Hammer Projects: Greg Lynn

Hammer Projects: Greg Lynn

The Hammer Museum presents a new sculptural work by Los Angeles-based architect Greg Lynn. A fantastical attraction for visitors of all ages, Fountain is sited in the Museum’s outdoor courtyard. As the title suggests, the work is a functioning fountain made out of large plastic found children’s toys that have been cut and reassembled in multiple layers, with water spouting from its top and pooling at its base. Constructed with more than fifty-seven prefabricated plastic whale and shark teeter totters welded together and unified by the application of a white automotive paint, Fountain is a gathering place for the warm summer months.

Greg Lynn’s Fountain is the first architecture and design project guest-curated by architectural historian Sylvia Lavin. As part of Hammer Projects, Lavin will organize a new project approximately once a year over the next three years that will present new works by architects and designers. These projects will be sited in different locations around the Museum.

Organized by Sylvia Lavin, director of critical studies and MA/PhD programs in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA.


Greg Lynn was born in 1964 in Ohio. He graduated from Miami University of Ohio with degrees in both architecture (Bachelor of Environmental Design) and philosophy (Bachelor of Philosophy) and later from Princeton University where he received a graduate degree in architecture (Master of Architecture). He received an Honorary Doctorate degree from the Academy of Fine Arts & Design in Bratislava. Lynn’s innovative use of computer-aided design and robots to create complex forms has placed him at the cutting edge of architecture and design. In 2001 Time magazine named him one of its one hundred most innovative people in the world for the twenty-first century, and in 2005 Forbes magazine named him one of the ten most influential living architects. The buildings, projects, publications, teachings, and writings associated with his practice, Greg Lynn FORM, have been influential in the acceptance and use of advanced technology for design and fabrication. Lynn has received awards from the AIA and Progressive Architecture, was the 2008 Venice Biennale Golden Lion recipient, and was given the American Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award in 2003. He is the author of seven books and monographs and has taught throughout the United States and Europe, holding the position of studio professor at UCLA. He is currently Davenport Visiting Professor at Yale University.


By Sylvia Lavin

Youth is wasted on the young. —George Bernard Shaw

The great figures of modern culture, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Pablo Picasso, celebrated youthful forms of expression and ascribed preternatural innocence to the child and, through association, primordial virtue to the artist. This romantic view of the “artist-child,” however, is belied by the complex stuff of childhood, none more deceiving than the toy. Toys are the first point of contact between a child and the manufactured world. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother famously gave him Froebel blocks, commonly credited with inspiring the elemental shapes of the Prairie Houses, while whispering, “you will be an architect when you grow up.” Buckminster Fuller designed his first geodesic dome while playing with peas and toothpicks. Ray and Charles Eames modeled their entire design ethos on homo ludens, not only producing celebrated toys actually intended for children but also considering all their designed objects, from chairs to buildings, as toylike and defining play as the model of architectural use.

Toys are not innocent figures in the history of art but are rather theoretical objects that reveal the transition of things from one state to another: finger paint into painting, inflatable balloons into steel sculptures, and models made of peas into buildings made of complex polymers. Indeed, toys are particularly important to architecture because it is in the nature of the discipline for architects to work with buildings that exist first as models—in other words, at the scale of toys. Some architects—from Le Corbusier to Frank Gehry—become so invested in the model phase that they not only make hundreds of models for a single building but also avidly detour into industrial design, producing all manner of things, from spoons to chairs and coffee pots, because they, unlike buildings, can remain forever as model toys and full-scale objects simultaneously. Greg Lynn’s Fountain enters this tradition strategically rather than innocently, luring toy sharks and whales that would otherwise be destined for a landfill into the space of the museum not because they are the traces of an architectural purity that must be salvaged but because toys are where architectural ideas are most potent. 

What do you want Brick? 
—Louis Kahn

Fountain literally pressures the toys, robbed of an innocence they never had, into a new conceptual order. The process of design and fabrication began with the selection of the toy type, which Lynn ideally sought to make on the basis of how many discarded toys of the same kind he could find. Second, a digital model was made of the toy in order to calculate which modifications to individual toys would permit a given number to fit together in as many different ways as possible while requiring the fewest changes to each unit. The process recalls what is called parametric design, the digital calibration of multiple factors into a system determined by some measure of optimal performance. In this case, the parameters were set by the modifications to the toys that would allow for the creation of an assemblage with maximum formal complexity and minimal manufacturing difficulty. Robots then carved each toy according to the parametric protocol, after which the mass-produced toys were manually welded together to produce a unique object. And it is precisely at this moment of transition between the digital and the mass, on the one hand, and the analog and the singular, on the other, that the conceptual upheaval begins to play out most dramatically.

I’ll See It When I Know It —Greg Lynn


1. See Clement Greenberg, “Avant-garde and Kitsch,” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), 3–21.

2. See Rosalind E. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979): 30–44; reprinted in The Originality of the Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), 276–90.

Sylvia Lavin is the director of critical studies and MA/PhD programs in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA. She is the author of several books, including Form Follows Libido: Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture and the forthcoming Kissing Architecture.


Hammer Projects is a series of exhibitions focusing primarily on the work of emerging artists. 

Hammer Projects is made possible with major gifts from Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Additional generous support is provided by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley, LA Art House Foundation, the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund. 

Fountain: Greg Lynn has also received major support from the Brotman Foundation of California and Herta and Paul Amir.