between the fourth and the fifth word in a line.

There is an introduction, 14 chapters and an appendix.

One of the first chapters is on Rem Koolhaas’ Bordeaux Villa for a couple and their children. The first that thing you notice are the illustrations — there’s a sepia of the vines and the view from the hill where the house is situated and more importantly there are Balmond’s sketched diagrams. One victim of the dot com/computer age is the sketch. I was once asked by the Prairie Avenue Bookstore if I had any sketches that they could include in their catalog. All the architects they talked to stopped sketching. Perhaps that’s the case in Chicago, but in London the sketch is still a valued currency. (And they’re not the “pretty” drawings we were tautght in school but, rather, are expository in their intent.) Balmond describes the site and then the task of “levitating” the building. His sketches tell a story of a master who can accimplish something 10 different ways. He and Koolhaas decide on a strategy of rest the box or culvert on 2 supports, one in compression and one in tension. Then came the nitty gritty of loads and calculations. The plot thickens because the Virendeel beam require to stiffen the box was too deep and made the project untenable. Balmond went back to drawing board:

“We decided to start fresh, drawing the simple culvert shape again; I restated the dimensions as if the questions against it had never been. Perhaps it was just the renewed focus that helped, for things quickly fell into place. The slabs worked, the beams worked. Conduits, slots for door slides, drainage falls, free edge deflections, were all somehow solved. We were back on track. What had all the fuss been about?”

It takes a master to take a complex and challenging problem and make it look easy. In reality it wasn’t; but it is fascinating to watch this process play itself out. And it shows how Balmond, an engineer, has a very large hand in designing and more imporatntly making this building. link til text

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A+U 2006-10-30, 312 sider

Bogens Indhold:

Essays by Cecil Balmond
Deep Structure
Structure as Music
Informal
Definition
Span
Grid
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2005
Centre Pompidou, Metz
Forest Park Pavilion
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002
Taichung Metropolitan Opera House
Grand Egyptian Museum
The Generative Line
Chemnitz Stadium
Portuguese National Pavilion Expo 1998
Arnhem Centraal
Chavasse Park
V&A Spiral
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2001
Coimbra Footbridge
Penn Bridge
Marsyas
Numbers
Portuguese Pavilion Expo 2000
St Francois d�fAssise ? Olivier Messiaen
S-Project
AGU (Advanced Geometry Unit)
Research
2D Tiling
2D Packing
3D Tiling
3D Packing
Voronoi/Delaunay
Reciprocal Networks
Folding
Branching
Knotting
Implied Surface
N-Dimensional Objects
Projects
Flux Room
Tensegrity Bridge
Installation for Louis Vuitton
British Pavilion, Venice Art Biennale 2003
Grotto
Alishan Bridge
Marina Bridge
Qatar Education City Monuments
Penn Opera
Teaching
Research Studio and Seminars at Penn
James Stirling ? A Look Back
Toyo Ito ? A Look Forward
Interview with Toyo Ito:
�eCecil Balmond, Architecture Liberated by Geometry�f
Battersea Power Station Redevelopment
Masterplan
Twist
Crystal
Weave
The Power Station
West Hotel
Residential Complex
Landscape
Lighting
Delirium
Bibliotheque de Jussieu, Togok Towers, UN City
Comments from Rem Koolhaas
Kunsthal
Congrexpo (Lille Grand Palais)
Maison a Bordeaux
Seattle Central Library
Casa da Musica
CCTV New Headquarters
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2006
Biography and Chronology
Credits

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In Number 9, he has written a book about mathematics that will appeal to those with even just a cursory knowledge of the field, but more so to people who are frustrated with numbers. In the search for the sigma code, Balmond is accompanied by Enjil, a fictional master of numbers who believes that math need not be difficult. The secret lies in sigma, a single-digit number derived by adding the integers of any number: 32’s sigma is 5 (3+2), 123’s sigma is 6 (1+2+3), 99’s sigma is 9 (9+9=18; 1+8=9), … Along the way the sigma code is revealed as an imprint for all numbers, number 9 being the number around which all other numbers flow, as well as a boundary for the same. While this may sound enigmatic, Balmond explains this conclusion both through math and visualizations (the cover’s background being one such), the latter making his ideas easy to understand and extremely convincing.  


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