Thom Mayne: Architectural Bad Boy
March 10, 2006
He is referred to as a "Bad Boy", a "Maverick", and a "Loose Cannon" in today's architectural world. His methods are unorthodox, highly progressive, and revolutionary. Thom Mayne and his California-based architectural firm Morphosis have infiltrated the building scene to wow critics and scholars alike with his cutting-edge designs and uncanny sense of aesthetic function. Thom Mayne was recently named in 2005 as the winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize award for his designs and innovation in architecture. Indeed, many do not see him as such a bad boy when they consider the things he has accomplished with his buildings. Looking at his projects, Mayne has clearly developed his reputation as a radical by making strong new efforts in economy, practicality, and aesthetic value in his designs and everything else that makes up the basics of practical building. Such characteristics were stunningly manifest in his recent project in Pomona, California in the construction of the new Diamond Ranch High School (Figures 1-2), one of the projects that helped him secure his status as a Pritzker Laureate and further established his place as an artist who defies standard practice as well as well as defines it.
Of course it would seem that for such a maverick in the architectural world, his reception of the Pritzker Prize would signal his official inauguration into the establishment, which would be inconsistent with the bad boy image he is known for. In reality, Mayne's guerilla-like tactics he carefully uses to instigate change are precisely what have carried him into his current realm of veneration by many who view his work. His work achieves its ground breaking reality by forcing concessions, little by little, of those who judge it and over time gathers these concessions in small increments to push or complete the fundamental change he was striving for. This fundamental change is well illustrated by the Diamond Ranch High School near Pomona, California whose completion in 1999 marked his grand entrance into the world of built architecture and has been compared by some to Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia Campus.
Discussing his influences, Mayne describes his fascination with earlier architectural radicals like Pompidou, or James Sterling, whose work Mayne describes as "clanky" and "machine-like" and undoubtedly influential in his own. He also expresses great interest in the work of Giorgio de Chirico, his greatest interest being that in his opinion de Chirico could not paint. In this, Mayne appreciates the power of the stillness, the primariness, and the childlike quality of it to himself as a large influence.
According to Mayne himself, it doesn't take a whole lot to be a bad boy in our current culture. His goal as he sees it is to attack complacency and in the case of the Diamond Ranch High School, to encourage precisely that attitude among its students.
"Teachers should be looking for vibrancy and creativity and nurturing curious minds." He says, "I could do no better if that happens."
Mayne set out with school administration officials to express through one heterogeneous design the schools goals of educational flexibility and social interaction between students, teachers, and administrators. They met their goal with success.
One of the most notable accomplishments of Diamond Ranch is that the striking and unorthodox forms of the project cost no more than a traditional looking school. Mayne was faced with the incredible task to design a school that would rest on a hillside in Pomona (Figure 3) that had been deemed impractical if not impossible to build on. Mayne's solution was to build the school into the landscape and achieve much of its primary form by terracing the surfaces below along the natural fall of the land (Figures 4-6) forming what has been described as a double landscape.