5 Projects: Interview 3 / Matthew Persinger

5 Projects: Interview 3 / Matthew Persinger

5 (student) Projects: is a group of projects completed at Yale University’s School of Architecture by 5 young architects during their graduate education. Each of the 5 projects are sited in New Haven on or adjacent to Yale’s campus. Each project focused on an institutional building, loosely defined by program, type and context. These commonalities became a framework for discussion that illuminated individual polemics and debate about experimentation in today’s architectural landscape. Despite the initial appearance of diversity within the set, each architect sought to address a common set of ideas emerging at Yale and perhaps within the discourse of architecture at large.

Primarily addressing the legacy of Postmodernism (in its various guises and forms), each sought an architecture that engaged historical memory, local context and an renewed concern for communication and legibility. Each was interested in an operable or speculative way to use history and its associated culturally established values, meanings and forms to produce new bodies of work. In that sense, each sought a contemporary way to learn from the past that would have particular resonance in today’s social, political, and cultural milieu.

The identity of the group of 5 is meant as a provocation towards two related issues: the desire for individuality and expression by today’s younger generation of architects inculcated by media and secondly, the desire for consensus within discourse on what counts today as critical & theoretical concerns for architecture. The aspiration behind the interviews and feature is to reveal an internal discussion which demonstrates an effort to clarify and identify a set of ideas that underpin contemporary architectural production. The feature and interviews were organized and conducted by Alexander Maymind.

You can check the first interview and second interview in case you missed them. Read the third one after the break.

Interview 3: Matthew Persinger (critic: Keith Krumwiede)

Your project has a wide variety of sources, verging on maximalism. Let’s get them out on the table and identify them, talk about how they are used and why. What is immediately evident is a large number of quite divergent source material. One can think back to Philip Johnson’s photo- essay in Architectural Record on his recently-completed Glass House in which he tried to demonstrate and synthesize a variety of different influences into a singular concept. In your case it is the opposite, no synthesis or coherence is achieved, instead becoming a mosaic of pieces or fragments assembled together.

- chain link fence motif on facade - diagonal entrance stair - square punched window - dormer window - Yale University Beinecke Rare books library library tower (designed by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM in 1963) - Mario Brothers - Mies van der Rohe cruciform column (scaled up) - Corbusier’s La Tourette chapel - ‘green’ sustainable (and the color green in various guises)

For me, the major idea here is in fact not the individuality of the parts or their respective meanings, but their combination into an aggregated form.

Let’s talk more about the use of pop-cultural references within an Ivy-league university context such as Yale (Mario Brothers, etc.). How will these be viewed in 20 years? 50 years?

To start, the whole project for me was a reaction. I was reacting to being a student at Yale and addressing the pedagogy of the school – both in terms of YSOA’s intimacy with postmodernism and Yale’s relationship to the city of New Haven (given that the university feels quite sequestered and consciously reinforces that effect in a number of different ways). I think these two issues are very important today. Yale’s own rhetoric of change and sustainability in the (political) air has dovetailed with its attempts to update its image, which historically has relied on tradition and continuity and a strict separation from the urban context. I wanted to exaggerate the possibility of this rhetoric of connection, sustainability, and community inclusion to an almost absurd level. I also wanted to create a diverse project that pulled in influences from the local context and tradition of Yale’s campus, as well as various architectural precedents that take on and transform typology (Corbusier’s La Tourette, and Strausbourg are the two key projects that became the underlying diagram and structure for the plan), and lastly, looking at contemporary imagery and forms as another resource for shaping the project. For example the 1-up mushroom/ I-pod with large spotted windows is used for the main auditorium to contrast the other traditional geometries in a playful way, but to house the playing of collected information to the building’s audience.

What is your attitude towards the project of collage, typically associated with the 80s Decon phenomenon or West Coast architects like Frank Gehry?

Yes, there is a deliberate use of found material, juxtaposed in this project to potentially evoke a new, or changed reading of the original “sample.” However, I would hope the project would side with the West Coasters in public reception. It was important for me to have that liberal take on the associations and encouraging a feeling of almost- transgression. You enter on three sides of the building, in three distinct entry sequences. A street entrance, a classical column entrance, and a park or informal entrance. Each entrance takes on the qualities addressed on that elevation and pedestrian path. The way the building tries to minimize the differences between the inside and outside happen with the surface of the ground, and the spaces carved into the building at these points. This is where it is more than collage, or just associations of alien parts, but more fluid and integrated into the cultural expectations of entry, into an institutional building (none of them are formal and/or prioritized over another). Therefore, this is not deconstructivism. This is not a breaking down from any original language or structure, it is a mash-up at its best, a good old Americanizing of language if anything. For me, I believe that one way to push the discourse of architecture forward right now is through new combinations of a-b-c bites of the parts of architectural past, with a conscious use and knowledge of new technologies and methods building.

Your project tries to resist simply being applique or ornamental. Conceptually, what is the relationship to Robert Venturi, who declared in his book Complexity and Contradiction that architecture had shifted from being primarily concerned with space to surface?

I am very much indebted to Venturi for the conceptual ability to cut, copy, and paste like I wanted to. But, also in debt to the early projects of Frank Gehry, with his sculptural compositions that he has compared to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – where different shapes and forms all together show a symbolic image of democracy. Also, I admire his close relationship to art/ artists. If it’s Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, or Serra for Gehry, for me, it would be those guys and Tony Kragg, Jeff Koons, Erwin Wurm, and Dan Graham, etc. I also like contemporary work that reuses original works by adding or manipulating them such as the photography of Richard Prince. I wanted to see if you could produce that type of work in architecture. In terms of the relationship between the exterior forms and the interior, only at key moments do the exterior forms make it through to the depths of the interior where they become the structure or part of the internal massing. So, instead of collage as the defining term I would use the term montage, the editing of a series of pieces to tell story.

How does your project relate to such British practices as the AOC and FAT? Are there significant differences or allegiances that help to position the work?

There is a knowledge of both of these British practices. I like FAT’s “the Villa” project, in the Heerlijkheid, for its ingenious use of layered flat or extruded parts. They create a very rich visual effect with simple profiles. While FAT lacks a type of material articulation and rely on the image, the AOC is very material savvy. They use more traditional construction methods by combining them in simple ways to more whimsical ways, that are still graphic in nature, but more “real” in material. It is a wonderful effect. Like Richard Linklater films, or the graphic novel Sin City, or new forms of animation that use both digital processes and analog stop action together. It is that back and forth between abstraction, geometries, and traditional materials that make the project so captivating and weird.

Given your own background, what sort of intellectual debt is helpful to understand where the ideas for the project were spawned?

There are a couple main points of departure. One is the influence of the architectural criticism of Jeff Kipnis, especially his writing on Rem Koolhaas. The way I address the continuity of the ground plane through the project relies on Kipnis’s articulation of Koolhaas’ use of the Miesian stage/ plinth. However, another influence that Kipnis’ writing has had on me is his discussion of affect. Instead of relying on digital forms, or exaggerated computer driven processes, I assume as well an audience will find these effects through a combination of material and tectonic coding, as well as partially recognizable figures. This is more of a ah-ha cognitive process mixed with the other sensual properties of the architecture, but that’s the difference in how I would like to address the way we might aggregate form today.

What is the relationship to context, conceptually, formally, historically, etc.?

The siting for this project is very important. More than the overall design, siting positions how the building will foster community and citizen participation in this urban campus condition. So the building takes the entirety of the site with large expansive floor-plates that are then carved by pedestrian paths up and through the section. Formally, it is low and discreet for a large building, having little to no singular monumental image. This was intentional in its massing and form, with the ambition of setting up an alternative to the monolithic Collegiate Gothic architecture of Yale’s campus. Elements such as the moat, gable, stone, are used to integrate the building into its surroundings, but they are used differently than the traditional ways; the moat is an occupiable space for the students, the gables become light wells, and stone is applied to be more of a malleable wallpaper.

How is the project speculative? How is it pragmatic?

I think its speculative in the way it uses, and combines forms. Even in post-modernism (the architectural variety) there was a devotion to getting things right, or making commentary. Here the combinations are effect and perception driven. This is more akin to musical combinations or mash-ups, or video montage. The effect is not a static statement, or I hope it will evolve as time passes. In its pragmatism, I hope there is a sense of intense programmatic sharing. This was a requirement of the program, and something I took on very seriously (even with some degree of suspicion actually). The program for this Computing and the Arts Center encouraged informal spaces of meeting and collective association that could occur in the circulation spaces or as dedicated spaces outside the dedicated program spaces. This was funny to me, because as architects we did a great job since the 1960s to promote more flexible programmatic relationships that do not allow for total power of the institution. From Tschumi’s event-space, to Koolhaas’ junkspace there has been a desire to break down and cross-program institutional and public space as a healthy liberation from more formal traditional, and at times oppressive models. But, when the institution itself asks for this, either we did a good job, or its time to rethink social and institutional organizations when these informal models have become the institutionalized model. Not knowing what to do, I said OK, I will give them what they asked for tenfold. This building has many secondary spaces within the circulation and between dedicated programs, to meet, see, look, be seen, etc. Inside it is a veritable fishbowl of activity and transparency. This is what separates it from all other Yale buildings.

How does the project relate to larger common concerns that are emerging at Yale School of Architecture? More specifically, how does your project deal with the recent re-emergence of ideas lingering from postmodernism and Venturi?

I’m not sure if it is a YSOA thing or just a cultural change. But we have talked about FAT and AOC as well as other firms like MUF, from England. But, even MOS here in New Haven, new work by Greg Lynn, and maybe even OMA spin-offs like WorkAC, all have a tinge of new interest in references and quotations of form. I think the taboo of iconic post-modernism is coming to an end and we are seeing an interest in bringing more content appreciation and wit back into the discourse. Mainly this interest is due to an agitated political climate where designers and artists want to engage the issues and are looking for ways to communicate with larger audiences today. They are looking at the first generation of designers/architects that attempted to gain a populist audience and this time they want to radically engage everyone.

Which architects in your own personal collection are crucial to the formation of this project?

Gehry, Venturi, Koolhaas, Lynn, Eisenman, FAT, Le Corbusier, Mies, Stern, and finally James Stirling. I was not very familiar with Stirling’s work prior to this project, unfortunately that was a lack in my education. But I wanted to include him in this list because after the project was finished, I found Stirling and saw an uncanny type of similarity to his working style and combinatorial languages in my own work. I was very excited, and somewhat disappointed to find that some of the formal blends I thought I had invented were done by Stirling a decades ago. It was also the narrative in his work that was so intriguing to me. Each statement, and all of his projects are statements, were tuned into history, architectural precedent, the politics of the site, and public reception in similar ways to how I think about architecture.

What is the agenda behind the monumentality of your project?

This is something I thought about a lot. I was sure that a project done today on this campus should have a monumental quality. It should appear to fit into the scale and substance of this institution. What I did not want however, was to lock down that monumentality in a singular fashion. I did not want a facade that screamed this is the entrance, the only entrance. But, I wanted to create distinct facades that are monumental at the pedestrian scale but have an eclectic or diverse form. Each of the four facades addresses the context in its own way. The park passage, the Hillhouse lawn, the Prospect street urban, and the School of Management (service side). Each takes on the elements of the extremely local context, and has a face that complements these elements. Again, each face is composed of multiple pieces that allow it to fit in. The Prospect side has a stone base, and carved benches into the base at the windows, while also incorporating a moat on one side and a cantilevered entrance. The passage side wraps the path into the building with a split stair where you can pass through to Prospect Street or ascend to the main level. Above the entry is a cut in the structure that resembles a chain-link fence. Above that is the ivy patterned sun screen that acts as a hedge that you pass under. These layers break down the scalar monumentality that might occur if they were singular moments like a columned portico for example.

I think the question of monumentality is important today. We are in a time where large monuments are difficult to afford or necessary as political representation has been dispersed. The monumental objects of our time will need to hold power with less size and represent more diverse peoples. This is what I was thinking about when addressing entry and making memorable architectural marks for the next generation.

About this author
Cite: Sebastian Jordana. "5 Projects: Interview 3 / Matthew Persinger" 20 Apr 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/129455/5-projects-interview-3-matthew-persinger> ISSN 0719-8884

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