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Peter Eisenman

UNL-Hyde Lecture Series

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Many (count me as one of those) seemed to think this blog was dead, but, alas, we were all wrong and here I am, back for my now customary -it seems- biannual update. There have been some other works waiting the line in the last two years, but, since they’re late already, I thought it might be worth sharing something hot off the presses. A little backstory for this one: A few months ago, Sarah and David Karle, from the University of Nebraska Lincoln contacted me, asking if I’d join this year’s Hyde Lecture Series, a question whose answer is, by default, ‘Yes, of course’.

They also asked if I would like to design this year’s poster. Unfortunately, I’ve been swamped by work this term, and I would hardly be able to fit it in my schedule. So I said the only thing I could: ‘Sure, I’ll do it!’. Of course, since I was in a very tight schedule, I decided to make the drawing as complicated as possible. I’m not sure this is the most crowded cartoon I’ve produced so far, but it’s certainly up there in the Top Ten.

Thanks, guys, I’ll see you in February!

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Bonus peek #1: I rarely (as in ‘never’) produce preliminary mock-ups for my drawings, just some random sketches. But they asked, so as to get an idea of what they would be getting, and in this case I thought it was more than fair. It was also very useful, because the poster needed to be bigger than my usual drawing size, so making sure it worked in advance took some anxiety away. In fact, I later blew it up and drew the pencils on top of it, which made the process of adding the details a pretty zen experience.

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Bonus peek #2: The final drawing for the poster, from pencils, to inks, to colors. See if you can spot all the referents (no Trump, sorry).
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“A decade now, one of Manhattan’s most distinctive icons, that which Baudrillard offered as the perfect architectural embodiment of the simulacrum of the model, disappeared from the island’s skyline.

There are other über-New Yorker architectural icons, of course. Earlier and more widely broadcasted for the better part of the XX century, the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are expressive of a former New York defined by constant competition where each new building sought to top the preceding “…each of them the original moment of a system constantly transcending itself in a perpetual crisis and self-challenge.” In Baudrillard’s discourse, the two towers of the World Trade Center put an (architectural) end to this scenario of vertical competition and mutual building suspicion: The effigy of the capitalist system(Baudrillard again) passed from the pyramid to the perforated card, and the twin WTC towers, perfect parallelepipeds looking like the mute, anonymous, indifferent to competition columns in a statistical graph, gave architectural shape to a system that was no longer competitive, but compatible, a new scenario where competition was substituted by correlation.

The twin towers represented, the end of competition, but also, within Baudrillard’s history of simulacra, the end of all meaning, for they were a pure (architectural) sign, already born replicated. Its meaning destroyed by the duplication itself, the denaturalized Janus of New York’s old World Trade Center ended competition, but did not offer an iterative, serial alternative. If the doubled tower captured and aroused, as Baudrillard put it, the closure of the system in a vertigo of duplication, it also exuded a balance that did no open the door for a longer seriation. It was a series closed on the number two, just as if architecture, in the image of the system, proceeded only from an unchangeable genetic code, a definitive model. Much as it implied the very idea of the series, the World Trade Center was not (mean to be) part of  one, in the same way that it was not an original and its copy. And it was this dichotomy between singularity (one single design) and duality (two towers), and between repetition and the negation of indefinite serialization which helped build the strong iconicity of the pair. (…) Baudrillard also pointed out the iconic power of the parallelepipedic asceticism of the towers. The simple, subtly postmodern ornamentation of the prisms’ skin just contributed the minimum amount of materiality via decoration so as to keep the icon on this side of the line between the real and the ideal.

The undeletable presence of the towers in the collective eye-mind of the society, standing in a liminal space reserved to few image/icons, can be grasped in the shadow of a literal rebuilding, improbable as it was, which still glided over the early discussions on the plans for the reconstruction of ground zero. Certainly, the re-erection of the towers in the wake of their thirtieth anniversary would have taken the issue of duplication to a whole new level, introducing a new number two in the equation. Adding to the preservation of the icon -for the inevitable price of erasing memory-, the cathartic Phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes would have definitely settle the towers in a timeless plane, outside the historical timeline delineated by the products of the skyscraper race, which constructed a traceable history of the development of New York. Unleashing an endless flux of meta-readings, the (re)duplicated -doubly duplicated- WTC would become, in a tongue-twisting mishmash of pairing Baudrillardian tropes, a replica of a simulacrum, a literal copy done to stand for the original in its own location once this has disappeared, which would suggest the unleashing of a Sisyphean process of reconstruction that would endlessly rejuvenate the towers through consecutive fancies destruens. A rather effective alternative to literal reconstruction, Richard Nash Gould’s Tribute in Light/ Towers of Light offered a comparably meaning-full replication that would have been much more effective if (boldly)placed within the void footprints of the towers, which would have turned the lightbeams as much a follow-up as a replacement. Standing like a Gilmourian -or Wateresque- fleeting glimpse, the volumes of light would have appeared as an ideal(ized) recreation of the absence of the towers through their ethereal presence, which inverted the very presence of the original towers in the city: invisible by daylight, material at night, but now suitably devoid of substance.

None of this subtlety made it, however, into the proposals that sought to fill both the physical and functional, as well as iconic void left by the towers, whose double shadow was cast, tilted, twisted, glorified and glossified, and of course, suitably banalized in most of them (…) Standing completely out of the sensibilities where these architectural delicatessen were bred, only the unpopular, unsexy proposal by Eisenman’s Dream Team (Meier, Eisenman, Gwathmey-Siegel, minus Graves and Hejduk, plus a particularly fitting Steven Holl) seemed to want to play on the grounds of the original World Trade Center, tackling on the same issues that had shaped Baudrillard’s reading, as well as the traits that provided it (them) with its iconic aura: replication, refusal of verticality, stripping the form down to a Platonic level. If the Twin Towers both called for and negated the possibility of extending the series they created, Eisenman&friends solved this dichotomy by interposing a new order (…) Indeed, as interwoven as it was within the trajectory of its designers, there is very little in the way of the architect’s presence within the design, very little that had not been there already.  Other than that, the project was pervaded by an asceticism, a lack of gestures, determined to prevent the architect’s persona from showing, as well as to avoid any assertion of the project’s “object self” that would undermine the cupio dissolvi of the new towers within the memory of the former. Ironically, due to their kinship with Eisenman’s language of pure sign, the Tic-Tac-Towers stood as semiotic ghosts (a personal favorite among Gibson’s constructs) of their past selves, so, unlike their twin ancestors, they were signifiers with a very specific meaning, and certain representational requirements.

(…) In the shadow of this proposal, itself reveling in the shadow of the WTC Twin Towers, the underwhelming banality of the finally constructed Freedom Tower becomes doubly (inevitable, wasn’t it?) disheartening, both for its imposingly dull presence and because of the absence it implies. (…) For all their onanistic absurdity, the masturbatory excesses of some of the other proposals were still preferable to the coitus interruptus of the final built form of Liebeskind’s proposal. A compromise on top of a compromise (…on top of a compromise), the single tower at Ground Zero works as a perfect statement of architectural inanity. (…)”

Excerpts from “Iconic On”. Studio Magazine #03: ICON, October 2012

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The cartoon that opens this post was originally meant for a post entitled with it “In the Shadow of No Towers -Ten years After”, intended to be published on September 11, 2011, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 events and celebrate the late twin towers of the WTC. However, although the cartoon itself was finished in time, several circumstances worked together to prevent it from being uploaded that day, and I decided to put it to sleep till a better occasion would come.

That better occasion (much better, indeed) was the publication of the third issue (ICON) of Milano-based magazine STUDIO, which were so kind as to publish it, and gave me the opportunity to expand the ideas I intended to tackle on in the original post into a full-length (longer than I remembered, actually) article, with a new ilo, too. The magazine, whose previous issues included contributions from Alberto Campo Baeza or Vittorio Gregotti, Luis Úrculo, DPR-Barcelona, features articles by RRCStudio itself, as well as Fake Industries, Alicia Guerrero&Freddy Massad, Léopold Lambert (The Funambulist), Franco Purini, Wai Think Tank and many others.

The complete issue can be read in its entirety in ISSUU, or bought here, if you’re a paper fetishist such as myself. I’d strongly recommend to go through the whole, nicely designed issue, and mildly recommend to read ICONIC ON in full, which I believe makes a little more sense that way. Please, just skip all the typos which are there due to my inAbiliti to corrrect te ttexts once I’ve writen tHem.

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(…) Digging into the dirty laundry of the architectural star-system is, in any case, neither a recent phenomenon nor a curiosity exclusively circumscribed to today’s divas. The mouth-to-ear airing of our architectural heroes’ private sins has been an inevitable aside of their rise as idols. Small talk on the lower passions of the masters of the past has accompanied the writing of the big lines of the History of Modern Architecture, and along with our worshiping of their oeuvre comes the delight to learn about their quaintest interiorities: Mies van der Rohe´s infamous (non) affairs with Ms. Farnsworth, Alvar Aalto´s alcoholism -a recurring topic for Finnish cartoonists3, or Le Corbusier´s pathological Messianic obsessions are personal details that have transcended the boundaries of scientific biographies to become precious pieces of information we love adding to our common knowledge of them. We need both heroes and villains: The formers to inspire us, the latter to offer us some moral relief at the sight of a worse human being than ourselves. But even more, we’d rather having our heroes be our villains too. Some will argue that these minor flaws humanize our icons, making them flesh and blood human beings we can better relate to, and certainly this “fleshing out” helps build our interest on them. But this humanization is also an excuse that sugarcoats a very straight forward preservation mechanism, devised to protect our self-esteem at that point where admiration meets sheer envy. There’s nothing we love more than a rags to riches story -except for a riches to rags story, that is.

A most interesting reversion of this turns up, however, when these minutiae actually become an integral part of the mythos, to the point of being vital contributors to its very construction. Again, the careful devise of its own legend was an inherent feature of architecture’s entrance into modernity, often created as a fiction before it really happened. (…) The fascinating point here is how this emergence of gossiping contributes to the creation of the starchitect; how in the case of contemporary icons such as Rem Koolhaas it´s the unofficial flux of information surrounding the figure which ultimately elevates him into a legendary status.

Of course, in the case of Koolhaas the shaping of this aura is also engineered through conventional means; Koolhaas is a sharp thinker and an eloquent writer and spokesman who has shaken the architectural scene of the last decades with acute reflections of deliberate and controlled ambiguity. But even more than through his words, the Koolhaas mediatic persona has been constructed through a parallel dissemination of details about his behind-the-scenes: stories that tell us of a man who lives in airplanes, sending by mail corrections for a document he was given in a meeting a few hours before, of a Renaissance man who swims every time he lands, or wins a competition with a single, cunning speech5. All this mouth-to-ear stories, propagated through the netsphere, contribute to endow his figure with an halo of epic mystery that propells him into an almost superhuman category. Koolhaas is the über-example of the starchitect, where the personality comes first and the work second. And that’s the bottom line: Koolhaas can produce starchitecture because he is, first and foremost, a star. Le Corbusier´s delightully maudit portrait, painting nude in Saint Tropez has been replaced by a cover of L’Uomo Vogue.

But public notoriety is as easy to gather in the age of software as difficult to retain. The internet era is also the age of the twitterization of knowledge, a time where information both reigns and deflates, where news are as ubiquitous as thoroughly made-to-forget, immediately replaced by new installments. The same could be said about some of the architecture produced by this idiosyncrasy, made to glow for a moment and quickly disappear; architecture of futile monumentality and inevitable ephemerality designed within a discipline obsessed with creating the building of the century… of the week. In this new paradigm, the (st)architect has to become a public figure, an entertainer, a performer, or even, if needed, a celebrity of the Kardashian kind. The World Wide Web and the rapid production allowed by digital tools have multiplied the presence of architecture in everyday life, and have worked together to create a new type of architect sustained above all by his communication skills. The internet, blog culture, Twitter, have leveled the capability of everyone to achieve their share of Warholian fame, but in turn, their allotted fifteen minutes have been drastically reduced to -maybe- fifteen seconds. The attention of the audience, brought up in a solid diet of continuous novelty, is volatile, and the architecture of today has to keep nourishing its audience at a steady pace, or risk disappearing from the picture right away.

And it is in this context where gossip, criticism and satire, emerge as tools for the maintenance of public presence. The internet has also revived the long-loved tradition of the fast gag, the sketchy commentary, and the cartoon, which offer the necessary escape route for the asfixiating ubiquity and self-indulgence of architectural discourse. As any endogamic discipline, architecture has a record of taking itself too seriously, and of alternating victimism and self-deprecation with tremendous arrogance and a myopic lack of perspective (ironic as it is) on the relevance of its own obsessions. The reemergence of satire appears as a natural counterbalance for this, offering us a way to mock our loved-hated idols that’s apparently naive, inoffensive (but with the potential to become really offensive), and sublimate our frustration through ironic laughter, instead of bitter full-frontal (yes) criticism, while at the same time, reinforcing the (com)position of the starchitectural who’s who. As Oscar Wilde, via some of our infamous celebrities, would point out, the ultimate goal is to be talked about so as to be (there), even if just to be thrashed, and architects, with their fragile yet unrestrained egos, become the ideal victim/beneficiary of this revival. Today, gossip refashions itself as a form of viral advertising. The motto is “keep them talking”. (…)

Tell me more! – Gossiping, cartooning, and the nourishing of the  Starchitectural status quo

Conditions magazine #10: Gossip, July 2012

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The above are some excerpts from a (not really much longer) article published in the last issue of Conditions magazine, which I received last month, in the middle of the busiest July I can remember. Conditions is an independent Scandinavian magazine on Architecture and Urbanism edited by Joana da Rocha Sá Lima, Tor Inge Hjemdal, and  Anders Melsom whose next issue, “Possible Greenland”, will be part of the official catalogue of this year’s Danish/Greenlandic contribution to the Venice Biennale. Conditions #10 is dedicated to gossip, and features contributions by Robert Somol, Eduard Sancho, Christian Hjelle, Irene Hwang, Ed Ogosta, Espen Vatn, Freddy Massad&Alicia Guerrero Yeste, Roberto Naboni, Iben Falconer and yours truly. The essay above was written around the same time as Modern Talking, the article published in Mas Context #14: Communication that tackled on some overlapping issues, which explains the recurrent use of some examples and ramblings; either that or I’m entering a wino-in-a-bar dynamics where I just keep repeating the same the same stuff over and over. Please, be forgiving.

If you want to read the full article, click in the images below, or -much better- order a copy here. You can also read the text of Eduard Sancho’s And if most of the job offers are fake? here. Special thanks to Gislunn Halfdanardottir.

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Once upon a time, people compared with their neighbors. Your neighbor was your point of reference and thus the most desirable object of gossip and eavesdropping. Not so anymore. In the world of global networking, you are driven by ambition to compare yourself with the most clever or world-renowned exponents of your trade. Even a critique, satire or parody of the star-system of architecture is an affirmation of its hegemony. Who doesn’t want to be the object of architecture gossip? After all, it’s giving the “stars” more attention, no matter how critical the original intention was. For addicts of gossip, all news is good news, the worst thing is silence, and even a well mediated “scandal” can actually promote your career.
The current issue of CONDITIONS investigates the function of gossip in architecture. Gossip has always been around in architecture as one of the oldest ways of sharing, maneuvering and convincing. But how does it manifest itself today within the instant culture of internet and social media? What is the role of gossip in contemporary networking? Has the logic of gossip and instant gratification also penetrated what we used to call architectural critique?

Strolling the Architectural Zoo: Eisenmanis Infuribus (click to enlarge)

Later today (in my time zone), the jury of the Pritzker Prize will reveal the name of the laureate for the 2012 edition of the award. This year, the 9-member jury integrated by Lord Peter Palumbo, Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Karen Stein, and Martha Thorne will decide the name of the architect who will be invested as the 34th laureate in a ceremony that will take place in Beijing. Thomas J. Pritzker, in reference to his city being selected as this year’s host, commented that “over the three decades of prize-giving, we have held ceremonies in fourteen different countries, in venues ranging from the white house in Washington DC to Todai-Ji temple in Nara, Japan. the tradition of moving the event to world sites of architectural significance was established to emphasize that the prize is international, the laureates having been chosen from 16 different nations to date. This will be our 34th event marking the first time we have gone to China.” Inevitably, China and Beijing have also hosted an increasing number of projects built by past Pritzker Prize laureates, such as Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Herzog&de Meuron, and I.M. Pei, winner of the 1983 edition.

Over the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from the outside of the anglo-saxon market. In 2011, Eduardo Souto de Moura came (at least for me), as a pleasant surprise, and this year there seems to be a consensus -as there was last year- on Steven Holl’s or Toyo Ito’s likeability to become laureated. However, the web resounds with many other names, from David Chipperfield to Kengo Kuma and Ben Van Berkel, or even the recently deceased Luis Moreno Mansilla, among other more extravagant proposals. There seems to be also a big consensus on the unlikeability of both Daniel Libeskind and Peter Eisenman, who I think would qualify to reprise the equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s role in  the Oscars of 2006.

Anyone wanna bet?

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UPDATE: Finally, Chinese architect Wang Shu, from “Amateur Architecture Studio” received this year’s Pritzker Prize.

From Chigago Tribune’s Cityscapes: Wang Shu, 49 (left), deftly melds tradition and modernity, often by reusing bricks and tiles from demolished buildings in such bold new designs as a history museum in the Chinese city of Ningbo. Wang calls his office the “Amateur Architecture Studio,” yet that name is far too modest, the jury that selected him said in its citation. His work “is that of a virtuoso in full command of the instruments of architecture—form, scale, material, space and light,” said the jury, which mainly consists of architectural experts. This year, it included for the first time U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has a keen interest in the field.

In a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Saturday, Wang said the award was “big surprise.” He was sharply critical of the tabula rasa development practices that are transforming the cities of the world’s most populous nation.  “Originally, Chinese had many beautiful cities,” Wang said in his clear but imperfect English. “They demolish everything. They called it modern city. They build a very wide road system. Then every block they give to a development company to build a high-rise apartment building. Suddenly we let every Chinese city become big suburb. (…) New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas combined together (…) is Shanghai.”
 
Wang and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded their practice in 1997 in the southeastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. Their portolio spans a broad range of scales, from museums, high-rise apartments and college buildings to single-family houses whose curving roofs subtly evoke ancient Chinese pagodas. The Pritzker jury singled out Wang’s Ningbo history museum as a superbly-functioning icon that presents a powerful alternative to the twin extremes of architectural nostalgia and shock-of-the-new modernity. “In this world, people like to talk about science, technology, computer,” Wang said. I like to talk about architecture by hand–hand-drawing to hand-making.”  
 
“His buildings have the unique ability to evoke the past, without making direct references to history,” the jury said in its citation.  Although jury members knew the presentation would be made in Beijing when they deliberated earlier this year, the location of the ceremonies did not influence their decision, according to administrators of the prize. “The jury does not speak about geography. They never portion out between countries. The only concern they have is architectural quality,” said Martha Thorne, the prize’s executive director.
 
More at Cityscapes and EdgarGonzalez.com.

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A fistful of useful links: The official announcement can be found at the Pritzker official site here, along with a -not that- short bio of the architect. An architectural tour through Wang Shu’s different works can be found in this post by Edgar González, and this other one in Domus, while Los Vacíos Urbanos offers a nice set of the Ningbo Museum with photgraphs by Iwan Baan (more here). Another impressive set by Evan Chakroff  can be found in Archinect (more in Evan’s own blog, Tenuous Resilience), and A Weekly Dose of Architecture already featured a stroll through the China Academy of Art third campus in Zhuantang Town in this nice old post from 2008. Designboom has a couple of posts dedicated to Wang Shu’s installations in the Venice Bienale and the 2011 Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in Shenzen/Hong Kong. Finally, Archdaily offers a review of Shu’s figure by Pritzker member of the jury Alejandro Aravena.

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LAST UPDATES: Why Wang Shu? An article by Brendan McGetrick at Domus Web. Domus also recovered a quite complete article on the  Ningbo History Museum from their archive here.

Also, the nice people in METALOCUS decided to translate part of this post and publish it, along with the illustration, on their website.

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Noone’s gonna get the cinephilic reference (otherwise, prove me wrong if you dare).

In any case, the Food Section of The New City Reader, curated by  William Prince, Krista Ninivaggi, and Nicola Twilley will “hit the stands” at the New Museum next Sunday. Be sure to get a free copy if you are in NY. Unless there have been last-minute changes, you’ll find four cartoons in it (Hence the overload of updates this week and the next one). Previous issues can be read here.

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Next week’s section of The New City Reader revolves around food and (in) the city  This issue has been curated (actually, it’s still being produced as I write this) by William Prince & Krista Ninivaggi from Park, and Nicola Twilley, from Edible Geography and co-founder of the engaging Food Print Project.

The cartoons deal with the undergoing subtopic of overhearing and the relationships bred at the informal, unexpected gatherings in food places. Following a suggestion by Will Prince, Phillip Johnson -the habitual guest at Four Season’s table 32 in the Seagram Building- entered the game pretty soon (thanks, Will), but he revealed such a charismatic cartoon character that became a recurring theme himself. For further reading on Phillip Johnson and his relationship with the Four Seasons, you can check Terry Riley’s “Fifty Years of the Four Seasons” in Metropolis Magazine, and Steven Kurutz’s “With a Legend Gone, What Fate for Table 32” in The New York Times. Paul Goldberger also wrote a nice recount of Phillip Johnson’s career after his death for TNY that can be found here.

More cartoons for this issue to follow this week and the next one. The Food section will be available for free pickup at The New Museum next Friday (November 19). You can read all the issues of The New City Reader online in The New City Reader Blog.

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The New City Reader: A Newspaper of Public Space is a project curated by Kazys Varnelis and Joseph Grima. The New City Reader is a performance-based editorial residency designed as a part of the Last Newspaper, an exhibit running at New York’s New Museum from 6 October 2010‒9 January 2011. It consists of one edition, published over the course of the project, with a new section produced weekly by alternating guest editorial teams within the museum’s gallery space. These sections are  available free every Friday at the New Museum and will also be posted in public throughout the city for collective reading. The permanent staff and list of guest editorial teams can be found in Varnelis.net.

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