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    Fireside Chat with Peter Eisenman

    By Arjun Bhat
    Mar 1, '07 11:09 PM EST

    So Peter Eisenman gave a lecture today at MIT titled “Beyond the Index.” I’ll reserve my judgement of the whole thing till later (or perhaps one of my colleagues here at MIT will share their thoughts), but I thought I’d give a synopsis of the lecture, topics breached, questions asked, and completely ridicoulous things spoken by Mr. Bow Tie himself (sadly, he did not wear a bow tie to the lecture).


    Introduction by Prof. Mark Jarzombeck
    - starts with a description of Eisenman’s work, “Notes on Conceptual Architecture”
    - details into the significance of the footnote as a positivist device, and its connection with modernity.
    - The format of Eisenman’s connotes the split from contextualization and the readily reference-able
    - The supplement becomes the primary text in the article, can infer Eisenman’s to be stated interest in working past the indexical, also the title of the lecture (“Beyond the Index”)

    Eisenman gets up to speak (or sits down, rather, as he was standing up throughout the intro, and delivers his lecture sitting down.)

    peter decides to not bother reading from his prepared text, and admits that he has become more “sober” since the days when he produced the article discussed in the introduction

    quote ”an enfant terrible doesn’t wear well.”

    begins discussing the issue of “reading” as it regards his early indexical projects.

    the issue of obfuscation of what is “readable” is not avant-garde he states but is rather an issue of what he terms “lateness.”

    the current avant-garde is not really avant-garde at all either, but rather, are members of the “lateness” of architectural theory/practice today.

    every movement in any art or philosophy has an avant-garde state, an acceptance, a decline, and a “lateness” which he describes as movements that attempt to be avant-garde but find themselves in actuality either repeating/reinventing older theory or obfuscating or obstructing intelligibility (or readability) prior to the “cleansing” of the old avant-garde to make way for the truly new.

    states that modernism dating from 1914 was avant garde, post modernism was the decline of that avant-garde, and that decon (which killed post modernism at the ’88 MOMA exhibition) is the “lateness” of the present paradigm of architecture.

    cites Edward Saeed’s description of Adorno’s late work (as well as that of Beethoven) as an example of work that attempts to accept obfuscation of readability/intelligibility

    brings up the film work of Michael Haneke (“Cache,” “Code Uncanny”) as a director who in his film, forces the viewer to accept the impossibility of “readability” or understanding the film as an essential part of the experience, and to simply deal with the movie on the terms of the technique and method of its making.

    also cites Thomas Pynchon (author, “Gravity’s Rainbow,” “Against the Day”) as a writer who deals with the 19th century as a period of lateness, and exploring the “signposts” of the coming paradigm shift to the new avant-garde – can be seen as an allegory for today.

    In terms of possible new paradigms to take architecture into the new avant garde, feels that computation and parametric design (the work of Greg Lynn, Karl Chu, and others) has the most potential

    Says that architecture is the ”locus of metaphysics of presence.” and that it naturally resists deconstruction

    Thus, 3 questions that lateness in architecture (in its objective to blur/obfuscate its legibility) must contend with:
    1. the Dominance of architecture presence
    2. the dominance of architecture’s reliance on vision and its domination of the visual field
    3. breaking down the relationship of PART to WHOLE; much in the way Ungers’ plan for Berlin deal with the architectural archipelago as a whole within its self. Supplementarily, can also deal with the distribution or overlay of separate and unrelated parts in a way that references no whole. (believes that Holl’s addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City is one of the first realized examples of an architectural archipelago in this sense).

    He critiques the diagram as a generator of architecture in its often post-facto relationship to the built form of a project. (an icon of the “Super Dutch”)

    Wants to deal with working past the index, as a project may have no visual similitude (akin to the diagram/building iconography), but allows the work/method be read as an event or technique, akin to the movies of Michael Haneke.

    Shows his project for his rail station in Pompeii, Italy

    *****[editor’s note: the project describes goes on for some time, and Eisenman’s affect and speech do little to convey any amount of enthusiasm, passion, or any sort of emotional attachment to the project in general – and as the project was honestly not very good or well presented, this editor will not be going into detail about the station’s design itself. I will however, keep listing funny quotes spoken by peter through the presentation]*****

    States that he thinks the place is mosquito infested and horrible, and that he didn’t know why anyone would bother going there, but…
    ”… they think I love this place."

    Another quote: “I would love to run a monorail through Pompeii (ruins).”

    “[the clients] think this is circulation … I let them think that … Don’t tell the clients the whole story…”

    Lights turn back on, Peter begins his closing statements

    Refers back to the “endgame/lateness” of the present. Believes that exploration of lateness is an incredibly important and vital practice to engage in, that it gives way to the discovering of the new Avante-Garde (a moment that can be presumed to initiated by a state of “earliness”)

    States that 9/11 was an event akin to the events of 1914, 1945, 1968, that signaled impending paradigm shifts in culture, art, and architecture.

    Begins ranting on the culture of fear in the US, using airport security as an example.

    On being searched at an airport: “God forbid I have any sexual apparatus on me.”

    The present culture of mediated reality and the spectacular doesn’t necessarily make room for architecture (at least, in its current state of lateness in the current “paradigm”)

    On his kids and encoded language: “They can’t even spell … I don’t know what ROTFLMAO means…” (***editor’s note: I was laughing to hard to actually hear the order in which he recited the letters to ROTFLMAO, but please know that they were painfully out of order.)***

    On Zaha and Frank: “Zaha and Frank have become Rococo artists.”


    So that’s that. I’ll post what I thought of the whole thing later on. Wondering if anyone else in town saw the lecture – what are your thoughts?



    • aml

      nice read, thanks

      Mar 2, 07 9:30 am  · 
      Arjun Bhat


      with regards to your question as to whether his design work presented played a part in formulating his argument, i agree with you, that it should. I should also not that he did indeed try to correlate his pompeii project with the idea of "lateness." the methodology that drove the project seemed to be a deliberate blurring/overlaying of the existing greek and roman street grids that were present in the existing fabric. however, through the course of describing the method and its effect on the form of the rail station, it became increasingly apparent that there was also a strong sense of composition that was driving the project as well. This was brought up as a critique by one of the students at MIT on the project (after the lecture when the audience was asked for questions for eisenman). the questions was something like this (i'm paraphrasing)

      "how can you reconcile the evident compositional drive that was behind this project, as it was with your earlier work, with your stated desire to explore lateness and obfuscation and the desire to relate method and technique over readability?"

      to which eisenman replied,

      "wow. thats a really good, sound critique, and I'll have to go home and think about that."

      as for me personally, i tend to agree with the critique. with regards to the lecture as a whole, I would very much say I was less than impressed. the presentation of his project was shoddy, the project itself was much less compelling than his earlier work, and his general affect and demeanor through the whole thing was more apathetic than passionate (in my opinion). The end of the lecture pretty much broke down into him ranting about getting searched at the airport, and a very generic assessment of the culture of fear post 9/11 (big friggin' news).

      Then again, he did make it pretty much explicit that he's waiting around till the paradigm "shifts" and the new avant garde takes the reigns. For me, it seems that he would be far happier observing architecture nowadays from the viewpoint of the absorbed bystander than be an active part of its scene. I also found the entire concept of lateness to be an intriguing one, but wished he had gone more in depth into the topic.

      Mar 2, 07 12:54 pm  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      The pompeii project is somewhat lacking, sure, but when he spoke in one of my seminars last semester he showed drawings from an upcoming book about James Stirling ... and it was pretty cool.

      Mar 2, 07 1:12 pm  · 
      vado retro

      readability is relative based on experience. cache may have confused my mother but it didnt confuse me. those expecting a narrative ie first second and third act in any form be it film, literature or even architecture may be confused or maybe just disappointed as they don't really want to be experimented on. they don't want art per se but an artful story. stories are good. ideas of multiplicity of perception, multiplicity of truth or nontruths, ambiguity of the multiplicity of the perception of (less) meaning really don't mean all that much these days.

      Mar 3, 07 11:00 am  · 

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