Sep '09 - Oct '11
Apologies for anyone really hoping for a true "live blog." The spotty wireless can be unreliable in our concrete bunker and there are no easily accessible outlets in the gallery space. Alas, I can post a short update now over lunch to catch you up on the first half of the day.
Most of the morning's discussion was led by Architecture Section Head Michael Cadwell. We began speaking about Toshiko's education from art school to her "immediate acceptance" into the Cooper Union. She told us how she decided to apply for architecture school and went to speak with John Hejduk, then director of Cooper. After a short discussion, she said he took her down to the receptionist's desk and told her, "This girl is in." Interesting story.
From there we began the day's discussion on her body of work. Beginning with her first House on the Gulf of Mexico I, a guest house addition to the original Paul Rudolph project, she explained to us the project's complications and her interest in addition/restoration work. This project, specifically, was for three siblings to come and visit, but each wanted their own house. However, there was no way three separate homes would be built. Instead, Toshiko explained how the design is really three separate spaces all connected by a central, disconnected staircase, which encourages the interaction of the siblings while still giving them their desired privacy. Florida code requires a certain height that living quarters must be above for flooding safety, but Toshiko discussed her move to put the addition 18 inches higher so that the mass of the building hovered in the canopies of the surrounding trees. Thus, allowing the piloti to register with the trunks of the trees as part of the landscape.
Next we discussed her Darwin D. Martin Visitor Center and her adoration for the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Interestingly, this project was her realization of a contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright had he still been alive today. She discussed a theory that has been passed around that both Mies and Corb looked at the work of Frank Lloyd Wright before making their career defining moves. These lessons, from all three, helped her create a truly contemporary nod to the work of Frank himself. Through the use of glass and innovation in structure, Toshiko was able to construct an intricate reflection on Wright's building characteristics without claiming to speak for the late architect himself.
Beyond her projects, we were able to dive into the personal relations that Toshiko has developed with her clients. She discussed the intimacy of residential client relations with a warm sense of humor saying, "It's like you don't want to know where they store their socks in their closet, but you kind of do." She explained that architects have a very distinct power that should not be abused; that we not only create buildings, but we choreograph people's lives. That architecture is not just about the object or artifact left behind, but it's really about the personal relationships forged between the architect and society. These ideas were very reflective of her education under Hejduk, where buildings were characters and where architecture became a sort of cultural machine.
Toshiko is a delightfully warm to speak to and very humble as she began the day with the statement, "I can't believe it. It's like my whole life is unfolding in front of me!" She's been super appreciative of the work we've done to analyze her body of work, and it seems that both parties are learning a lot so far.
I'm interested in finding out some more of the inspirations and ideas behind her buildings, as she's quite the storyteller and has a new story for every project we look at. The only thing I wonder is why she suppresses her expressive drawings that clearly resonate in her architecture. It seems that, coming from her Hejduk education, not so much the process but the expressionistic inspiration of drawing would be shown to extrapolate the narrative of the work. In passing, she mentioned that her drawings are typically for personal reasons, but definitely have an effect on her work. I often feel that the genius of Hejduk wasn't in his actual work, as much as how he got there. The same potential seem to resonate in Toshiko's work as well.