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Excerpt: Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity

CCTV Headquarters in Beijing by OMA. Image © OMA / Philippe Ruault
CCTV Headquarters in Beijing by OMA. Image © OMA / Philippe Ruault

No matter what you think of it, these days there is no denying that a celebrity culture has a significant effect on the architecture world, with a small percentage of architects taking a large portion of the spotlight. Questioning this status quo, Vladimir Belogolovsky's new book "Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity" interrogates some of these famous architects to find out what they think of the culture which has elevated them to such heights. In this excerpt from the book's foreword, Belogolovsky asks how we got into this celebrity-loving architectural culture, and what it means for the buildings produced.

Not to be confused with other kinds of stars, the most popular of architects are identified as “starchitects.”* Is this a good thing? The notion of starchitecture is hated wholeheartedly by most of the leading architectural critics. They run away from addressing the issue because they think it has nothing to do with professional criticism. But what do the architects think? One of the architectural megastars, Rem Koolhaas, was astonishingly self-effacing in an interview for Hanno Rauterberg’s 2008 book Talking Architecture:

“I think what we are experiencing is the global triumph of eccentricity. Lots of extravagant buildings are being built, buildings that have no meaning, no functionality. It’s rather about spectacular shapes and, of course, the architects’ egos.”

Spotlight: Peter Eisenman

Whether built, written or drawn, the work of renowned architect, theorist and educator Peter Eisenman (born 11th August 1932) is characterized by Deconstructivism, with an interest in signs, symbols and the processes of making meaning always at the foreground. As such, Eisenman has been one of architecture's foremost theorists of recent decades; however he has also at times been a controversial figure in the architectural world, professing a disinterest in more pragmatic concerns such as environmental sustainability.

Unified Architectural Theory, Chapter 13

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In Chapter 13, Salingaros begins to conclude his argument by discussing its counterpart, explaining how post-modern theorists such as Peter Eisenman came to eclipse the ideas of Christopher Alexander – and why Eisenman’s theoretical hegemony is not based upon sound architectural thinking. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Natural and Unnatural Form Languages

The concept of living structure, and the support for the theory offered by both direct experience and science, offers a basis for designing and understanding architecture. This platform is a sensible way of approaching design and building, because it is beholden neither to ideology, nor to individual agendas. Moreover, it should be contrasted to the irrationality of other schemes that currently appear in and seem to drive architectural discourse.

From Formalism to Weak Form: The Architecture and Philosophy of Peter Eisenman

Despite his significant impact on architecture through both built and theoretical works, most studies of Peter Eisenman's career focus on either one aspect or the other. In “From Formalism to Weak Form: The Architecture and Philosophy of Peter Eisenman,” Stefano Corbo attempts to redress this balance, connecting themes in the design and the theory of the influential architect across the many stages of his 50-year career. The following is an excerpt from the book's introduction, giving a brief overview of the chronology of Eisenman's career and the ideas that have influenced him over time.

All of the different moments characterizing Eisenman’s trajectory imply different phases, different projects, different programmatic manifestos and, above all, an evolving notion of form. To approach the complexity of his discourse means dealing with form in all its declinations: formalism, de-composition, deconstruction, and weak form. Each of them has constituted the mutant epidermis of Eisenman’s theoretical corpus, based on philosophical references and provocative statements.

Thanks to his ability to connect with the cultural tendencies of the time, Eisenman has explored different territories: first, structuralism and Chomsky’s linguistic theory; successively, Derrida and Delueze’s post-structuralism, passing through the influence of Colin Rowe’s formalism, and his recent interest in the return to autonomy as theorized by Pier Vittorio Aureli. At the same time Eisenman has always played a central role in influencing and manipulating the American architectural debate, due to his propagandistic activity, first with the IAUs (Institute for Architecture and Urban studies), and then with the magazine Oppositions.

Courtesy of Stefano Corbo Courtesy of Stefano Corbo Courtesy of Stefano Corbo Courtesy of Stefano Corbo

AIA Honors Peter Eisenman with 2015 Topaz Medallion

Following Moshe Safdie’s selection to be the next AIA Gold Medalist, the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) and Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) has announced Peter Eisenman, FAIA, as winner of the 2015 Topaz Medallion. Eisenman, known for a lifetime of scholarly work and his long associations with Princeton, Harvard, Cooper Union and Yale, will be honored for his global impact on architectural education after more than 60 years of teaching.

“There are probably very few schools of architecture where Peter is yet to have lectured,” wrote Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, in a recommendation letter. 

Reflections on the 2014 Venice Biennale

Fundamentals, the title of the 2014 Venice Biennale, will close its doors in a matter of days (on the 23rd November). From the moment Rem Koolhaas revealed the title for this year’s Biennale in January 2013, asking national curators to respond directly to the theme of ‘Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014’, there was an inkling that this Biennale would be in some way special. Having rejected offers to direct the Biennale in the past, the fact that Koolhaas chose to act not only as curator but also thematic co-ordinator of the complete international effort, was significant. This announcement led Peter Eisenman (one of Koolhaas' earliest tutors and advocates) to state in one interview that “[Rem is] stating his end: the end of [his] career, the end of [his] hegemony, the end of [his] mythology, the end of everything, the end of architecture.”

Have you Seen This Forgotten PoMo Jewelry by 1980s Architects?

It's not often that a major design project by a bevy of superstar architects is forgotten to history. But this seems to be what happened in the 1980s, when Italian designer Cleto Munari commissioned a stable of world-famous architects to design a new jewelry collection. The (unashamedly PoMo) results were documented in a now almost forgotten book by Barbara Radice called simply "Jewelry By Architects," which included interviews with each designer. Originally published by Monica Khemsurov of Sight Unseen, this article shows off just some of the contents of this fascinating work.

Until about six months ago, there was only one Munari we idolized: Bruno, one of our favorite 20th-century designers and design theorists. (If you haven’t read Design As Art, we suggest you hop to it!) But then, one fateful day this past spring, we were wandering aimlessly around the internet when we stumbled upon the biggest editorial coup we've scored in years, and thus began our love affair with Cleto Munari. The Italian designer—who, as far as we can tell, is unrelated to Bruno—commissioned a dream-team of architects like Ettore Sottsass and Peter Eisenman in the early ’80s to create a jewelry collection for his eponymous company, and the project had almost no coverage anywhere on the web. After immediately snapping up a copy of the incredible out-of-print book that documented it, which we’re excerpting a small portion of here, we set about doing more research on Munari himself. Turns out he’s a bit of a Sight Unseen patron saint, who dreamed up all kinds of cross-disciplinary projects for the precious metals–focused design brand he founded in the ’70s with Carlo Scarpa. “It is most interesting to me to have a poet design a table, a painter design a credenza, and an architect design a spoon,” Munari told the Huffington Post in an interview two years ago.

Jewelry designed by Arata Isozaki. Image © Rizzoli New York Courtesy of Sight Unseen Jewelry designed by Robert Venturi. Image © Rizzoli New York Courtesy of Sight Unseen Jewelry designed by Arata Isozaki. Image © Rizzoli New York Courtesy of Sight Unseen Jewelry designed by Hans Hollein. Image © Rizzoli New York Courtesy of Sight Unseen

The Berlage Archive: Elia Zenghelis (2009)

In this 2009 lecture titled "Fabricating Ideology and Architectural Education," seminal architect, educator, and co-founder of OMA Elia Zenghelis discusses the development of ideologies that shape architectural discourse vis-a-vis architectural education. Arguing that architectural education is motivated by religious, socio-political, and economic principles, Zenghelis makes the case that the war-torn 20th century has been an era of upheaval and conflict, resulting in the loss of historical context and a confused state for artists and architects. Proposing the idea that architecture is a servant of power, and is thus intrinsically intertwined with political and societal trends, Zenghelis urges a return to a contextualized understanding of architectural history in order for contemporary architects to develop a sensitive and nuanced approach to their practice. 

Discussing his relationships and collaborations with former students and colleagues Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and Peter Eisenman, as well as the political and architectural legacy of such giants as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, Elia Zenghelis provides a compelling conversation about the inherent role of architecture in political discourse.

Don't miss the other lectures in The Berlage Archive series

Drawings from Famous Architects' Formative Stages to be Exhibited in St. Louis

Zaha Hadid, The World (89 Degrees), 1984. Image Courtesy of Kemper Art Museum
Zaha Hadid, The World (89 Degrees), 1984. Image Courtesy of Kemper Art Museum

As a student of architecture, the formative years of study are a period of wild experimentation, bizarre use of materials, and most importantly, a time to make mistakes. Work from this period in the life of an architect rarely floats to the surface - unless you're Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry, that is. A treasure trove of early architectural drawings from the world's leading architects has recently been unearthed from the private collection of former Architectural Association Chairman Alvin Boyarsky. The collection is slated to be shown at the Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St. Louis, as a part of the exhibition Drawing Ambience: Alvin Boyarsky and the Architectural Association from September 12th to January 4th, 2015. 

Take a look at the complete set of architects and drawings for the exhibition after the break.

Bernard Tschumi, #4 K Series, 1985. Study for La Case Vide: La Villette, Folio VIII, 1985. Image Courtesy of Kemper Art Museum Lebbeus Woods, Center for New Technology, Montage 1, 1985. Image Courtesy of Kemper Art Museum Alex Wall, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), The Pleasure of Architecture, 1983. Image Courtesy of Kemper Art Museum Coop Himmelblau, Super Spaces, c. 1969. Image Courtesy of Kemper Art Museum

From Autonomy to Automation: The Work of Peter Eisenman

BANAMID Architecture Research Institute in collaboration with AN.ONYMOUS will hold the third International conference from the “Contemporary Architecture: Iran and the World Dialogue” series in Tehran, Iran. The conference, titled “From Autonomy to Automation: The Work of Peter Eisenman” will focus on the defining legacy of Peter Eisenman spanning across 50 years of his intellectual and professional body of work. The conference will trace the evolution of Eisenman’s work over time and will examine its imprint on the contemporary discourse of architecture.

The Contentious Legacy of the IAUS

In this in-depth article on Design ObserverBelmont Freeman examines the resurgence of interest in the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, Peter Eisenman's radical, theory-based school that existed from 1967-1985, and questions: what has been the Institute's legacy in the 30 years since its demise? Read Freeman's thoughts in the full article here.

ISSUES? Concerning the projects of Peter Eisenman

The conference will focus on Peter Eisenman's long and outstanding oeuvre.Thematization of almost 50 years of his theoretical and educational work and almost 25 years of his full-time architectural practice is seen here as vital to the understanding of both the past and the presence of contemporary architecture. From the questions related to Renaissance heritage to the problems associated with disciplinary autonomy and the digital, the conference aims to provide a space for a critical debate among architects and theorists.

Eisenman's Evolution: Architecture, Syntax, and New Subjectivity

Iman Ansari with Peter Eisenman in his office, New York 2013. Image Courtesy of an-onymous.com
Iman Ansari with Peter Eisenman in his office, New York 2013. Image Courtesy of an-onymous.com

In this article, which originally appeared on Architectural ReviewIman Ansari interviews Peter Eisenman about his personal views on architecture throughout the course of his career. 

Iman Ansari: More than any other contemporary architect, you have sought a space for architecture outside the traditional and conventional realm. You have continually argued that modern architecture was never fully modern and it failed to produce a cognitive reflection about the nature of architecture in a fundamental way.  From your early houses, we see a search for a system of architectural meaning and an attempt to establish a linguistic model for architecture: The idea that buildings are not simply physical objects, but artifacts with meaning, or signs dispersed across some larger social text. But these houses were also part of a larger project that was about the nature of drawing and representation in architecture. You described them as “cardboard architecture” which neglects the architectural material, scale, function, site, and all semantics associations in favor of architecture as “syntax”: conception of form as an index, a signal or a notation. So to me, it seems like between the object and the idea of the object, your approach favors the latter. The physical house is merely a medium through which the conception of the virtual or conceptual house becomes possible. In that sense, the real building exists only in your drawings.

Peter Eisenman: The “real architecture” only exists in the drawings. The “real building” exists outside the drawings. The difference here is that “architecture” and “building” are not the same.

An axonometric drawing of Eisenman’s House II, (1975). Image Courtesy of an-onymous.com Eisenman's unrealized Qaui Branly Museum in Paris. Image Courtesy of an-onymous.com Model of Cannaregio project with House 11a at different scales (1978). Image Courtesy of an-onymous.com The cover of Michael Haneke's "Funny Games" (2007) with a caption from Eisenman. Image Courtesy of an-onymous.com

SANAA's 'Cloud Boxes' Wins First Prize in Taichung City Competition

SANAA, it is. In attempts to separate itself from its sister cities, Taichung City has named SANAA, led by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, winners of an international competition that intends to unite a newly formed city. As of December 2010, Taichung city executed a mega-merger that increased its population from 1 million inhabitants to 2.5 million, encompassing the skyscraping towers of downtown Taichung to the agricultural mountainside villages of Taichung County. As a result, the local government envisioned a new urban space that would place art at its core, celebrating the regions' disparate cultures. 

Landmark Preservation Versus Ownership

Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi; © Maria Buszek
Vanna Venturi House / Robert Venturi; © Maria Buszek

After years of disconcerting reports that the historic David and Gladys Wright House by Frank Lloyd Wright was under threat of demolition by developers, we announced that a generous benefactor saved it from its fate by providing funds to buy back the property. It seems that this particular story is not unique.  An article on ArchRecord by Frank A. Bernstein lists several other modern architecture treasures that may soon fall under the same threat as they hit the real estate market.

Find out more after the break.

Bettery Magazine Q&A: Is Neighborhood Planning the New City Planning? A Conversation Between Peter Eisenman and P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S

Bettery Magazine: Q&A Series. Is neighborhood planning the new city planning? Peter Eisenman asks P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S
Bettery Magazine: Q&A Series. Is neighborhood planning the new city planning? Peter Eisenman asks P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S

As part of its Question and Answer Series, Bettery Magazine, joined Peter Eisenman and P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S to discuss the development of cities on an urban scale and the recent diversion of this development into the small scale of individual neighborhoods. What follows is a discussion that essentially describes the urban condition as a constant dialogue between scale and function.  

There is an unstoppable element of spontaneous development that is a result of the city's imposing forces as the scale of the individual and the immediate community.  Running concurrently with these developments are municipalities' own agendas that may start off as heavy-handed, but eventually become molded by the will of affected neighborhoods.  This dynamic nature of cities and their functionality is what makes their nature unique and in constant flux.  In response to Eisenman's question: "Is neighborhood planning the new city planning?", P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S addresses the balance of these two scales of development and discusses the four morphological states that city development could take.

Join us after the break for more.

Venice Biennale 2012: The Piranesi Variations / Peter Eisenman

Field of Dreams / Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture © Nico Saieh
Field of Dreams / Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture © Nico Saieh

Inspired by the 13th International Architecture Exhibition‘s theme Common Ground, Peter Eisenman has formed a team to revisit, examine and reimagine Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s 1762 folio collection of etchings, Campo Marzio dell’antica Roma. Derived from years of fieldwork spent measuring the remains of ancient Roman buildings, these six etchings depict Piranesi’s fantastical vision of what ancient Rome might have looked like and represent a landmark in the shift from a traditionalist, antiquarian view of history to the scientific, archaeological view. Eisenman’s team consists of Eisenman Architects, students from Yale University, Jeffrey Kipnis with his colleagues and students of the Ohio State University, and Belgian architecture practice, Dogma. Each group has contributed a response to Piranesi’s work through models and drawings that stimulate discourse on contemporary architecture. In particular, they explore architecture’s relationship to the ground and the political, social, and philosophical consequences that develop from that relationship.

The Project of Campo Marzio / Yale University School of Architecture © Nico Saieh
The Project of Campo Marzio / Yale University School of Architecture © Nico Saieh

Described as “precise, specific, yet impossible”, Piranesi’s images have been a source of speculation, inspiration, research and contention for architects, urban designers and scholars since their publication 250 years ago. Continue after the break to learn more.

Peter Eisenman and Jeffrey Kipnis Lectures at SCI-Arc

Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will be hosting the lectures of well-renowned architect, Peter Eisenman and architectural theorist, Jeffrey Kipnis at their W.M. Keck Lecture Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Eisenman’s lecture will take place Monday, March 5th at 7pm while Keck’s lecture will be held Tuesday, March 6th at 7pm. Both lectures are free and open to the public. More information after the break.