SL: ...There are all of the different things that architects make and that we recognize as architecture in some way. And then, what are the different things that go into making an architect? So I'd like to ask you: What made you go into architecture?
EOM: What one would answer to this is different when you're a kid, versus now. So the question is: today, is it what I thought it was back then? When I was a kid, my mom was a project manager, and at some point I was asked to write about what I wanted to so. She took me to Neutra's house and said 'this is an architect.' I found him to be a little stuffy and pretentious... But I thought: if you make a jail, you're exposed to [everything that has to do with a jail; and if you make a hospital, you're exposed to the whole world of medicine; and if you make a house, you're exposed to residential life.] You are exposed to all these human endeavors. [So that was one reason why I wanted to become an architect.] And then there's an argument about the durability of architecture--it's stone--and I was interested in that too. [That was my other reason.]
SL: What did your mother do for Neutra?
EOM: She was a labor organizer, and her father was a vice president of a union. She was involved with Cesar Chavez and...at a point they even wanted her to run for congress. [At one point] her organization built a building. [She was a client of Neutra's.]
SL: Where were you in 1968?
EOM: Good question. I can remember walking down Telegraph avenue, going to school, and there were armed guards. At Berkeley, most people were following along...there was a war going on in Vietnam, and the difference between this war and the war in Iraq is that there was a draft.
SL: That's one difference.
EOM: ...I couldn't join up with either side--that was a problem for me. I didn't think the pseudo-Marxist view explained what was going on, but I also didn't agree with it...I would argue with both the police and the protesters.
SL: '68 is a year that people wear on their sleeves...
EOM: I can't stand that.
SL: And [researchers] these days are tracing passport records and finding that Bernard Tschumi was not in Paris even though be has said that he was--he wanted to have been there. [When people answer this question, their answer is much about where they wished they were, as much as where they actually may have been.]
EOM: I was trying to answer the question as honestly and honorably as possible.
SL: But I want the students to understand that when I ask where you were in 1968 it's not just a personal biographical question but a question about what past you want there to be today.
SL: So you went from Berkeley to the GSD and graduated the year that Gund Hall opened...
EOM: [Contradicts her] I think they were still building Gund Hall...
SL: Well, let's use this as an idea about the social grouping of architecture...the open trays.
EOM: My class at Harvard was seven people. This building changed everything--if only because you now had a big a/c bill and had to pay it...it was a factory.
SL: Let's call it a corporate floor. [Would that be a gentler way to describe the GSD?] What did you do when you returned to LA from the GSD?
EOM: I worked for a little while for William Pereira who had an interesting reputation and...I started to work with SCI-Arc and set up an office.
SL: We were talking about different kinds of offices produce different kinds of architects. These days a lot of young people divide themselves into design and corporate offices and go straight into starting their own firms without going through a corporate firm. What do you think of that?
EOM: I learned a lot about (the mechanics of running a firm)--do a project, add people, do a project, add people... But the difference between the corporate world then and today--there seem to be an intersection today between these worlds that wasn't there before. It's a soggy boundary, though maybe it shouldn't be that way.
SL: This image nauseates me...partly because I've seen it so many times. But also because at the height of feminism...and this is everything good and everything that is awful about a boy's club. I feel like it's my professional duty to say this.
EOM: I think you're attributing motives or reading something... well, that is there, I'll give you that...but the people who were there weren't thinking that. It wasn't in my head.
SL: Well my job is precisely to have something in my head that is not in your head. I'm not playing the psychoanalyst, [trying to figure out what's in your head.] What I'm doing is reading the image against its historical background. It's not meant to be personal--
EOM: I'm just saying as I recall whatever the hell I thought I was doing, standing on a beach--it wasn't intentional. I do think that letting things go instead of chasing back things that were formative in my life...I prefer to let things turn over. That's why I don't go back and say I was there in 1968.
EOM: There's a guy who's super boring, Giambattista Vico, you know him?
SL: I've been bored by him a lot more than you have.
EOM: Well, what I find interesting is his idea that you can go anywhere and be anything and penetrate--you don't have to be from just one time and place.
SL: When I ask people why they became an architect, I often get two answers. One is that 'I wanted to be an artist and my mother said I had to get a job.'
The other is an answer I got from Rem Koolhaas, who said 'it's going to sound cynical coming from me, but I became an architect because I was interested in public service.'
EOM: For me though, it was a question of biography. I didn't answer with either of those. My answer was, instead, about the durability and the ability to touch every part of a culture.
SL: Back to the image: what I find telling--
EOM: I thought you said 'repulsive.' ...Don't you find it easy to find somebody to hate?
SL: I'm really hammering this one because those of us in LA have seen these images again and again. It belongs to a typology of images about California...
SL: We associate schools with their directors and heads. What do you [associate] Sci-Arc with?
EOM: I'd like to look at it and say that life is personal, one architect at a time. A lot of things you talk about is external, in which each person is a composite of what comes at them. I'm interested in a more internal [point of view]. It's one architect at a time, a working out in the world of an interior life that is personal. There's an intellectual culture that would make this plausible...by availing yourself of...points of view that undermine other points of view.
SL: I don't understand how that leads to a pedagogy.
EOM: Well I'm the guy who said that SCI-Arc doesn't have a pedagogy.
SL: What do you mean when you said that it's internal?
[Frederick Fisher, Robert Mangurian, Eric Owen Moss, Coy Howard, Craig Hodgetts, Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry), 1980, Ave Pildas. Image source.]
EOM: Lets go back to your favorite...I mean, your least favorite picture. I'm not sure that any of those external qualities--the image, the tie...have to do with the insides of one's life...
SL: It's so funny that we're talking at such cross purposes, as if I found this odious because I don't like the haircuts. This photograph is of some of my favorite people, but--
EOM: But you look at this and say that it's all men...but we weren't thinking about that--
SL: Well, it is the prerogative of men to enter the world without acknowledging that they are men.
[A smattering of applause.]
SL: But that's not the only point I wanted to make: This is a group of individuals.
EOM: As opposed to a group of collectives?
SL: I think contemporary architecture suffers from the perception that its overly about the individual and inner life of the architect. That's a perception I think we have to shed.
[Sadly, I had to leave at this point--but for a good cause, to meet up with Paul, Nicole, and Alex of Archinect fame--but I was very glad to have witnessed this exchange between Lavin and Moss.]
Thanks for reading!
Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts.