Feb '05 - Aug '06
Saturday was the much anticipated project architect symposium. Scheduled...
to start at 9:30am and run through the day, this epic lecture marathon
boasted on its line-up members of such firms as the OMA, H+dM, Diller
Scofidio + Renfro, Morphosis, and Frank Ghery Partners. That, certainly,
was enough to get the students attention. And though the actual
celebrities themselves were not to appear Ã¢â‚¬“ but rather their first mates,
the project architects Ã¢â‚¬“ the event promised to be interesting. We have plenty of opportunities to sit and listen to grand theories, so I found it quite refreshing to be exposed to a part of architecture that remains foreign to our academic bubble: specifically, building.
Particularly interesting was the idea of having such a diverse selection
of firms represented (for this, I must point out the excelent curation and
mediation of the event, that of Mason White). Frank Ghery's office, as
you might imagine, is quite different than the OMA, and H+dM can be
alikened to neither. OMA's Josh Ramus emphasized his firm's collaborative design process, which includes very little “willfulness.” Charles Renfro, a new partner of Diller and Scofidio, made no attempt to conceal how muchfun (and “will”) he had working on the blur building. And Derek Sola, from Ghery's office, astonished us with the shear technicality of his work on the CATIA software, translating Ghery's singular sketch design into built form without the slightest displacement of any curve.
An open panel discussion followed the individual lectures.
The somber, assertive presence of Rem's new partner seemed to dominate the room, receiving no resistance whatsoever from the softspoken Sola, who basically had his tail between his legs. Thankfully, Renfro's cuttingly precise, self-aware humor (including an adept imitation of Rem's violent method of criticism) lightened up the room every once in a while. Nasrine - leader of the school of Architecture - kept things in check, of course.
The buzzwords of the afternoon were authorship and pedagogy.
No project architect present was interested in pedagogy.
Asking a group of project architects about authorship, however, is an inherently interesting venture, for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, is the fact that their respective firms are vastly different. What all the architects have in common is the fact that their names are not the first to be associated with the projects they make happen. That is, the brand name each supports is not his own. This is an inherent problem of collaboration and the delegation of work to specialists in various realms of design. A generally accepted understanding of authorship - as Ramus insisted - was that it was dead, and that contemporary architects can only claim authorship of a process or method of organization. Of course, this applies to varying degrees accross the spread of firms (e.g. it does not apply to Ghery, whose design process is a mystery to most of his employees).
I think an appropriate descriptive analogy would be that of Hollywood; the credits roll with a given hierarchy, and its the designers of the process, who had a cohesive vision of the project, whose names come first. Credit is given where due. At one point, Renfro asserted his belief that "cream rises." This comment may or may not have been directed at Ramus, but it's dreadfully appropriate. Given ambition and opportunity, an architect's name will enjoy its 15min. Renfro, in case you need reminder, is an architect for Diller Scofidio + RENFRO. A well timed, if not quixotic, comment from a student undermined the whole question of authorship by suggesting that if the final product is enjoyable, details as to who made it are insignificant. This was followed by a brief moment of silence as the panel members waited for the next topic.
Ramus was then asked about "the building as a diagram." His (OMA's) tradition is well known to emphasize the metric diagram as the framework for design processes, but when he suggested that a simple bar graph representing program proportionalities was being considered as "actual architecture," Cornellians got a bit uncomfortable. Ramus seems to have no problem with it... (more on diagram-architecture next entry, as it took the foreground as a pedagogical battlefield at the all-school review Monday). Anecdotally, he did mention that OMA is well aware of the aesthetic liability (um... ugliness) of its diagram-architecture, but that it is somehow at a loss to remedy it.