This is the last of our ten Tech Specs interviews. Previously, we talked to wearables expert Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman.
Name: Marc Fornes
Job title: Founder and principal of THEVERYMANY, a New York City–based studio that specializes in structures and environments made through the filter of systematic research and development into applied computer science and digital fabrication.
Background: I trained as an architect in France, did a master’s in the UK at the Architectural Association, and then worked for Zaha Hadid for a number of years. So I’m trained as an architect, but I’m especially interested in computation and the development of code as a way to generate form, shape and installation in architecture.
I moved to the States and started THEVERYMANY in 2004, first just as a website; then, in 2010, it became a company.
Computer setup: I have a MacBookPro. I don’t know the exact configuration because it’s always changing every two years. Otherwise, I have an external monitor, and I must have at least five or six external hard drives in front of me. That about it. We do a lot of 3D modeling and writing code, so we don’t need any specific hardware or software. Must of the stuff we do can be written in a text file.
How much of your workday do you spend in front of the computer? A lot, a lot, a lot, a lot
Most used software: Rhino 3D is the main software that we use. Inside Rhino, we have a code editor in which we write our code—we use the Python language. The application is just a way to visualize what we do.
Software that you thought you’d use more often than you do: It’s more like the opposite—there is software that I never thought I would use, and I’m using it more often that I would like. For example, Excel. In our work, we design from code—so we go from the code to the construction of key details. What we do is like a gigantic puzzle; you have thousands of parts, and you need to keep a record of those parts. Each part has its attributes—a color, a specific shape, a specific size. So there are a lot of logistical aspects to keep track of, and all of that gets stored as huge Excel sheets that you finally send out to the fabricator.
Marc Fornes in his New York studio Enter a caption (optional)
Phone: iPhone. Very traditional.
Favorite apps: With Rhino 3D, there is an app that we use a lot called iRhino. It allows us to send a model to someone with no clue how to use 3D software. We use that one quite a bit.
We also use a photo-stitching app called PhotoSync. And I use Pulse to keep in touch with things—it allows you to compile different newsletters and blogs and follow them through one app.
Apps that are actually useful for your work: I travel a lot for work, so I would say the app that is actually most useful is Google Maps.
Other machinery/tools in your workspace: About three years ago, we had a bit of funds leftover, and we had the option of buying a 3D printer—and we finally ended up buying a foosball table instead. Professionally speaking, we thought it would be more creative. I think everyone is getting these cheap 3D printers nowadays, but we’ve been using 3D printing on a professional level for so long that it’s not really necessary to have one in-house.
Tools or software you’re thinking of purchasing: We would love to have a CNC machine, but in New York space is so expensive. So we are constantly thinking about this, going back and forth between getting one and not getting one.
Situation Room was an ultrathin, self-supported shell structure installed inside Manhattan's Storefront for Art and Architecture last year. Photos by Miguel De Guzman Enter a caption (optional)
How has new technology changed your job in the last 5–10 years? I think what has changed is the speed of things. You could CNC mill stuff ten years ago, but it would take time because the machines had less performance. Now you can go and cut, like, 100,00 parts—which we do sometimes for some of our projects—in the blink of an eye. A few years ago, an installation that would take six weeks to cut now takes three or four days. So that changes the way that you see the project.
The other thing that’s changed is that around 2000 there was this spirit of trying to get the software that would do everything. This software was often very expensive, and it was often borrowed from a different industry—for instance, CATIA, which was borrowed from aeronautics. In the last five or ten years, people have realized that it’s not about the tool but rather about all sorts of applications that talk to each other. I see that now with the younger people in our field—they don’t specialize anymore in one thing, they just hop from one platform to the other, and they figure out a way to very quickly get things done.
When it comes to new tech, are you a Luddite, an early adopter or somewhere in between? More and more I’m somewhere in between. I used to play with my phone much more, downloading the newest apps and testing them. Now I just have less time for that.
Do you outsource any of your tech tasks? We constantly bid our stuff to producers in the middle of the country; it’s always cheaper and you always have access to the latest machines. So we send our work all over the place in the U.S., from Utah to Texas to Philadelphia. We’ve been doing this for more than ten years and we have a set of people who have the tools we need, and then we always contact two or three of them and they bid on the project.
This is for 3D printing, CNC cutting, laser cutting, robotic fabrication. Of course we think about getting some of this equipment in-house, but it comes down to space. Also, having access to professional equipment opens up the door in terms of creativity, because you’re not constrained by the low level of the machine that you can afford.
Under Stress, one of two recent THEVERYMANY installations at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation
What are your biggest tech gripes? I don’t complain much about technology. I think everything we want to do is there. One gripe: Often now with media and blogs, you feel like you’re aware of technology much earlier than the technology is available. You know, you read that MIT has invented this amazing thing, and then you realize the invention does not actually exist yet—it’s just the idea. So I think the frustration is that the technology is there but you have to wait for it to become available.
The other thing is the superficiality of the graphical interface. We came to writing code not just by our interest in it, but because we had no choice—there wasn’t a tool to do the things we wanted to do. And by writing code you understand the limitations of tools. The graphical interface makes everything easier and at the same time a little bit more superficial.
What do you wish software could do that it can’t now? I only wish for one thing, and that’s speed. Not with the software but with the operating systems—we need them to be faster and faster, because speed equals variation, and in our work, variation equals design. So if a protocol is going to take me two days to arrive at a result, I’m only going to make one test, because I’m going to be tired. But if it takes a blink of an eye, then I can make five tests, and then I can look into which one is the most adaptive. Speed is key. The reason we change our laptops every two years is to keep building up speed.
Finally, we've all had instances of software crashing at the worst possible moment, or experienced similar stomach-churning tech malfunctions. Can you tell us about your most memorable tech-related disaster? When you asked about my computer setup, I mentioned that I have five or six hard drives in front of me. That’s because the biggest disaster we had was one time we were trying to copy all of our data onto one drive. We are always sharing everything with so many people, and at a certain point we were trying to recombine everything. Every time a file was copied it was deleted somewhere else. And at the moment everything had been copied onto the new drive, but just before we had a chance to back it up, the drive fell—it fell onto the floor from not even chair height, and just this little fall killed it. We sent the drive to two different companies specializing in the recovery of data, but they didn’t manage to save the data. We lost about a year and a couple of months’ worth of pictures of finalized installations that we can’t publish anymore because we don’t have the high-res images; we lost a lot of file archives—it was a disaster. So now we have I don’t even know how many hard drives, and every time one fills up I copy it onto another one.
Enter a caption (optional)
This article is part of the Core77 Tech-tacular, an editorial series exploring the myriad ways that technologies are shaping the future of design.