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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Book Reviews  »  Peter Eisenman: The Architecture of Chaos

Peter Eisenman: The Architecture of Chaos

By eski | Published  12/19/2011 | Book Reviews | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://www.proz.com/doc/3455
Author:
eski
Mexico
Spanish to English translator
Became a member: Sep 16, 2008.
 

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As founding director of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) from 1967 to 1982, Peter Eisenman explored and researched As founding director of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) from 1967 to 1982, Peter Eisenman explored and researched a theory free of architectural dogmas; more related to philosophy and linguistics, ideas which he was able to divulge as editor of the institute's publication, "OPPOSITES", which pursued the dialectics of contraries and opposites in architecture.

It's interesting to note that Eisenman, before this, was a member of The Architect's Collaborative (TAC), founded in 1945 by none other than Walter Gropius; father of the Bauhaus and one of the pillars of the so-called Modern Movement. How he disassociated from the modernists, with their markedly functionalist doctrine and evolved into perhaps the maximum exponent of the theory of chaos applied to architecture at the dawn of the 21st century is the subject of this essay.

TRULY BAD ARCHITECTURE
Nicolas Cabral has said that to create bad architecture the best method is to hire someone who only knows about architecture. Let's consider a few examples: No one who has read the texts of Christopher Alexander (An Intemporal Way of Building) can lightly dismiss the seductive allure of his writing; yet his Cafe Linz is not just intranscendental; it borders on the childish_ a complete contradiction of his literature , which transcends mere building and is capable of inspiring transgressive architecture. And what of Robert Venturi ("Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture", "Learning from Las Vegas")? An excellent polemist, an eloquent writer, a suggestive theorist-and a mediocre designer; almost an insult to his writing. The polemic theories proposed by Rem Koolhaas in his books ("S,M,L,XL" and "Delerious New York") have excited debate in architectural circles worldwide, but when will his architecture catch up with his literature?

A WAY OUT OF THE TRAP

Eisenman, foreseeing the limits imposed upon design by the rigid parameters of Euclidean geometry, the classical search for an expression of form derived from a supposedly necessary function, and orthogonic projections of volumes in three-dimentional space, searches elsewhere for a way out of the "trap" of conventional design process. Instead of relying solely on the works and theories of the great interpreters before him, or even of his distinguished colleagues, he decides to explore other disciplines, not traditionally associated with architectural investigation , territories where the questioning of order, coherence and structure have not only been proposed, but scientifically asserted: Mandelbrot's theory of fractal geometries*, the premise of complexity-sustaining that within complex systems, even the slightest fluctuation can provoke important changes in the entire structure; and a major degree of complexity and disorder of the fragments lead to chaos.

From the theories of quantum physics and mathematics, Eisenman turned to the the dynamics of linguistics. With equally penetrating insight he examines the work, for instance, of Robert Wilson**, accepting the irrational as a creative pretext, including errors of grammmar and spelling, and a disregard for punctuation ( the structure itself); a work intentionally absurd, to question the use and and conventional meaning of words and objects, like Kafka's chair-which collapses upon use.

[ Recalling my first encounter with Eisenman's early work (House III); a series of axonometric drawings revealing his design process for a residence (Robert Miller, Lakeside, Connecticut:1971), I was awed by the simultaneouis use of fragmentation, intersection, grid rotation, height variation, and interpenetration of geometric volumes in one small, if not simple, house. A student of design at the time, I felt inspired to search beyond traditional compositional approaches for one of my first architectural models, basing the design for an elevated beach house on an origami (the Japanese art of folding paper) exercise which served as the "module" I employed to create the submodules that made up the different components of the of the building by playing with scale, distortion, exaggeration, amputation, and omission of the initial form. I remember now the wonderful experience of enrichment derived from discovering the range of diversity which the various stages of the folds, creases, and "bending" of the origami module contributed to the design process of my project. The result was a somewhat starteling interpretetion of a 60m2 beach house on stilts; a design inspired by a chat with Bob Mashburn (My then design professor and a disciple of R.Buckminster Fuller) who encouraged me to look into origami as a source of creative influence.]

"THE NEW YORK FIVE"
In 1969, Peter Eisenman formed part of the "New York Five" together with John Hedjuk, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, And Richard Meier, colleagues which, without exception, left their mark on the history of later 20th-century design.

THE CORROSIVE AGENT
Instead of constructing his theorem on order, "Beauty", function, or any other racionalist concept, Eisenman deliberately chose a plainly antagonistic position; provoking anxiety and uneasiness, rejecting the traditional premise of "Harmony", aesthetics, etc. His theoretical-practical works question the use of buildings as "machines for living", he aims to destabilize and twist socially accepted symbols associated with comfort and shelter: houses with roots in a dislocation and distancing from those elements obedient to racionalism, all initially in the color white (a pallete also shared by his contemporary, Richard Meier): these, although proceeding from the academy, succeed in provoking disassociation and nihilism.
These first designs, with no other title than the temporal sequence in which they were presented, were architectural experiments. The first nine are contextually independent of any reference to site, landscape and the exterior. Later, in his auto-psychoanalytic sessions, he proposes the absence of the house; it is only the center, and what exists is the exterior. Finally, in houses "X", "XI", and "El Even Odd", he encrusts his solutions in the ground.

ROTATING GRIDS
Eisenman then enters a period of experimentation in which he uses the grid as a compositional principle and as a principle of program organization. Beginning orthogonally, he later evolves to layers which, repeating themselves one upon another, displace themselves. Or he rotates and superimposes the grid creating new modules and ever more complex submodules.

MULTIDIMENSIONAL SPACE-TIME
However seemingly contradictory, Eisenman alludes to the notion of an "invisible structure", a profound pre-ordination. He accepts the existance of a universal and discrete processor; the logical and natural generator of each design, and proposes that the key for deciphering the code is to evidence and accept the existence of multiple dimensions within the same time-space.

[" The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind..." Bob Dylan]

He explores the potential of the grid ( formed by the reticular intersection of the the various axis within a floor plan) as the seed for composition in his design process; grids which are the fruit of pre-existent geometrics, non-platonic, arrythmic, as well as playing with two-dimensionsl projection of volumes, overlapping, rotating, sliding elements of each layer or grid and thus obtaining a compositional pretext totally independent from any conscious or stylistic intention. He accepts the coincidental, the random result, where every fold, corner or nook is not necessarily there to function or serve, but rather to signify. More than a solution, his buildings are a manifesto of contemporary society.
An exceptional example of Eisenman's experimentation is the Wexner Center with its orthogonal grids rotated in plan, and a grid (habitable) in the third dimension, like a reminder and extension of the urban scheme in the university campus.
Undoubtably, it would be almost impossible to understand Eisanman's architecture without the implementation of computer-aided drawing (CAD). We can see how he uses compositional methods with digital technology in the creative process; the result of numeric variations representing ideas, abstract concepts and absurdities. A presentation of Eisenman's preliminary plans inevitably introduces a touch of inhabitability and never-before-seen incomprehensibility.

GEOMETRIC MANTRAS
The goal of finding a compositional and organizational solution for the building in the site itself leads Eisenman, through a kind of geometric mantra, to generate a system of curves and angles for the grid of the Aranoff Center; a result of the coincidental arrangement of existing buildings and the curves of the terrain. For the Atocha Street Hotel he uses the footprint of the site; subdividing it, rotating it, overlapping it upon itself to produce the final composition.
His buildings may have been inaugurated, but in a sense they will never be finished: forever floating in a neverending transformation, in a continual process of redefinition and flux. They stand as a witness of the eternal flow of oppositions and interactions that make up society, recalling the Fluxus Monitors of Nam June Paik.

FRAGMENTATION...DETERIORATION..CHAOS
In his quest for a singular approach, Eisenman develops evermore complex design procedures, questioning the role of structure in contemporary society, destabilizing it, twisting it, fracturing it, promoting the deterioration and fragmentation of the structure and of cultural symbols by means of searching and provocation.
Bending one of the icons of the 20th-century, the skyscraper, upon itself; alleging a femininity contrary to the phallic symbol of verticality, in the disconcerting Max Rhinehardt Haus project.

CONVERT OR CREATOR?
In the same way that Beatriz Zamora evokes the spiritual from her work, "The Black", Eisenman undergoes a "conversion" after so much negation. In the Holocaust Memorial he abandons the use of complex grids and proposes a group of tombstones that seem rather like an artificially created meadow where one can "see" the caress of the wind upon its surface, but, unresigned in his conversion, he prefers to play God.

" If for a point outside of a straight line we trace one parallel to it we shall obtain a sunny afternoon in the fall..." Theorem, Luis Buñuel

Excerpts from: " The Peter Eisenman Manifesto"
Adhoc Magazine: Art, Architecture
and Vice-Versa

and: "On the Threshold" by Robert
Esquivel/NuSapiens Newsletter
September, 2002






dogmas; more related to philosophy and linguistics, ideas which he was able to divulge as editor of the institute's publication, "OPPOSITES", which pursued the dialectics of contraries and opposites in architecture.

It's interesting to note that Eisenman, before this, was a member of The Architect's Collaborative (TAC), founded in 1945 by none other than Walter Gropius; father of the Bauhaus and one of the pillars of the so-called Modern Movement. How he disassociated from the modernists, with their markedly functionalist doctrine and evolved into perhaps the maximum exponent of the theory of chaos applied to architecture at the dawn of the 21st century is the subject of this essay.

TRULY BAD ARCHITECTURE
Nicolas Cabral has said that to create bad architecture the best method is to hire someone who only knows about architecture. Let's consider a few examples: No one who has read the texts of Christopher Alexander (An Intemporal Way of Building) can lightly dismiss the seductive allure of his writing; yet his Cafe Linz is not just intranscendental; it borders on the childish_ a complete contradiction of his literature , which transcends mere building and is capable of inspiring transgressive architecture. And what of Robert Venturi ("Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture", "Learning from Las Vegas")? An excellent polemist, an eloquent writer, a suggestive theorist-and a mediocre designer; almost an insult to his writing. The polemic theories proposed by Rem Koolhaas in his books ("S,M,L,XL" and "Delerious New York") have excited debate in architectural circles worldwide, but when will his architecture catch up with his literature?

A WAY OUT OF THE TRAP

Eisenman, foreseeing the limits imposed upon design by the rigid parameters of Euclidean geometry, the classical search for an expression of form derived from a supposedly necessary function, and orthogonic projections of volumes in three-dimentional space, searches elsewhere for a way out of the "trap" of conventional design process. Instead of relying solely on the works and theories of the great interpreters before him, or even of his distinguished colleagues, he decides to explore other disciplines, not traditionally associated with architectural investigation , territories where the questioning of order, coherence and structure have not only been proposed, but scientifically asserted: Mandelbrot's theory of fractal geometries*, the premise of complexity-sustaining that within complex systems, even the slightest fluctuation can provoke important changes in the entire structure; and a major degree of complexity and disorder of the fragments lead to chaos.

From the theories of quantum physics and mathematics, Eisenman turned to the the dynamics of linguistics. With equally penetrating insight he examines the work, for instance, of Robert Wilson**, accepting the irrational as a creative pretext, including errors of grammmar and spelling, and a disregard for punctuation ( the structure itself); a work intentionally absurd, to question the use and and conventional meaning of words and objects, like Kafka's chair-which collapses upon use.

[ Recalling my first encounter with Eisenman's early work (House III); a series of axonometric drawings revealing his design process for a residence (Robert Miller, Lakeside, Connecticut:1971), I was awed by the simultaneouis use of fragmentation, intersection, grid rotation, height variation, and interpenetration of geometric volumes in one small, if not simple, house. A student of design at the time, I felt inspired to search beyond traditional compositional approaches for one of my first architectural models, basing the design for an elevated beach house on an origami (the Japanese art of folding paper) exercise which served as the "module" I employed to create the submodules that made up the different components of the of the building by playing with scale, distortion, exaggeration, amputation, and omission of the initial form. I remember now the wonderful experience of enrichment derived from discovering the range of diversity which the various stages of the folds, creases, and "bending" of the origami module contributed to the design process of my project. The result was a somewhat starteling interpretetion of a 60m2 beach house on stilts; a design inspired by a chat with Bob Mashburn (My then design professor and a disciple of R.Buckminster Fuller) who encouraged me to look into origami as a source of creative influence.]

"THE NEW YORK FIVE"
In 1969, Peter Eisenman formed part of the "New York Five" together with John Hedjuk, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, And Richard Meier, colleagues which, without exception, left their mark on the history of later 20th-century design.

THE CORROSIVE AGENT
Instead of constructing his theorem on order, "Beauty", function, or any other racionalist concept, Eisenman deliberately chose a plainly antagonistic position; provoking anxiety and uneasiness, rejecting the traditional premise of "Harmony", aesthetics, etc. His theoretical-practical works question the use of buildings as "machines for living", he aims to destabilize and twist socially accepted symbols associated with comfort and shelter: houses with roots in a dislocation and distancing from those elements obedient to racionalism, all initially in the color white (a pallete also shared by his contemporary, Richard Meier): these, although proceeding from the academy, succeed in provoking disassociation and nihilism.
These first designs, with no other title than the temporal sequence in which they were presented, were architectural experiments. The first nine are contextually independent of any reference to site, landscape and the exterior. Later, in his auto-psychoanalytic sessions, he proposes the absence of the house; it is only the center, and what exists is the exterior. Finally, in houses "X", "XI", and "El Even Odd", he encrusts his solutions in the ground.

ROTATING GRIDS
Eisenman then enters a period of experimentation in which he uses the grid as a compositional principle and as a principle of program organization. Beginning orthogonally, he later evolves to layers which, repeating themselves one upon another, displace themselves. Or he rotates and superimposes the grid creating new modules and ever more complex submodules.

MULTIDIMENSIONAL SPACE-TIME
However seemingly contradictory, Eisenman alludes to the notion of an "invisible structure", a profound pre-ordination. He accepts the existance of a universal and discrete processor; the logical and natural generator of each design, and proposes that the key for deciphering the code is to evidence and accept the existence of multiple dimensions within the same time-space.

[" The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind..." Bob Dylan]

He explores the potential of the grid ( formed by the reticular intersection of the the various axis within a floor plan) as the seed for composition in his design process; grids which are the fruit of pre-existent geometrics, non-platonic, arrythmic, as well as playing with two-dimensionsl projection of volumes, overlapping, rotating, sliding elements of each layer or grid and thus obtaining a compositional pretext totally independent from any conscious or stylistic intention. He accepts the coincidental, the random result, where every fold, corner or nook is not necessarily there to function or serve, but rather to signify. More than a solution, his buildings are a manifesto of contemporary society.
An exceptional example of Eisenman's experimentation is the Wexner Center with its orthogonal grids rotated in plan, and a grid (habitable) in the third dimension, like a reminder and extension of the urban scheme in the university campus.
Undoubtably, it would be almost impossible to understand Eisanman's architecture without the implementation of computer-aided drawing (CAD). We can see how he uses compositional methods with digital technology in the creative process; the result of numeric variations representing ideas, abstract concepts and absurdities. A presentation of Eisenman's preliminary plans inevitably introduces a touch of inhabitability and never-before-seen incomprehensibility.

GEOMETRIC MANTRAS
The goal of finding a compositional and organizational solution for the building in the site itself leads Eisenman, through a kind of geometric mantra, to generate a system of curves and angles for the grid of the Aranoff Center; a result of the coincidental arrangement of existing buildings and the curves of the terrain. For the Atocha Street Hotel he uses the footprint of the site; subdividing it, rotating it, overlapping it upon itself to produce the final composition.
His buildings may have been inaugurated, but in a sense they will never be finished: forever floating in a neverending transformation, in a continual process of redefinition and flux. They stand as a witness of the eternal flow of oppositions and interactions that make up society, recalling the Fluxus Monitors of Nam June Paik.

FRAGMENTATION...DETERIORATION..CHAOS
In his quest for a singular approach, Eisenman develops evermore complex design procedures, questioning the role of structure in contemporary society, destabilizing it, twisting it, fracturing it, promoting the deterioration and fragmentation of the structure and of cultural symbols by means of searching and provocation.
Bending one of the icons of the 20th-century, the skyscraper, upon itself; alleging a femininity contrary to the phallic symbol of verticality, in the disconcerting Max Rhinehardt Haus project.

CONVERT OR CREATOR?
In the same way that Beatriz Zamora evokes the spiritual from her work, "The Black", Eisenman undergoes a "conversion" after so much negation. In the Holocaust Memorial he abandons the use of complex grids and proposes a group of tombstones that seem rather like an artificially created meadow where one can "see" the caress of the wind upon its surface, but, unresigned in his conversion, he prefers to play God.

" If for a point outside of a straight line we trace one parallel to it we shall obtain a sunny afternoon in the fall..." Theorem, Luis Buñuel

Excerpts from: " The Peter Eisenman Manifesto"
Adhoc Magazine: Art, Architecture
and Vice-Versa

and: "On the Threshold" by Robert
Esquivel/NuSapiens Newsletter
September, 2002








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