LAWRENCE LEKOpinion

Unlimited Edition – Design Museum Designer in Residence 2012

At the AA I was fascinated by how urban interventions could change our perception of our environment, and how modular structures could contribute to the evolution of the city. In the past decade we’ve seen the emergence of the ‘pop-up’ installation as a kind of public platform within the city, such as cinemas and other collective spaces.  While writers like Iain Sinclair talk about the hidden aspects of London and its transformation during the Olympics, I wanted to materialise these invisible forces using a very direct expression of material, giving some kind of response to the unregulated texture of the city.

 

The bent plywood modules
Image credit: Lawrence Lek

 

For the Design Museum’s 2012 Designer-in-Residence commission, I created ‘Unlimited Edition’, a series of bent-plywood modules that combine to form objects and environments that users can customize into pavilions and urban installations. By referencing psychological Rorschach tests, which ask subjects to interpret unfamiliar inkblot shapes based on things they already know, I wanted to incorporate the element of subjectivity into the organic structures that compose the project.

 

The translation from ink blot to plywood
Image credit: Lawrence Lek

One thing I found difficult just after leaving the academic world is making prototypes, when you are caught between digital fabrication and labour-intensive manual craftsmanship.  There’s something very seductive about the perfection of machine-made objects, but sometimes making things by hand is the quickest way. In a place like the AA, access to workshops means that you can make decisions about fabrication spontaneously. With the luxury of resources available in school, sometimes the work produced can be extravagant in its use of materials and its formal expression. Once you graduate, even simple things like cutting a steel rod or fabricating a test piece suddenly become much more difficult.

 

The pavilion installed at the Design Museum
Image credit: Luke Hayes

 

Fortunately, the residency gave me the chance to treat my proposal just like a Diploma project. I constructed numerous models using paper and thin plywood to experiment with form before progressing to full-size pieces. By combining digital design techniques, such as computer controlled CNC routing and laser cutting with hand assembly, I customized the modules to expand or contract, soaking each piece in water before it is bent and braced in place while it dries. The full-size modules were made from a single cut of standard 8-feet tall plywood sheets, minimizing costly fabrication time. By working with the inherent symmetry of the material, which bends along the grain of the wood, I was able to achieve a consistent molding of modules. The shell-like shapes provided rigidity while allowing them to be stacked for transportation and storage. When assembled together, they create pavilions, spaces and usable objects that invite the user to nurture individual responses to their new environment.

Looking up inside the pavilion
Image credit: Lawrence Lek

 

The idea for the pavilion is essentially an object in a space, but one that you can enter at the same time. At the AA there is a tradition of building pavilions, where the structures mediate between, the school, Bedford Square and London. I conceived ‘Unlimited Edition’ with an interior quality that frames the city from the inside – where the city becomes an object rather than the other way around. During the residency, I moved into a studio in the White Building, a new arts and technology centre in Hackney Wick. There, across the canal from the Olympic Park, I assembled “Unlimited Edition” into a pavilion, a platform for other activities to happen, into the beginnings of a new city. I’m still working on it…

 

Unlimited Edition – “A platform for other activities to happen”
Image credit: Lawrence Lek

 

For more information:

Lawrence Lek

Designer in Residence 2012 movie