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Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, and Rafael Moneo, “How Will Architecture Be Conceived?”

Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, and Rafael Moneo, “How Will Architecture Be Conceived?”


Good evening. Good evening and welcome. It’s really wonderful to see
so many people here tonight, especially during this really
busy time of the semester. The impetus for this
evening was for us to recognize two of
our former chairs in the Department
of Architecture, Harry Cobb and Rafael Moneo. They have done so much
for the GSD over the years and for the benefit of
architecture at large. They will be in conversation
with Peter Eisenman, an internationally recognized
architect and educator who played a critical role in the
Department of Architecture here at the GSD during
Harry’s tenure as chair. Harry, Rafael, and Peter
have known and worked with each other for years,
and their friendship goes back decades. I also want to recognize
Michael Hays for his unwavering dedication to the
department as the chair during the past two
years, and welcome Mark Lee, the incoming
chair of the department. At this time of transition,
there is an opportune moment not only to celebrate two of
the department’s past leaders, but also to ask
them to speculate on architecture’s
future at a time when the aspirations of the
field for the discipline and for society are
such prominent subjects of discussion. In addition, it’s
great to know that so many other former chairs
of the department– Toshiko Mori, Scott Cohen, Jorge
Silvetti, and Mack Scogin– are also in attendance. In keeping with this
celebration of architecture, we have a special
announcement to make tonight. It’s my pleasure to announce
the establishment of the Rome Travel Fund in honor of
Professor Rafael Moneo. Based on his
personal experience, Professor Moneo believes
that the knowledge a student can gain from
living in Rome is invaluable. To quote him, “To
center the stage in Rome is especially significant
for me considering the importance it had in
my own life and education.” This gift was made possible by
the generosity of GSD alumni Seng Kuan and Angela Pang. Seng received his BA from
Harvard College and afterwards, studied in both the architecture
and urban planning programs at the GSD,
ultimately graduating with a PhD in
architectural history. Prior to joining the
GSD as a faculty member, he taught at Washington
University in St. Louis. Angela is the principal
of PangArchitect, an independent design
practice based in Hong Kong. Pang earned her
Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University
and Master of Architecture from the GSD. Before establishing
PangArchitect, she worked in the
office of Rafael Moneo in Madrid and SANAA in Tokyo. She was the visiting associate
professor at the Sam Fox School and has taught both option
design studios and the master thesis degree projects there. The first award for
the Rome travel prize will be made this spring by
the architectural department. We know that, because of
Seng and Angela’s generosity, the students will have the
same invaluable experience that Professor
Moneo had, through expanding their scholarship
and enriching their lives. Thank you, Seng
Thank you, Angela. Thank you, Rafael, for
being the inspiration for this incredible award. [applause] Professor Toshiko Mori will
introduce the speakers. But before she does, I
want to say a few words about the broader
context for this event. This semester, we have
hosted several programs that directly relate
in a variety of ways to the topic of
discussion tonight. How will architecture
be conceived? Earlier in the semester,
architect Rosa Sheng gave a talk about equity as a
valuable proposition for design and why it is important now more
than ever for the design field. More recently, during
the past couple of weeks, the Swiss architect Peter
Markli referenced the influence of his teacher
Rudolf Olgiati, whose own work was based
on an interpretation of the work of Le Corbusier. And Markli also spoke
of his close ties with the sculptor
Hans Josephsohn and the material constituency
and tactility of his work and, of course,
Markli’s fascination with the study of the
Romanesque architecture. So in Markli’s work,
questions of tradition, precedent, interactions
with art and color, are some of the elements of how
his architecture is conceived. Amanda Levete, the British
architect, a few days later, spoke of the importance
of architecture in terms of the
creation of place as well as the role of
ceramics, that of engineering, and of course issues
of sound and reflection as key parts of what makes
architecture possible for her. Last week, Eric
Parry also lectured, and the focus of
his architecture was on the role and the
discussion of materials and matter, and developed a
thesis that primarily focused on the importance and value of
the craft of making buildings and, again, their direct
connection to their material condition– the facts of making
them being really a driving force of
how architecture is conceived for him. And finally, we had the opening
here at the GSD of the Center for Green Buildings and
Cities, whose mission has been to consider the
environmental aspects of architecture– the ways
in which buildings can be responsive and be
regulated to reduce our reliance on energy and
the use of mechanical systems. Based on these presentations,
just over the past few weeks, it seems there are numerous ways
for us to think of architecture and how we conceive it. If we add to that the exhibition
outside, which all of you are familiar with,
there are clearly many other ways in
which architecture is or can be imagined. Which finally brings us
to tonight’s conversation between Harry,
Peter, and Rafael. We’ve requested that
each speaker begin with a brief presentation of a
set of propositions in response to the question, how
will architecture be conceived, before they engage
in a conversation together. I would now like to invite
Professor Toshiko Mori, who has also known Harry, Peter,
and Rafael for a long time, to come to the podium
and to introduce them. Please welcome Toshiko. [applause] Good evening. It is my distinct
pleasure to introduce the triumvirate of Harry Cobb,
Peter Eisenman, and Raphael Moneo tonight. I call them the
Three Musketeers who fought at the frontiers of
contemporary architecture and pedagogy. And they are the besties for
a long time, good friends who have each other’s
backs, who look out for each other,
spend time together. They go to places together, as
in the panel discussions here, but I’ve never seen you
together, you three. Is it your first time? Maybe. There’s always a first time. And they go to attend prize
ceremonies and openings of buildings and projects
of each other, which are many, all over the world. There are clear
differences between them, and they do not always
agree with each other, which will make this
evening very exciting. For more than three decades,
I have known them separately. But this will be the
first time for me to see them discuss together the
topic of how will architecture be conceived. It’s a very interesting title. But architecture is not
an immaculate conception. It takes many to
tango and produce, and three of them did tango
and produce a lot of writings, manifestos, arguments,
buildings, prot g students, collaborators, and
inevitably, even some enemies, and of course a lot of
admirers over the years. They share passion
and commitment for pedagogy of architecture
inside and outside of each one’s home
institutions, and they often act as public intellectuals, an
important role for architects in civil society. Harry Cobb was the chair of
the Department of Architecture at the GSD from 1980 to
1985, a tumultuous time of transformation,
which required enormous amount
of courage to form intellectual basis
of our pedagogy as we continue our paths today. Over half a century, he has
been a leading practitioner whose work is globally
recognized and celebrated. He’s also a committed
teacher and mentor to many architects, to whom
he gives invaluable guidance and advice with generosity. And I must say, I’m one
of the lucky recipients. Peter Eisenman is an
internationally recognized architect who founded the
Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies in 1967,
a think tank that became an incubator for the career and
work of [? most ?] [? future ?] generations of
architects and theorists. His career, which started
as a theoretical practice, evolved into an internationally
significant building practice. Currently a professor at
Yale, his theory, pedagogy, and buildings continue to
inspire and influence us. And I’ve known
Peter as a colleague since the Cooper Union days. And I realize the three of you
also share the common friend John Hejduk. Rafael Moneo was a chair at
the Department of Architecture at the GSD from 1985 to 1990. Rafael has completed
many celebrated buildings throughout the world,
museums, institutions, and urban projects. Rafael’s reflections on
the role of architecture of [? a ?] recent past continues
to play an important role in shaping the
pedagogy of the GSD. I was first invited
to the GSD by Rafa. He created an important
legacy and atmosphere here of encouraging and
promoting diverse faculty. He remains to be
an important mentor and inspiration to many
architects and students all over the world. Tonight, we will see them
rise to tonight’s challenge to overcome absurdities
and injustices to navigate as forward toward
the new horizon for architectural conception. They will present in
alphabetical order. So please welcome Harry Cobb
to start off the presentation. [applause] Thank you, Toshiko,
and good evening. How will architecture
be conceived? In posing this
question, Mohsen has challenged us, two octogenarians
and a nonagenarian, to look prospectively
to the future rather than reflectively
to the past. But before responding
to his question, I must first
decipher the meaning of its words, all of which are
open, as he no-doubt intended, to multiple interpretations. Taking them sequentially– “How.” Does this mean to what ends or
by what means or in what forms? “Will.” Does this mean, in the next
decade or the next quarter century or the half century? “Architecture.” Does this mean as discipline or
as practice or as built form? “Be conceived.” Does this mean imagined or
directed or brought into being? Having considered
these alternatives, I propose to reformulate
the question as follows. “To what end, and by what
means, in the next quarter century, will architecture,
as discipline and practice, be directed?” This reformulation
reflects my intention to address ends and means but
not forms, to embrace a time period that is
substantial, but not beyond the reach of
rational prediction, to affirm that the discipline
and practice of architecture are inseparably commingled,
and to anticipate specific directives rather
than imagined visions or built works. And in case you’re wondering,
I also intend to be brief. In fact, I have
very little to say on this subject
and perhaps nothing that you don’t already know. Neglecting for a moment
all those explorations and aspirations both
theoretical and formal that are always and everywhere
immanent in our art, I expect that architecture
as discipline and practice will be directed during
the next quarter century to three primary
ends, all of which I take to be moral imperatives,
that have been widely acknowledged, if only
imperfectly heeded, in recent decades. These are, first,
to sustain diversity both in the natural world
and in human culture. Second, to alleviate
human suffering caused by economic asymmetry
and political dysfunction. Third, to minimize the harmful
effects of human activity on the ecosystems of our planet. Timely and urgent
as they remain, these ends, to
which architecture must continue to
be directed, have been strongly advocated
and widely embraced during the half
century just passed. Hence, they are by now
so familiar as to require no further elaboration. But if we then ask ourselves, by
what means architecture will be thus directed, we find a very
different state of affairs, wherein we encounter
a challenging array of rapidly-evolving instruments
and procedures that are entirely new, profoundly
disruptive of established norms, and destined to
transform both our discipline and our practice in ways that
we cannot yet clearly foresee. I am referring, of course,
to the digital revolution and the concomitant advances
in computation, communication, media technology, and
artificial intelligence. It is indeed impossible to
overstate the significance of these changes, which have
just begun to engulf us, and which you, the
students in this room, will be challenged to
absorb into the discipline and practice of architecture
during the next few decades. It is not, I think, change
to be feared and resisted, but rather to be
embraced with optimism, tempered by awareness of risk. What seems to me most
promising is the prospect of a relocalization of both
design and production made possible by
computers, and hence, the prospect of a consequent
revolution in the workflow, from programming to design
to production to construction to habitation. As Mario Carpo and
others have pointed out, the global reach of
the internet combined with computationally-facilitated
methods of design and fabrication have
opened up the possibility that, for the first time since
the onset of the Industrial Revolution, economies of
scale will no longer dictate the means of production. As a consequence,
we can look forward to the day when the imaginative
expression of local cultures in built environments
will be facilitated rather than suppressed by instruments
and procedures governing the design and construction
of buildings, landscapes, and cities. Another significant
byproduct of the digital turn will be the continuance of the
already significant blurring of boundaries between the
established categories of expertise and capabilities
that have traditionally defined the design professions. Evidence of this is everywhere. Just take a look at the
finalists for this year’s Wheelwright Prize,
all four of whom are engaged in
cross-disciplinary research and practice. Equally, if not even
more significant, is likely to be the continued
blurring of boundaries that have traditionally
separated the design professions from their client
constituencies on the one hand, and the construction
industry on the other. A striking example of
the latter phenomenon, to cite just one
well-known case in point, is the rise of WeWork, a company
that owns, designs, and builds nontraditional workplaces. Even more startling evidence of
these transformative phenomena is to be seen in the practice
known as forensic architecture, wherein digital tools
of the building art are being deployed
to analyze war crimes and advance the cause
of human rights. These potentially
radical remixings of disciplines and
practices will surely have a major impact
on institutions of higher learning,
whose academic structures and curricula will
need to be perpetually open to reconsideration
in response to evolving concepts of
design process and product. Here at Harvard, today
fortunately a little less Balkanized than in
my time, the GSD must continue to build
meaningful bridges to other professional schools as
well as to the faculty of Arts and Sciences. But I trust that,
as an accompaniment to this broadening of
its intellectual reach, you who now guide our
school into the future will take care also to
reaffirm its core commitment to sustaining,
interrogating, and enriching the language of architecture,
which I interpret here in its broadest sense to include
the architecture of buildings, the architecture of landscapes,
and the architecture of cities. And this brings me
back to everything I’ve deliberately left out of my
response to Mohsen’s question. That is to say, those
explorations and aspirations, both theoretical and formal,
that are always and everywhere immanent in our art. Why have I thus neglected
to address what is clearly the heart of the matter? In part, because an
architect whose sensibility is closely attuned
to particularities of place and occasion
finds himself both disinclined
and ill-equipped to formulate generalized
theoretical propositions. And in part, because if
something of interest will emerge from
this evening’s event, I believe it will come not from
any such pronouncements that I could offer, but rather from
an unscripted exchange of ideas between three friends of
longstanding who represent distinctly different
positions in architecture while nonetheless holding
each other in high regard. I look forward to
our conversation, and I thank Mohsen
for sponsoring it. [applause] I was wondering, as Mohsen
made the introduction, how he was going to fit me into
the two ex-chairmen here, and I always wondered what
I was doing in this troika, since I am not Crimson-born,
nor do I bear Crimson. I would say it’s for nostalgia. And even though we’ve been
warned against nostalgia, I am Mr. Nostalgia tonight. It was 50 years ago this June
that I first met Rafael Moneo. We were, both of us, no one,
but we had an instant rapport, even though we didn’t
speak the same language, and probably we still don’t. That was 50 years ago. I was also probably the
only one in this audience that was in the fateful
moment in ’85 in Venice. When Rafa was asked to become
the chairman at Harvard by Harry, I was sort of
listening under the table. The truth of all of that
needs to be put together. I interpreted what we were
doing was not so much how will architecture be
conceived, but I kept writing, how will the future
be conceived? And I was reminded
two weeks ago. Cynthia and I were
in China for 10 days, my first trip to China,
and I was struck by one thing– that all of the streets
are the same size. The cars are the same size. Actually, the rooms
are the same size. The food is, more
or less, the same as you can get
anywhere in the world. And the only thing
that struck me was, yes, everything
was the same size, but there were 9 million
people in New York, and there were 26 million
people in Shanghai. And I thought to
myself, architecture may be sufficient
for the 9 million. We still have architects
doing architecture. But what about the 26 million? How does architecture survive
26 million in the same scale as the 9 million? I think that’s a really
difficult question, an especially difficult question
for a student of architecture today who says, what
am I really doing? Because in the 26
million people, I would imagine architecture
paid a very, very small percentage of the
world that was being built. And we begin to say,
what is architecture for in those circumstances? And it’s nice to say it’s for
the culture, for this and that, but I think it’s a really
difficult question that we, both as students and
teachers, have to face in the present-day world. That is, is architecture
possible in a place like China or Shanghai? I said to my students in a talk
I gave in Shanghai, if I were a three-year-old, I’d move to
Shanghai tomorrow and never leave. It’s probably the safest
place in the world. It’s probably going to be the
richest place in the world. And I’d have a great
deal of opportunities as a three-year-old. Unfortunately, I’m
an 85-year-old, and I don’t know if I’m
so sure of going back because I still believe,
somehow, in architecture. What I did tonight
was to say, what way could I propose a
structure that we could think about
that would split Harry and Rafa and myself? Because I think
the important thing is not to talk about what we
believe and hold together, but in fact, where we differ. And there’s no question
that Rafa, Harry, and myself have enormous differences. That’s why I invite Harry
every year to my jury. The thing is that, if we
look at the world as modern and postmodern, you’re probably
going to see Harry, Rafa, and myself on the same wicket. But if you say that modern
and postmodern are no longer useful terms to describe the
world as it was or will be, then I thought the
two genealogies that are most striking
and interesting, which is where I can cleave a
gap between us, is if I say, the world has always been
based on either abstraction or phenomena. And if you’re
interested in phenomena, if you look at Rafa’s slide
that was the initial slide, that’s phenomena. That ain’t abstraction. And I’ve always
suspected that Rafa and I would come afoul of the
question of abstraction versus phenomena. And I hope we get a chance
to talk about that later on. Harry is more difficult
to categorize for me because I would say that
the Hancock building, one of my favorite towers in the
20th century, is abstraction. But then there are other
buildings which vary and move toward phenomena. So again, it’s a
question that I pose. I know that I sit not
on modern or postmodern, but I sit on the abstract
side of the world. So I hope we get a chance to
talk about how we see ourselves or how we position
ourselves in those terms. Thank you very much. [applause] Good afternoon, good
evening to everybody, and thank you, Mohsen,
for having organized an event like this one. I didn’t realize,
when I heard about it, that that was to be so
touching to my heart, and turns me something
close to sentimental. First, because of
this fellowship due to the generosity
of Angela and Seng. It was difficult to
deny myself to do so, once a gesture of such
dimension was offered to me. I don’t have words to tell
both of them how grateful I am. What the profound meaning that,
for me, has that [inaudible] Cambridge, the
GSD, and Rome, has been [? tied ?] to [inaudible]. And I believe it will
become quite a useful way of keeping alive some of
the things in which we three– Harry, Peter, and myself– have believed. I’m delighted to be with Peter. As [? he ?] said, we
met 50 years ago– June this year will be 50
years ago– in Aspen, Colorado. And since then, we have
been talking each other and sharing these interests. Let me [inaudible]
[? introducing ?] the word passion, not being so
exaggerated for architecture. But indeed, interest
has been kept alive throughout all our lives. And to Harry, to whom I do
so many things, among them to be here in this moment, I am
extremely grateful to the faith and confidence that he
had in what I should be able to do here at the GSD. I think that just trying to
answer the question we are involved, I ought to say that
instead of the future will, I would like to answer
the question saying openly the way I would
like it to happen– how I would like
the future to be. I don’t dare to say [? that. ?]
I realize that there are so many questions open about
technology, about demography, about politics, about
the world, about ecology, about sustainability, and
behind that, the science and technology that probably
is going to give answers to many of the questions
we are making ourselves– The personal conditional
instead of the future. And to do so, I will offer
you three issues, or three reflections, raised in today’s
and yesterday’s lectures. The first question, or the
first issue, would be to quote– I need to quote
the point TS Eliot, who is mentioned in the
preface of Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction. He says this, talking
about writers and poets, “This historical sense, which is
a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the
timeless and temporal together, is what makes a
writer traditional. And it is at the same time what
makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place
in time, or his or her own contemporaneity.” It could look like
a [? paragraph, ?] but truly, it is
this historical sense which actually gives and
provides of contemporaneity to whatever art is. No poet, no artist of any kind
has his or her complete meaning alone. We need to do [? our ?]
[? work ?] just feeling behind us [? all ?] has been done– something that, indeed,
gravitates on our shoulders. I will not find it preposterous
that the past should be altered by the person as
much as the person is detected by the past. I would like to believe that
whatever happens in the future, that we maintain a sense
of history, giving meaning to the architect’s
world, something that I considered to
be highly desirable. To be aware that history
gravitates on our shoulders isn’t important. Just the contrary– it arose
to be respectful to the times. To be aware of our
historical condition doesn’t mean to keep
buildings the way they were. So I would like
history to be alive, and I will encourage young
architects to enjoy looking at [? all the ?] buildings as
a way of learning architecture, and learning, in old buildings,
the way architects have [? perceived. ?] I indeed believe that
history has been misleading and misinterpreted. When we believe, even
since the 19th century, that to think
historically means to look at how styles could provide
material for building, or how we will need to
change only history, almost like a flowing river. Instead, history is just
[? old ?] that is behind us and, in some way, gives meaning
and gives sense and a lot to think that we are
doing something new. The only way you’re
doing something new is thinking historically. The second point, and the second
lecture, was a history lecture. Today’s lecture
was about the city. I believe architects rarely
proceed from tabula rasa. And in my opinion, seldom
buildings live alone. Buildings live in the city. We need to think about
buildings as something that doesn’t allow us to
think only in one single, autonomous subject. Instead, to think buildings
always [? affect ?] and [? are ?] just building the
city as well as the building itself. I guess that to think
architecture [? just ?] intimately connected with
cities and think in both at once is quite necessary. Buildings live in the city, and
the city is the great asset– the most bearable foundation to
develop our work as architects. They give to our work an
almost mandatory reference, considering buildings
responsible of the construction of the city. Or saying, with other
words, that cities aren’t built within. I guess, whatever development
is going to happen, whatever way the human
[? habitation ?] is going to stay in the cities, I
would like to see the building development or the construction
development or the way people protect against climate and
[? mix ?] together in society, just taking the cities
as a point of departure. And third, just completing
the previous point, [? follows this ?] point,
a normal [inaudible] enforced by demography. Architects have a [? pending ?]
depth with housing. And yet, residents always
have been the substance of the cities, since medieval
days, the 19th century architecture [? passes ?]
throughout [inaudible] between wars. The utopian goals that
[? still ?] [? arrived ?] in the recent past are probably
by wars definitively gone. To rescue housing in benefit
of the growing cities is a crucial matter
that surely is in the hands of all
those architects that will be behind us. And just for finishing, one
of the greatest contrasts between our time and the
period between the wars is that they had the sense that
progress could be anticipated and controlled and planned,
and that the zeitgeist could be manifested just formally. We could visualize
what we considered to be what, collectively,
the people thought about what the times were. Architects in the
’20s and ’30s were able to think utopically
about the city because they felt themselves
capable of giving shape to the spirit of the times. That is something that
we [? don’t ?] dare to do today, when only the
most radical pragmatism seems to prevail. I don’t believe that we
are now able to foresee how things will develop. That is a very
strong difference. I think, for some reason, the
people of the avant-garde– the people of this, that
we look at in another kind , these [inaudible] [? old ?] architects have what the
architects of the modern movement in those late ’20s did. They were able to
think that perhaps they were wrong for thinking
in another city and other way of answering
this way of the [? residence ?] that still could be the
city thought in terms of some kind of utopia– something that we
don’t dare do today, in spite probably science
is offering us so many [? variations ?] to
[? think ?] utopically. [? we have said– ?] I’m
agreeing with what the Spanish philosopher Jos Luis
Pardo says, and I quote, “The unknown future is more real
than the present and the past. It is the future which decides
the sense and the durability of both present and past, but it
is also a fiction, the future, that has yet to happen and
that may never happen at all.” We believe that we are not any
more able to be involved just planning what the
future is, and yet we are just denying this
possibility of affecting just planning in advance the
future, ready to admit whatever happens. I hope that what happens
will be for better, and I’m sure that would be true. Thank you. [applause] Just because it
comes into my head, I will say that, as usual,
Peter put his finger on it with incredible precision
and conciseness– abstraction versus phenomenon. It’s a very real contrast. It’s a very real disjunction
between Peter and me, perhaps also between
Peter and Rafael. I don’t know. But it’s an area
in which we have talked past each other for all
the years that we’ve known. For example, since Peter
mentioned the Hancock Tower, the Hancock Tower is nothing
if not a contextual phenomenon. It’s all about its
response to place. It’s all about its
response to place. That’s all it’s about. That’s its strength
and it’s its weakness. It’s its limitation. Peter has persisted to this day
in discussing the Hancock Tower and expressing his admiration
for the Hancock Tower because it has nothing
to do with context. So that shows you
the depth, the width, the size of this [? chasm. ?]
I mean, it’s very interesting. It’s one of the reasons that– it’s a source of our
friendship, frankly, because when something
like that goes on and on and on through
multiple discussions over multiple years, and
repeated again this evening, it’s absolutely extraordinary. And I love it. I love it because
it’s so perverse. You know, Harry, just– I don’t mean to interrupt,
but a lot of my friends who are of age remember a Boston
where there were no towers. And the contexts
were low buildings. And I remember a Boston
where the Hancock building stood alone as an icon
of another Boston– not the old Boston, not Back Bay
and Beacon Hill, but something new and generative. And to say that the Hancock
comes out of a context is, I think, very difficult. But I will say that what– I will claim that the
sense of the Hancock comes from these
historical considerations that they talk about. It’s a moment when what we
like [? or ?] what we admire in the Hancock is the ability
to put [? ridges ?] [? on ?] or to put [inaudible]
just in their days, as well as the Hancock
becomes what it is. In [? this ?] dichotomy between
abstraction and phenomenon, I think that I would put the
Hancock in the phenomenal because whatever building
reaches to be materialized somehow acquires this sense
of singularity that resists [inaudible] as phenomenon. And yet, in the
case of the Hancock, obviously, they are
[? tamed ?] to keep this, let’s say, longing,
for abstraction that, in those
days, could be said, even minimally, was clear. But at the end, it
remains something that is both concepts of
phenomenon and abstraction, that this actual thing– this condition of fact– that it gives to the
building this presence and this ability of
standing by itself. Let me ask you a question. We were trying in
our class last week to determine if we could
find 10 critical skyscrapers of the 20th century. A very difficult
job, by the way. Now, we take Seagram, which
is on everybody’s list. Would you call that contextual? It destroys the street
line of Fifth Avenue. It destroys the whole idea
of what constitutes a street. And yet, we love Seagram. Is it contractual? Yes. It’s also abstract. You see, this is the
problem that you– Peter, you seem to believe that
these two ideas cannot coexist. Whereas, in my mind, they
not only can coexist, but the fact that
they coexist is one of the most important facts
about our contemporary culture. And that’s why I sense a certain
pessimism in Rafa’s remarks. And I’m of course, like
many architects, hopelessly optimistic, otherwise
we could never go on. But the fact is that,
while it’s certainly true, as Rafael has pointed out in his
recent lecture when he received the Soane Prize, it
certainly is true that the idea of modernism as a
guide for, as a belief system, or whatever one wants to
call it, is no longer valid. It’s no longer– it’s no
longer valid, in and of itself, as a separate enterprise, as
a history-denying enterprise, which it certainly was. It’s no longer viable that way. But the fact is
that those of us, as we struggle to make the
new city, to make a city, we absolutely need the
recognition of the past and the tools of abstraction,
because without abstraction– we couldn’t possibly reconcile
the needs that we face today, let alone the needs of the
future without abstraction. And that leads me to your point
about cities of 26 million versus 9 million. It’s inconceivable
to me that you could deal with this
problem without being able to think abstractly
and to use the tools and instruments of abstraction. But it’s also
inconceivable to me that you could deal with
it without acknowledging the phenomenal aspect
of architecture and the phenomenal aspect
of the city, which includes, of course, the reconciliation
of the past with the present looking to the future. And in that
reconciliation, abstraction is essential, but so is a
phenomenal acknowledgement. And that’s why,
of course, we have this argument about
Hancock Tower, because you don’t
want to acknowledge that the abstraction that
is evident in that building is there for a
reason, and the reason has to do with a
phenomenal purpose that you don’t want
to acknowledge. But without that, it
would be meaningless. I’ll play that
role, if you want. OK. But when some idea
becomes built, I am saying that this actual
new thing that [? there’s ?] something built what
actually mattered, it would be this
singularity, as I said, that buildings have
inside the city. In the case of the Hancock,
I will say that, no doubt, both belong or both [? are ?]
[? present, ?] how abstraction has, let’s say, a nurturing
old architectural, since the ’30s or
since the ’20s. And yet, I like better
to see the differences between [? mies ?]
and the Hancock. I [? see ?] more the
time running in between. I like to see the
strong differences that are between the Seagram
and the Hancock. I wouldn’t put them both just
as the most important feature of their commitment
with abstraction. It’s more their commitment
[? with ?] [inaudible]—- in the case of the
Hancock, indeed, means also the
recognition, which was going to be the
role to be played in the middle of the city. And the Seagram seems to
ignore a bit more what the direction [? or ?] alignment
of buildings were in Manhattan. I would argue, Rafa, if we take
the skyline of Boston today, there are 15, 20,
30 tall buildings. [? what ?] [? i’m just ?]
talking about abstraction is it was inhabited with an idea. In other words,
Hancock was an idea. The 20 or 30 buildings
that we may see in Boston are not inhabited by ideas. That’s what I mean
by abstraction. It may take the form of
history, but what I’m saying is, without an idea,
you have phenomena, and we have them all over. OK. That’s very important
what you just said, that it is inhabited by an idea. And if that’s what you
mean by abstraction, though, you’re giving it
a new meaning, for which I congratulate you, actually. [laughter] Because you’re saying that
abstraction is not just a– A look. –strategy or a design strategy. It’s an idea. And there is an idea– Design strategy is
an idea, but I– But an i– all right. And of course, I just want to
remind, because most people here– very few people here
will remember this, but the few who
do will, I think, agree with me that when Peter
was teaching during those three years from ’83 to ’85
that extraordinary series of studios, the
keystone of his pedagogy was the rejection of
goal-oriented design and the insistence on design
as an ideological construct, without goals. And that fascinated
me at the time. It still fascinates me. I want to add two things. One, during that time
[? we ?] were here, I had that now infamous
debate with Chris Alexander. If there’s anybody
concerned with abstraction– he was a mathematician, and
one of the things I objected to had no sense of architecture. That’s not what I mean by
abstraction, number one. The problem I have with
all towers in a certain way is that, when modern
architecture was conceived in Europe in the
early 20th century, it was conceived as, in Rafa’s
terms, a utopian vehicle. It was about promoting
a good society. When it came to
America after the war, it came as a good life. It was the corporate
embodiment of goodness. And it was a completely
different idea. And that’s what I mean by– buildings today
are not inhabited by an idea of the good society. They’re only inhabited
by the good life. That would be my charge. That [? isn’t ?]
to say too much. I wonder whether it
is [inaudible] what is behind today’s architecture. I think that you are
thinking too highly about [? the whole thing. ?] [laughter] No, but I don’t know
whether it makes sense to resist this idea of
abstraction or phenomenon. But if you transfer
the issue from just being so close with the
Seagram and the Hancock, let’s think about– you could [? think ?] [? in ?]
cathedrals in the 12th, 13th century almost
like a single idea. That idea was clearly and
[? doubly ?] repeated, and yet you couldn’t say that
behind the cathedrals doesn’t happen this singularity– this way of touching something
that is or has, let’s say, consistency but [? is ?]
[? safe, ?] from this point of view. I wouldn’t mind to
admit this condition of [? a ?] single phenomenon
that you are talking about because it will be
difficult for you to sustain that in all these
collection of cathedrals. You could say all the same– I wouldn’t dare to say that
they are the same at all. [? i’m ?] [? saying that ?] the
idea behind it could be said being the same in
this abstraction. I can’t resist
recalling something, because Peter mentioned his
debate with Chris Alexander, which I remember vividly. It was a lunchtime event. And it went on for some minutes. And Chris Alexander–
they were both getting more and more frustrated. The conversation
wasn’t working at all. And finally, Chris
Alexander threw up his hands and said, well, Peter, we can at
least both agree that Chartres is a great building. And Peter said, no, we can’t. [laughter] So I’m afraid that– yes? Well, we can– but
by the way, let’s– especially because–
this conversation drifted from towers to cathedrals. And that, in a way,
introduces this curious– because both of
these phenomena exist outside the classical tradition. So what do either
of you have to say? We didn’t talk about the
classical tradition today. To me, one of the most
important lessons of my life, having been trained in this
school during the Gropius era, having absorbed space,
time, and architecture, having absorbed
[inaudible] Architecture, having absorbed Le Corbusier,
having absorbed Mies, one of the most important– it took me several
decades to understand that the classical
tradition is a living thing. It’s not a dead thing. So one of the things
that both of you– I don’t think either of you
had to go through that proce– I had to go through it because
I was trained in the Gropius pedagogy, which rejected history
and suppressed everything. But you didn’t grow up that way. You were not denied
history in your education. I have the impression
that you always acknowledged the importance
of the classical tradition, and you always acknowledged
the importance of the class– I didn’t even recognize
it until I was 40. I was taught history by Ronaldo
Giurgola, so you [inaudible].. Oh sorry. OK. We should– Yeah, we should. It’s time to. And the– he wants to– Rafael wants to say something. I would like to just– what I am talking just
trying to see Hancock, just one more in this
pack of buildings that took the city of Boston. I am offering you, whoever
is taken by architecture, [? the ?] [? issue ?] that you
have all history to think about what architecture is about. And at this point of
view, difficult to believe that you are able to give
sense and to understand what you do without seeing
its place in history. And that is what, actually– I think that it will– I [? wouldn’t ?]
[? like it ?] to be lost. And I’m sure that
it is probably not going to be lost
no matter [? the ?] [inaudible], craftsmanship. Perhaps it’s going to
disappear and [inaudible] are going to do whatever. And then you see the differences
between the Trinity Church and the Hancock, where
craftsmanship still is the substance of the Trinity
much more than the idea that the idea could be [? said ?]
[? this ?] [? syncretic ?] way of dealing with history. And yet, at the
end, this pressure in building [inaudible],,
this is what indeed you perceived in the Trinity. I am sure that this
architecture’s craftsmanship will be a rarity. And yet, I guess that
we shouldn’t lose, in the architecture to come,
what it has been in terms of [? its ?]
location in history, and that new buildings will
keep in mind that they belong to this part of built
architecture [? that’s ?] still available for everybody. Of course. You just put your
finger on the one thing that I feel most
passionate about, which is the responsiveness. Every building in the– every time we build
in the city, we build in response to
something that preexists us, and to the extent
that what preexists us is worthy of respect or has
something important to tell us. How we build in relationship
to that object from the past is of crucial
importance, and that’s what makes the
city of the future. That’s why I continue to be
an optimist, because I do believe that we are finally– and that’s, of course, modernism
created a schism, a break, with its denial of
history and its insistence on starting from zero, as if
nothing had ever happened. But now, I think,
we do understand that a contemporary
architecture is possible, which is new and
fresh and responsive to contemporary needs,
but also enriches the city by acknowledging
its relationship to preexisting
buildings and spaces. And to me, the fact that we even
think about the city that way is terribly important. That’s why I’m not so worried
about the disappearance of the modernist
paradigm, because I think that it actually has been– it’s not such a void
that we’re living in. I think we’re living
in a time where there is a really important
struggle going on which embraces all aspects of life. I mean, all the issues of
sustainability and quality and so forth are there, but
in terms of architecture, it really has to do with the
resonance between what we build today and what we inherited. When I think of
Mercia, for example, the town hall in Mercia, the
town hall in Mercia, to me, is an exercise in abstraction– a very successful one. But it’s completely contextual. It’s a response
to the cathedral. So that’s why the coexistence– these things are not
mutually exclusive. The ability to think abstractly,
to envision abstractions in response to preexisting
artifacts, seems to me crucial. I know what Mohsen
would like to– shall we– we would like
to respond to questions if there are questions. Just to be clear, my effort
is not to open it up, but to keep the
conversation here among you. But I want to introduce
two other objects. One is not Mercia’s city hall,
but Logro o because, if I remember, Peter, the other
conversation you had, I think, in part of that same sequence
as with Alexander was actually with Rafa on Logro o City Hall. If the audience
doesn’t know, it’s an early work, the one with
the very, very thin columns and impossibly attenuated. And I want to– I think I can do this–
put that object next to the Holocaust Memorial. And what they share,
we’re moving out of abstraction and phenomena
into an area of the modern, where the modern,
it seems to me, acknowledges its own
lack, its own uncertainty. It’s not completely optimistic. It’s not pessimistic. It’s not negative. But it’s acknowledging something
about the modern world that is uncertain and
can’t be completed. Both these projects,
it seems to me, can’t find a way to
resolve themselves. One is too stretched. Its [? loge ?] is
too high to keep the sun out or the rain out. The other, in Berlin,
it could extend forever. It can’t find its
limits and boundaries. And I wonder if
you could comment on that dimension of the
modern and architecture’s maybe not unique ability to convey
that, but the necessity of that conveyance. I think Rafa hit it when
he said that no longer did the modern promise
either an opening to the future or a closure. In other words, he said that
we can’t think that way. And I would agree
with him that, looking back even at the work
of the five architects, we weren’t modern,
for God’s sake. Bob Venturi was
clearly postmodern. But what was Charles Moore? He was something other. He wasn’t Bob Venturi. And I think John Hejduk
wasn’t Charles Gwathmey. But I don’t think we need to– I think we are in another time. And I think what we’re
all trying to figure out– students and teachers–
what do you teach? And where are we? And it’s really difficult. I have just written
a small piece on Mario Carpo’s The
Second Digital Turn, which is where Mario thinks we are. And I think if we were in
The Second Digital Turn, we’ve got real problems. And I think we
do, as architects. I wanted to add one other thing. I don’t mean to throw
your question off, but I was reminded of the
fact about scale in Shanghai. We took an hour car ride to get
to a railroad station, where we were going to take
a 45-minute drive. And I said to myself,
something is wrong. You don’t want to take an hour
car ride to get to the station. And when you get to
the station, it’s 10 times bigger than
the Baths of Caracalla. And you say, that’s not history. And there’s no scale
in the station. There’s no scale
getting to the station. And then you say to
yourself, what would you do? And that’s where you
say, I’d walk away because I don’t have
the answers to that. I’m a knitter in
terms of context. I’m with these guys. And I’m certain
both of these guys would have a
problem if you said, OK, what do you want to
alleviate the situation? [? anyone? ?] Anyone else like
to ask something? Michael and I were teaching
together this semester, so we just are like
twins or something now. But yeah, it seems to
me you can’t have– I mean, what is context? When we object to
the contextual, we object to the
[? delimitation ?] of the contextual to
serve a certain aesthetic or a certain idea,
so that, of course, in composing the
contextual, there’s an enormous amount of obviously
symbolic work, abstraction, historical propositions. And so it seems as
if you were to focus on there have been
periods in architecture when you focus on
the contextual, and it becomes a sort of
conceit and it closes down as a generative system. But if you understand
that architecture is always contextual. Under no cir– it is always
contextualizing in relation to things, whatever they are. They could be distant. They could be historical. They could be– so I don’t think
it is a meaningful opposition, abstraction and phenomenon. Even phenomenon– we understand,
though, the force of it, that it’s the difference between
what we want architecture to do in this sort
of material force, and then, on the other
hand, what we want it to do [? in ?] symbolic force. And so I think
all of you do both of those things in tremendously
complex and interesting ways. So I don’t know if that
identifies the differences between you well enough. I would like to actually
pick up Harry’s question of the classical and
say, maybe that’s where your differences are going
to come out in, I don’t know, another way. I mean, it would be interesting
to hear the relationship to the classical at this point
because the whole problem is that you’re talking
about Peter’s how to bring whatever you know
about architecture into play in the face of massive
global problems and issues and injustices
and everything else. How do you do it? And the city itself is
exploding in other completely communicative systems. And all the rest of it
is no longer this entity that you can actually address
point blank or something. It’s already so dispersed. So I think it’d be
interesting to hear how you would bring
the classical into play at this moment. That’s going to bring us
right back to the phenomena versus abstraction because
the difference between me and Peter– me and both Peter and Rafael– is that, for me, what
I’m going to say, my discovery of the
classical tradition was a discovery of phenomena. And I experienced– for
me, it was, in a sense, an epiphany phenomenally. Peter and Rafael both discovered
the classical tradition as an intellectual construct,
as part of intellectual history. That’s where they’re way
ahead of me because I never– for me, the classic– I would like to think
that, to some extent, I grasped at their
coattails occasionally. But the classical tradition
for them means something that I cannot reach simply
because I don’t– it’s a matter of
study and knowledge. And important as it is– the phenomenal results of
the classical tradition in architecture,
important as they are, I have come to respect greatly
the underlying ideologies and the evolution
of thought that created the classical
tradition, which truthfully, I know very little about compared
to these two gentlemen. Yet, just as a coda to
that, I know an architect very close to me who is
as knowledgeable as any of the three of
us, who practices the classical tradition
that would unite us all on this stage very quickly. No names. But it’s not intelligence
that separates us. I think it’s a question of
how that intelligence is manifest in the work. Of course. We are architects. [? yeah, we ?] are. [inaudible] should
say something. But it seems to me that
it is impossible to build without any idea. And under this point
of view, it shouldn’t preclude that
something nothing can be done without
some way of thinking how things are going to be. I am not just thinking in two
types of [? architectural ?] [inaudible]. One, [? the drawings– ?] one,
the idea that has been drawn, and [? later ?] the actual
[? thing. ?] But how the form is generated, even from the most
modest construction to the most sophisticated, always
have behind some idea. And this idea precludes
[inaudible] [? belief ?] that they are just only attempting
to the contingencies that [? they are ?] [? allowed ?]
to speak of phenomenon. And therefore, they live
inevitably together, in my view. One question? Yes? Somebody else? My question is very simple. In talking about Rome and
the classical tradition and of course the conflict
between abstraction and phenomena, I wonder
if you could all agree in that perhaps Bramante’s
corner in the Chiostro shows that the
reconciliation is possible. I know Peter has written
about this particular corner and this moment
in the discipline, but I wonder if you
could agree that that is a possibility
of reconciliation. Which– I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the
[? question. ?] The question is, if that
stands and that moment in the corner of Santa Maria
della Pace, in which Bramante is both circumstantial
and abstract, or at least in my view,
if the three of you agree that that’s a possible– My hearing fails for me. But my sense is that it is as
abstract as anything can be. It’s nothing to do
with its materiality, whether it’s Corinthian
or not, what the notion. It is one of the most
important abstract ideas within not only Bramante’s
work, but the work of the incipient
Renaissance of that time. So to me, it’s a really
good example of abstraction. But I would like to argue
that the classical tradition, as I know [? it ?]
[? that ?] is the late 15th, early 16th century, is
all about abstraction. So I don’t think Harry’s that
far away from it, and certainly Rafael, being an academician
in the Spanish Academy, no question that
his work is colored by the abstractions
of Rome that he saw. There’s no question that I was
a changed person after spending three months with Colin
Rowe, who hardly ever touches the ground, he’s so abstract. [laughter] I mean, Bramante and Palladio
and Scamozzi and these people are an incredibly
abstract bunch. And it’s not the
way the forms look. It’s the ideas
that animate them. And that would bring
us, I believe, together. But it will also
separate us because– I was trying to
have a resolution. –because your
book on Palladio– your extraordinary
exegesis of Palladio– is fascinating. But it doesn’t take
the place, for me, of being in the Redentore
and walking down that aisle and seeing the way the plinth
rises to the base– rises to the column. And for me– And for me, I never see that– Yes, but– –when I’m [? walking. ?] –that’s why I’m a
phenomenologists, you see. That’s the problem. That’s my problem. I’m seduced. I’m seduced by that. And for me, it will
always, unfortunately, be more important
than your diagrams. But Peter– There you go. Sorry to say that, but– much as I admire– but I’m full of admiration
for those diagrams. And by the way, in
terms of pedagogy, I think that it’s
essential, that approach. It’s just that, for
me, the architecture is in reality, the materiality,
the form, the experience. But you’re missing one
point about those diagrams. They’re not about Palladio. [inaudible] But Peter– [laughter] I think that you have let the
door open to insist [inaudible] [? ability ?] that the
architecture [? and ?] buildings have. You have said something
that has put me out of what I expected when
you said [? romantic ?] does– the [? reduction ?] of Rome. You said the abstraction of
Rome just entering some way of thinking in abstract terms,
completely different from those that I thought you were going
to use when talking about the encounter between the
[? archives ?] defining the [? courtyard ?] [inaudible]
and then insisting in those, let’s say,
intellectually devised, formal distinction that you
are always mastered and showed in buildings. And yet, by saying
that it wasn’t the least important thing in
Bramante, [? this ?] longing for the old Rome enters
perhaps the more sentimental and the more effective way of
interpreting and understanding Bramante. Another issue. Another [? distraction. ?]
We can’t do that tonight. [laughter] Just getting up, when you
talked about reconciliation in agreement, and
then, of course, Harry said that
he doesn’t agree. So really, I want to
thank the three of you, Peter, Harry, and
Rafael, for opening up so many avenues for
future conversation for placing the tension
between architecture and the city, or
even more broadly, the discussion about
architecture on urbanization, which I think today is even
maybe something different than architecture and
the city, on the table. I want to thank Angela and
Seng for this incredible award, the Rome Fellowship. I want to encourage all of
our fourth-semester students and the first year [? mr ?]
[? 2’s, ?] to consider applying for the Rome Fellowship. And really,
congratulations to Rafael for being the inspiration
for this project. And of course, thanks to all
of you for being here tonight. I know that Peter, Rafael,
and Harry will also be around for a few minutes. If anybody wants to come and
ask them any other questions, they would be happy
to participate. Thank you very much. Good night. [applause]

2 comments found

  1. Hello, I'm an architecture student from China. Could I contact you about sharing GSD videos to China architecture students?

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