Eisenman Says West is Best

Friday, May 8, 2009

Michael Graves, David Childs, and Peter Eisenman share a laugh at the Urban Center.

Michael Graves, David Childs, and Peter Eisenman share a laugh at the Urban Center.

On May 4 at the Urban Center, Peter Eisenman and Michael Graves had a conversation, moderated by David Childs, about their favorite books to inaugurate the exhibition, Unpacking My Library. In the light of the current crisis that the print media is experiencing, listening to these legendarily erudite bibliophiles was a rare privilege. But the evening was not without controversy.

Besides stories of rare books they have encountered and how architecture was taught back in the day, they engaged in a polemic discussion about current trends in architectural education, especially the risk of turning architecture schools into places that only teach computer programs and LEED rules. Both Eisenman and Graves called for a return to traditional Western education and questioned new methods that Eisenman referred as pluralist: “You can’t study the periphery if you don’t know the core,” he told AN.

The three architectural giants entertaining their gathered audience.

The three architectural giants entertaining their gathered audience.

The discussion reminded me of my first day at architecture school, in which a bunch of us, fresh out of high school, were asked to write what we thought architecture was. Naturally, untainted by the six years of heavy theory and history we had yet to endure, we had no clue how to even begin to address the question. What is architecture? What makes it good or memorable? How can you tell good architecture versus mediocre?

Eisenman reminded us that we know Palladio for his compilation of drawings and manuscripts, that Robert Venturi’s built oeuvre wouldn’t be taken as seriously if it wasn’t for Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, or that LeCorbusier’s white houses wouldn’t be any different from others built all over France in that period if not for Vers une Architecture, and that Koolhaas started to be Koolhaas after Delirious New York. But what about Phidias, Brunelleschi, Wright, or Mies? I believe there are a great number of Masters in the Western tradition (we don’t want to risk being labeled as pluralists by Mr. Eisenman) that have earned their place by their built masterpieces and not by their written work. It is true that good books are a delight to own and a great source of inspiration, but it is altogether different to encounter a building that that makes your heart skip a beat, signaling you are in the space of a Master.

4 Responses to “Eisenman Says West is Best”

  1. the theory cop says:

    But I am afraid that you’re wrong and Eisenman is right. Mies and Wright left us a trove of writing. Mies edited a magazine — “G” — for goodness sake! And Wright probably wrote more than Eisenman. And anyway, as for the emotive impact of the buildings you mentioned, you would never have visited those “masterpieces” if it was not for the writing on them!

  2. […] A/N Blog » Eisenman Says West is Best […]

  3. Tommy Manuel says:

    I had Eisenman as a final juror in Hernan Diaz-Alonso’s studio at GSAPP. My project was by no means on par with D-A’s work and I appreciate his stylistic sensibilities; however, Eisenman was extremely critical of D-A’s studio and the ignoring of those “core” issues fundamental to architecture. Taking aesthetic qualities from insects or any other critters and applying them to an architecture is only so interesting. At one point Eisenman said to D-A, “How is this any different from Calatrava?” He’s right, it wasn’t. D-A just tends to be more grotesque. Peripheral investigations such a D-A’s are fashionable but they hardly address architecture at the level Eisenman prefers. Indeed, the intangible quality by which so much design is undertaken these days in architectural education just might leave us with more architecture that’s only as deep as the surface models that precede them.

  4. Big bad bastard of GSAPP says:

    I think D-Alonso needs a new software to stay relevant six more weeks!
    I have never seen anybody this much over rated. All his students are looking for a job at computer game industry. He should too.

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