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Fusing science with art IAIN BORDEN Gyroscopic Horizons By Neil M Denari. Thames & Hudson, 1999. 224pp. £24.95

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From the seventeenth century theories of French academician Claude Perrault onwards, architecture has been 'in crisis'. This particular crisis, as Perez-Gomez notoriously argued, involves modern science or, more accurately, a debate as to whether architecture can in some way be thought of in scientific terms.

What might be the relation between science and architecture? Is architecture purely a matter of rationality and equation, quantification and provable hypothesis, objectivity and certainty? Or, on the other hand, is it a matter of irrationality and imagination, qualitative judgement and conjecture, subjectivity and the aleatory?

It is to Neil Denari's immense credit that his new book, Gyroscopic Horizons, discusses the scientific possibilities of architecture while simultaneously engaging with more cultural and artistic concerns. It is not the binary division between the two - science and art - which is important here, but the way in which they might come together to offer new possibilities for form-making, cultural expression, city solutions and material tectonics.

Undeniably, as the third director of the avant-gardist sci-Arc architecture school in California, as well as principal of Neil M Denari Architects, Denari has most strongly been connected with issues of form-making. Certainly his notion of quantum physics as counter to Euclidean physics and geometry, leading to explorations of curvature and surface in form, supports this interpretation.

In projects like the Kansai-kan Library, Denari explores the potential of the 'worldsheet', a kind of continuous surface onto which graphics, logos and data of all kinds might be expressed. This is not, however, the kind of literal translation of technology into form that one sees, for example, in projects by Jean Nouvel or Toyo Ito. Rather Denari explores the possibility of an architectural language that might be generated from interests in science but is not hostage to technological imperative.

So this is where Denari is fuelled by, and released from, quantum science. Gyroscopic Horizons is consequently crammed with cultural and urban references, including housing typologies, theories of the unconscious (Freud, Baudrillard, Guattari), films (Godard, Antonioni, Ozu), corporate logos, concepts of fixity and flow - and much else.

Architecture for Denari is, then, far more than the production of designs for the making of objects. It becomes a cognitive exercise in knowing oneself in relation to the world, a continual oscillation from the local (place) to the global (space). And, of course, it is also quite stunningly created in representational imagery, the infamous hard-line drawings for earlier projects like the Tokyo Forum having now given way to computer- generated visualisations in sumptuous colour.

Perhaps the fact that Denari's architecture has remained largely on paper, with few built schemes (although more than one is currently on site), explains why his influence has so far been largely within architectural schools, not professional practice. Nonetheless it is surprising that at a recent riba lecture Denari drew a crowd composed mainly of Diploma architecture students, mostly male and in their mid-20s. Denari's architecture - ideas, designs, buildings - deserves to reach a far broader audience. Gyroscopic Horizons should do much to put that right.

Iain Borden is director of architectural history and theory at The Bartlett

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