Thom Mayne & Neil Denari Lecture at UCLA

10/26/09 – On the Cusp Lecture Series – Neil Denari and Thom Mayne gave a joint lecture followed by a very interesting conversation between the two of them. Hitoshe Abe introduced them as each being on the edge of architecture and by coming together that evening, “form some kind of cusp”. haha Also he congratulated Thom for being appointed to serve on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

I have always been an admirer of these two great architects. Working as a member of the Exhibition Crew my sophomore year, I was not in the undergraduate architecture program yet but I learned the names of all the faculty by checking them off the VIP lists for private events. I met Thom at his Madrid Now exhibition and book signing 2 years ago. I sat next to him selling his book and made sure his wine never ran out. I found that he was a warm, gregarious guy who loved students.

A year later,when I was a junior in the ug arch program, I met Neil at a dinner with Benjamin Ball and other faculty following his lecture. A little nervous about what I was supposed to do or say, he was also quite welcoming and I enjoyed hearing his portrayal of his younger self as a nerdy tinkerer from suburb somewhere.

Neil Denari organized his lecture into “A few relatively super-hard and fast rules at NMDA”. Here are a few of them: Shrinkwrap vague things. Avoid freeform curves. There is always another option. Avoid the commercial by not sellig out. Be precise so as to avoid attracting attention.

I really liked the fact that he showed us a previous scheme for the Taipei Performing Arts Center competition. He said that the reason why they didn’t continue with it wasn’t because of the fact that it was bright pink and orange (because they had enough nerve to do that), but programmatically, it wasn’t woking. So they had to abandon that grid and start over which was fine because there is always another solution. Neil also talked about the MUFG series, renovations he did for a bank with beautiful interiors and high-end finishings.

NDMA's final design for the Taipei Performing Arts Center Competition

MUFG Nagoya


Thom talked about a few of his past projects including the Cooper Union building and the Giant Campus for a pharmaceutical company in Shanghai. It was very interesting that he addressed creating systems that have their own logic and can acoomodate expansion and proliferate while I am taking Studio I and trying to develop my own logic for designing a house. The stair in Cooper Union is on its own grid and the stair’s connection to each floor is unique as a result of the deformed and changing grid. I found one thing that Thom said to be really interesting. He said that while creating systems that address different parts of a building, even though they might not fit beautifully together and at times they are quite tangent to each other, it was okay because it is the way he made the system and that is how he wants it. This is the reason why his buildings he says always had a slightly awkward characteristic to them. Later in the discussion Neil asked Thom “Aren’t you worried that people don’t find your buildings ugly anymore?” hahaha

Dana Cuff asked Thom that since he has become so comfortable with creating systems that design buildings, what is the largest scale he would be willing to do, to which Thom replied that he was very comfortable with the Shanghai Building and he’d be willing to push it even further. And of course we can’t wait to see that happen!

Cooper Union Stairs with lights in it!

You can see the white twisted grid that the stair follows

Model of how roof, glass and hanging structure for air conditioning fit together in the Giant Campus

Structural system of the Giant Campus - model of every last stick!


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