Architecture student designs and constructs large, Lego-like objects for National Dance Lab pilot project

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs


arch. student

Architecture student Matthew Stromberg and the “kit of parts” he used when building dance props.
Peg Skorpinski photo

07 March 2001 | Matthew Stromberg, a student in the College of Environmental Design, sees a comfortable symmetry in his life’s studies of anthropology, a pop art-action style of dance, and architecture.

“To me, they’re all very fluid. They’re all about people and the way we occupy space. I think they’re all very connected,” said Stromberg, 31.

He has applied his fascination with and knowledge of dance, design, movement and space to design and build a kit of Lego-like objects for use by the National Dance Lab. The lab is collaborating with Berkeley in a pilot project on campus that gives choreographers the chance to pursue research without having to perform, while creating a forum for public observation and contribution.

Stromberg’s “kit of parts,” as he calls it, contains flat, wooden pieces painted bright yellow and red and featuring Plexiglass universal joints that allow parts to be attached and re-attached horizontally or vertically, and occupied or climbed by the dancers. Performers can dance in, on or around the pieces, he said, but cautions that the kit remains “still very much a prototype.”

A Berkeley native who earned a master’s degree in anthropology at Columbia University, Stromberg wrote his thesis on dance. Then, he spent five years dancing for Elizabeth Streb, a New York choreographer who participated in the National Dance Lab project with Berkeley last week. Streb sought input from Berkeley professors in architecture, physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics about movement and action.

“I love how accessible her work is to so many people,” Stromberg said. ”She has a vocabulary of moves that is so pure. Kids really relate.”

But children should not mimic her work at home, unprotected.
“A lot of her work is about impact and being able to take the hit,” said Stromberg. He adds that he was never seriously injured in his years of dancing.

Streb and her dancers are known for their daring, limit-testing physical feats. To this end, Stromberg offered his architectural design services.

Describing himself as “a tinkerer and a sculptor,” Stromberg said he looks forward to further exploration of the built environment and ways people occupy their space. He foresees a possible future for himself in stage set design, small-scale furniture or homes “for the way people really live.”

“I want to follow my own creative spirit,” he said.


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