AD Interviews: Peter Eisenman

Yesterday we showed you a preview, and here it is the full interview with one of the most influential contemporary architects.

Architect, educator, and theorist, internationally recognized Peter Eisenman was a part of an important generation of architects and popularized amongst the general public when he was exhibited at the MoMA in 1969 as one of the New York Five. Eisenman, along with Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier (Eisenman’s second cousin) made up the ‘group of architects whose work, represented a return to the formalism of early modern rationalist architecture’.

Eisenman earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University, a Master of Science in Architecture degree from Columbia University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Cambridge University (U.K). He founded an international think tank for architecture, the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS), serving as director until 1982 and simultaneously established his own architecture firm.

As an educator, Eisenman has taught at some of the most prestigious architecture programs including the Yale School of Architecture, Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard, and Ohio State universities.

’s work ranges from large-scale housing and urban design to educational institutions and private houses.  Often labeled as a deconstructivist Eisenman is also known for his intricate drawings.  He has been recognized for his design abilities receiving the Medal of Honor from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2001, the Smithsonian Institution’s 2001 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture, and he was also awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale.

In 2006 Eisenman’s design for the University of Phoenix Stadium for the Arizona Cardinals earned him the label as one of the top five innovators of 2006 according to Popular Science.

Eisenman’s most recent book Ten Canonical Buildings: 1950-2000 revisits some of the most important buildings of the past century with a critical view, a must read for every architect.

Projects by Eisenman previously featured at ArchDaily:

Video credits: JP Barrera (editing), JC Labarca (camera).

Cite: Basulto, David. "AD Interviews: Peter Eisenman" 23 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Amartuvshin Narangerel

    I like his talks, it make sens all the time, and he always be clear on his thoughts and ideas. thank you so much for this video!

  • Mikko H

    He says that architects can’t and shouldn’t try to solve human problems. I wonder if he thinks that architects can cause them. Let’s say a housing project gets designed very badly and ends up accumulating all kinds of social problems. Shouldn’t the architect at least try to avoid doing that?

  • thomas

    I’m kind of disappointed. I expected more from the preview yesterday, about the situation we’re in mostly, as a profession and as a discipline. He just seem ready to give up on everything, even giving his point of view…

    • james

      He’s a typical American – fortunately most architects are not. His attitude is that he got his so he’s willing to give up on it all and say “screw you” to the next generation. So he goes on mortgaging his kids’ futures with his social apathy in order to subsidize his own comfort.

      He’s the prototypical American nihilist. His generation is proving daily how they got our country into this situation in the first place – selfishness, ignorance, and greed. They’re even willing to prey on their own kids’ futures to make themselves more content.

      Eisenman is the definition of the problem with not only the profession but America in general.

  • Kco Manns

    Eisenman shouln’t generalize what is his own role particularly in architecture ( was) which might differ of other architects that are engaged with people, not de-cosntructing and separating but re-constructing and integrating architecture, space with human and social dimensions…about networks: he should’t neglect the fact that he was a pioneer linking architecture with multidimensional aspects and networks…his work though focalized more on networking with himself (his psychoanalysis dilemmas) not neglecting the fact that this became one of the most radical theoretical works of the 70′s…. p.s. I agree suggesting not to study architecture…there are too many without jobs.

  • Curtis B Wayne, RA

    Dr Eisenman also taught for many years at Cooper Union, which this bio information omitted.

  • James

    Eisenman is obviously skeptical of a lot of the American capitalist ideas about consumption and gladhanding (networking), and kudos to him for that.

    I think what he misses though is that in itself is a way of trying to “correct” the human condition, to affect the way his office contributes to that human condition for the better.

    A lot of architects like Eisenman who do big budget projects find themselves dismissing the idea of “helping people” via architecture out of hand because I think they feel a bit self-conscious about the discrepancy between the need to work with big budget clients to realize formally challenging work at a certain scale and their antipathy towards capitalists in general. They come to this position of rejecting contemporary architecture as a political or social intervention (which is impossible in reality) because they don’t find that their buildings address all of the problems facing society in terms of poverty or racism or conflict, etc.

    I sympathize with that circumstance but I’d challenge architects like Eisenman to really think through some of the sociological and philosophical lessons he encourages “young people” to learn about before getting into architecture, especially in terms of America’s postwar history.

    If Eisenman really wants to fight the capitalist impulse for mindless consumption, he’d do well to study those periods in American history where we seemed to get the social contract more correct. I think he’d find that during these periods (50′s and 60′s) Americans were looking to the future rather than obsessing about traditionalism. Innovation for innovation’s sake is mindless only in so far as one refuses to recognize the impact that innovation has on the consciousness of the American public and their willingness to allow young people to have their hands on the levers of industry and political discourse: ie to make the country more progressive more quickly. Believing in contemporary life and innovation is a critical part of legitimizing the views of the young (which are always more tolerant wrt race, sex, sexual preference, etc).

    If architects like Eisenman really want to confront the traditional American capitalist problems he keeps talking about over and over again, then it really is a human issue, a human problem. And then the question becomes how can the architect design spaces to affect people and open them up to progress? I would argue that Eisenman is already doing this in his work because his work forces people to inhabit spaces that analyze traditional concepts and expand on them. His work challenges people to embrace design as something “new” and probably even destabilizing or provocative.

    He’s just not willing to admit that he’s already making architecture to affect human lives for the better. Maybe he doesn’t realize what he’s doing in some ways, which isn’t really all that uncommon actually for artists or thinkers.

    • James

      In other words, doing culturally relevant/valuable projects IS “helping people.” And in a hyper-capitalist world where culture has been relegated to a monthly diversion in way of life governed by a sort of mob mentality where the people are given everything they want (even when it’s bad for them), culture is probably one of the things that human beings are most desperately in need of.

      Eisenman’s office is a cultural poverty organization. In a world that relegates culture to some sort of tourist destination (art museums), people are starving for real authentic culture in their workaday lives.

      Architects like Eisenman are air-dropping cultural sustenance to civilizations starving in cultural deserts, even if he doesn’t admit it.

      As contemporary architects we dismiss the value of this contribution to other human beings at our own peril.

      In fact, it’s probably part of the reason the profession is in Eisenman’s words “so poor.”

      Nobody is intelligently making the case for how what Eisenman calls “culture” is actually about “helping people” who have everything they think they want but very little of what they really need.

      If nobody makes the case that culture is something that helps people, then it’s not a marketable product and nobody will pay intelligent sensitive architects to provide it.

      Just because food is a marketable product doesn’t make it bad. Architects should dismiss art and culture as irrelevant to helping people or to the human condition.

      We need it now more than ever, simply to prevent our civilizations from consuming themselves like people in poverty eating tons of cheap food with no nutritional value.

      • Another James

        Wow- we should probably both register accounts with archdaily if we’re both going to post under something as common/unidentifiable as ‘James’. Maybe it’s something to do with our name, and ‘James’ just predestines you to write reams and reams of stuff that 99% of people would call arrogant and unjustifiably dogmatic (even though we probably think just the opposite- however mistakenly that might be).

        The really creepy part is that there’s a lot of stuff in both your posts that I really agree with (though plenty to challenge or nuance as well)…. to the point that I had to stop and ask myself if I’d been commenting on archdaily the last time I drank too much. I don’t think I’d ever use the word ‘workaday’ though; I just have one of those totally irrational personal dislikes for it is all.

        Then again…. leaving ‘James’ unregistered….. not a bad idea… could be a bit like a combination of ‘Batman’ and ‘V’, except weedier and less eloquent. Collective activism via rambling….whoa, that’s depressing. On second thought: yeah, we need to register accounts.

  • up_today_arch

    very modest person!… no complicated senses about architecture, it is just his job!

  • andrew

    architecture is not a job, is a vocation..!!!

  • JZ

    Peter…you’re such an a__hole. I watched this interview yesterday and couldn’t get away from his comments about an Architect’s responsibility. Of all the elitist jerks that have become dead weight in the last few years, he should know better than to think that what he does has no political or social impact. I think as plain-spoken as he may appear, he knows how to drop a polarizing comment simply to be provocative. Architecture is NOT about your own indulgences even when your are “limited” to providing solutions for your clients from your unique perspective in the world. Peter perpetuates the ivory-tower mythology in its most obnoxious, ostracizing manner. We’re all sycophants for continuing to honor him with any attention.

  • James

    A lot of architects laugh at Eisenman behind his back because he’s sort of a child in an old fat American’s body.

    He’s a bit of a poser in terms of his ideas and his arrogance is mostly a smokescreen for his self-consciousness. His opinions fluctuate depending on the corner he’s boxed himself into by being an arrogant prick in crits or otherwise. There’s not much real intellectual consistency there.

    Obviously, he’s also lying about the size of his office. He may have drafted a couple of his students to awkwardly sit behind computers for the interview but he doesn’t have 15 paid employees.

    I guarantee he doesn’t offer them real employee benefits like a real office would either.

  • James3

    Isn’t star architecture capitalist’s consumption?

    Only building for the sake of branding & private business is why architecture is dismissed as intelligent leaders in society.

    Contractors get more respect than architects & this is why architects should rebuild their stake & role in society.

    There is no precedent in today’s “wicked problems” therefore innovation need to exist in today’s architecture. Eisensan doesn’t like innovation because he sees it as form-making which he does very well.

    It’s enough to dismiss his arrogance because it’s not his modesty or honesty.

    Eiseman has lost connection to the real world & has become an expensive capitalist himself.

  • James

    Eisenman is as confused as ever.

    Yeah, “today’s kids” need to learn their architectural history – except all of Modernism was about prototypes to “help people” using new architectural technologies.

    Eisenman doesn’t prove he knows any more about architectural history than the 1st year students he condemns.

    He’s just a sad irrelevant old man lashing out at young people because he resents his irrelevance.