The Fundamental Group‘s designs may be inspired by geometric principles, but the burgeoning Berlin studio owes its existence, at least in an abstract sense, to another realm entirely: physics, ie, the field in which opposites attract. As architecture students at Berlin’s University of the Arts back in 2003, Gunnar Rönsch and Stephen Molloy worked as assistants to rival department chairs, which in the world of academia, meant that they were automatically rivals, too. “If you sign up with one, you hate the other,” Rönsch explains. “Mine was building construction and detail design, while Stephen’s was based on a programmatic approach to structure — my chair basically had to solve all the problems created by his.” In time, however, the pair realized the inevitable – that by joining forces, they’d be stronger. First they became roommates, noticing how smoothly their collaboration on the apartment went, and then they began working together professionally, on projects like a friend’s house remodel. Their only other major conflict came when it was time, in 2010, to choose a name for their new company: Rönsch & Molloy, or Molloy & Rönsch? “A mathematician friend of ours was sitting in our kitchen talking about the fundamental group — a term from algebraic topology that describes very complicated 3-D surfaces,” says Molloy. “It was the perfect compromise.”
It was also the perfect mission statement, in a way. “It’s a tribute to something we don’t understand, which is one of the things that really motivates us,” says Molloy. While the Fundamental Group’s architecture practice is still in its early stages, the duo have spent the last two years releasing a steady stream of furniture and small objects that are physical manifestations of their attempts to work out simple mathematical logic problems. Their first release, the Kennedy and Monroe side tables, deal with growth patterns — what happens when you split a line over and over again? How many times must you do it before it produces a viable table surface? “The answer is 126, in case anyone’s interested,” laughs Molloy. The ultimate payoff of that approach, he says, is that it piques the user’s curiosity and prevents the final piece from seeming too static; the question itself is often evident in the answer.
Like any young architects, of course, the duo’s goal is to engage in those same sorts of explorations at a larger scale, playing with the logic of building structures, creating spatial puzzles. They take much of their inspiration in that realm from Islamic architecture, which has a similar mathematical bent. “Moorish architecture is interested in transforming one volume into another,” says Molloy. “They were constantly trying to put domes on square rooms. We’re also interested in how one space that has one function would lead up to another space with a different function, how that transformation would take place and what it would mean when you were standing inside the space perceiving it. What we like about geometry is that sense of transformation.”
Favorite everyday object: “The Google search page. Just a lot of white space, a box waiting for input, and then this odd thing they do with their logo. If you feel like procrastinating, you can try and work out what it is, but if you’re focused it’s super easy to ignore. Love it.”
Design object you wish you’d made: “The Volkswagen Beetle. Emotional, popular, effective, and resilient.”
Best thing you ever found discarded on the street: “When I was living in London, I used to scour the skips in the financial district, and once I found this truly awesome James-Bond-baddie-style office chair. It made me think I should also get a white cat and brawny henchmen.”
Design trend that needs to die: “I prefer people who have terrible taste but for whom possessions have real meaning to those who believe in any kind of good-taste consensus — it usually just makes me want to misbehave. In particular, though, any newly created vintage look of things is a betrayal of the future”