Sunnyside’s New York Presbyterian Church stars in TED Talk

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Image source: Greg Lynn FORM

There’s a great TED Talk by architect Greg Lynn about the “mathematical roots of architecture” – specifically calculus in architecture, which can be a heady subject, but it plays into the designing of buildings more than you might think. Calculus and their related digital tools allow designers to experiment, come up with new forms, and move past tradition.

To illustrate this, one of the buildings he uses as an example is the New York Presbyterian Church in Sunnyside, located at 43-23 37th Avenue, north of historic Sunnyside Gardens and along the Sunnyside rail yards. He designed it with Douglas Garofalo and Michael McInturf. This church serves the robust Korean-American Presbyterian community in this part of Queens. The renovation and redesign cost $10 million. After it was completed in 1997, the New York Times proclaimed is as “one of the most radical structures recently built in New York.”

Originally, the building was a depression-era factory run by the Knickerbocker Laundry (photo here). Now it is a three-story 130,000 square foot “mega-church” made of metal and glass. You can see it quite clearly from above, with its distinctive shape.

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In the video, Greg Lynn says this about the Sunnyside church:

This is a Korean church that we did in Queens. And in this example, you can see that the components of this stair are repetitive, but they’re repetitive without being modular. Each one of the elements in this structure is a unique distance and dimension, and all of the connections are unique angles. Now, the only way we could design that, or possibly construct it, is by using a calculus-based definition of the form.

It also is much more dynamic, so that you can see that the same form opens and closes in a very dynamic way as you move across it, because it has this quality of vector in motion built into it. So the same space that appears to be a kind of closed volume, when seen from the other side becomes a kind of open vista. And you also get a sense of visual movement in the space, because every one of the elements is changing in a pattern, so that pattern leads your eye towards the altar.

Here are some photos of this church. First, the “open vista” he mentions above.

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Image source: The Archi-Tourist

And the “closed volume” perspective from the opposite vantage point.

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Image source: Greg Lynn FORM

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Image source: Greg Lynn FORM

Greg Lynn is an extremely well-regarded architect and has worked with United Architects; his team was one of the finalists in the World Trade Center site design competition. Here is his TED Talk.