In 1996, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson traveled to Iceland to meet Einar Thorsteinn. His request of the architectural was simple: He needed help building a geodesic dome and Einar was an expert. This wasn't atypical—Einar Thorsteinn's career was marked by people who needed his help. In the 1970s, he worked with Frei Otto to deploy tensile structures at the Olympic Village; NASA tapped him to design mobile lunar research laboratories with Guillermo Trotti; and, right before his death, Einar attempted to build a vast domed city in Iceland's hinterlands. Unfortunately, Thorsteinn, who passed away last week at the age of 73, is the kind of architect who's largely known through the projects of others.
A protégé of Buckminster Fuller, Einar Thorsteinn is the mad scientist behind Olafur Eliasson's most renegade works. His shapeshifting career has touched on polyhedral volumes, alternative mathematics, life-size spherical shapes, Icelandic folk tales, "outer space architecture," and crystallography. Thorsteinn is an architect in the same way that Lebbeus Woods or James Turrell are architects—their work all shares a current of the utopic, otherworldly, and experimental. Below, is a brief retrospective of a man who finished a recent interview by saying, "On my deathbed, I want to say that my life has been one big experiment." Here are six of those experiments.
1. After his graduation from the Technical University of Hannover, Einar Thorsteinn worked under Frei Otto from 1969 to 1972. Integral in the design of Munich's Olympic Village, Thorsteinn helped conceive of the light-weight structures that would eventually garner Otto his posthumous Pritzker Prize.
2. When he left Otto's workshop, Thorsteinn founded Constructions Lab to explore the possibility of tensile structures and Iceland's climate. Records of that time are scarce, but this 1973 clipping remains.
3. After Eliasson and Thorsteinn's initial meeting, two subsequent geodesic projects were produced: By Means Of a Sudden Intuitive Realization (1996), displayed on the grounds of the Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim, Brazil, and 8900054 (1996), a tribute to Buckminster Fuller that can still be found on the lawn outside the Arken Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen, Denmark. Both projects deeply foreshadow the canonical work that Eliasson and Thorsteinn would come to accomplish.
Olafur Eliasson's early 2000s essay Notes on my overlap with Einar Thorsteinn and The Model Room, a 2011 documentary that synthesizes 19 years of collaborations between the two, are both exemplary primers on one of the most creative friendships of the 21st century.
4. Einar Thorsteinn's explorations into five-fold-symmetry, or "gullinfang" might have been vital to Olafur Eliasson's Reykjavik Concert Hall, but they also formed the basis of most of Thorsteinn's late life work. Gullinfang is made from "five times the normal XYZ coordinates, with Golden Ratio angles between them – something that gets tricky to visualize as the structures get more complex." In case that didn't make sense, look below for a video of Einar ('s hands) demonstrating.
5. About 70 miles outside of Reykjavik, Einar Thorsteinn, along with his wife Manuela Loeschmann, chiseled their geodesic dream home into Iceland's countryside. Although information is scarce, these photos of their barely-there home show a glimpse into Einar's personal life.
· Einar Thorsteinn (1942–2015) [Olafur Eliasson]
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