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.
As one of the most revered and often reviled architects of the latter part of the 20th century, Peter Eisenman has courted controversy throughout his 50-year career, often attempting to distance himself from the work of his contemporaries and standing in firm opposition to popular trends. In this interview, Eisenman elaborates on his beliefs about architecture and the new direction he has taken in recent years – while simultaneously pulling no punches when discussing the work of others, including Rem Koolhaas, Richard Meier, and even his younger self.
The interview is a shortened version of the latest of three interviews with Peter Eisenman (from October 2003, June 2009, and February 2016) that comprise the upcoming book by Vladimir Belogolovsky “Conversations with Peter Eisenman.” The book, published by Berlin-based DOM Publishers will be presented during the opening days at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale in late May this year.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
In this in-depth article on Design Observer, Belmont 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The annual AIAS FORUM meeting for 2011 will take a break from the snow of the past two years (2009 Minnesota, 2010 Toronto) and be held in sunny downtown Phoenix, Arizona. FORUM is the annual meeting of the AIAS and the premier global gathering of architecture and design students. The conference provides students with the opportunity to learn about important issues facing architectural education and the profession, to meet students, educators, and professionals with common interests, and to interact with some of today’s leading architects through keynote addresses, tours, workshops and seminars, last years FORUM was attended by over 1,000 young and ambitious architecture students and AIAS members. This years Keynote Speakers will be Jeffrey Inaba, founder of C-Lab and former project manager with Rem Koolhaas and OMA, Brad Lancaster, author of www.harvestingrainwater.com, and University of Californa, San Diego architect and professor Teddy Cruz.