Faculty member Geoffrey von Oeyen was recently awarded a 2014 Architectural League Prize from the Architectural League of New York. The Prize is an annual juried portfolio competition for North American architects and designers ten years or less out of school. von Oeyen is one of six individuals/firms being honored for a body of work that addresses this year’s theme, Overlay.
“It’s exciting to see work I’ve been doing with clients, work that’s responding to real needs and issues, being recognized in a meaningful way,” says von Oeyen. Overlay, asked entrants to consider how iterative, incremental processes inform and direct their work. From the brief: “Overlay is unique to the designer; the techniques developed are activated over time with layered meanings to push architectural concepts.”
For von Oeyen, architecture itself and its generative knowledge are like overlays on a site. “I think about the work in relation to site dynamics, trying to take issues of time, geometry, views, and the environment and reshaping these,” he says. Projects like the Marfa, Texas Y-House, or the twisty and poetic Casa Dunas, designed to interact with the flows of sand dunes in Puerto Rico, can seem to unfold over long periods of time. “The work is designed with the idea that it can give visual pleasure and teach over years,” he adds.
von Oeyen’s sensitivity has been informed, in part, through past studies in the history and philosophy of architecture at the University of Cambridge, including a fellowship-supported stint at the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris where he had access to Le Corbusier’s notebooks. “What stuck with me are those moments where you see him wrestling with ideas, how he made decisions, how he thought about things,” he says.
In terms of his own thinking, the experience of growing up in Malibu, California, surfing and sailing, deeply immersed in the coastal landscape and the sea, was important in shaping von Oeyen’s ideas about how architecture can connect with people and perform on many levels at once. “It’s like a sailboat,” he says. “Constantly trimming, adjusting, steering in dialog with the environment. The hull is a well-tuned instrument.”
As a studio instructor he likes to communicate this to his students, to help them articulate what they are trying to do and the role pieces play in relation to the whole. “On the computer it’s easy to just keep adding stuff, to make things more complex, more exciting, but like in music, where it’s important to put notes in, it’s also important to take notes out.” Having worked at Gehry Partners for six years, he is well-versed in parametrics and form-making, but for him, there is no absolute formal agenda. “I’m interested in things that perform on multiple levels, a multiplicity in everything, where things have many reasons to exist.”
What’s he doing with the prize money? “I’d like to say I’m buying a new custom surfboard from the shaper who lives next door to me, but the reality is that it’s all going into the drawings and models for the exhibition this summer.” In June, von Oeyen will show his winning selection of projects and present a lecture at Parsons The New School for Design in Manhattan.
All images below are the copyright of Geoffrey von Oeyen.
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