Harvard University - GSD (Quilian)



Sep '06 - Dec '09

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    A funny thing happened on the way to the insight

    Quilian Riano
    Oct 12, '06 9:05 AM EST

    Yesterday there was a symposium here at the GSD. I post it because these older gentlemen were very critical of many of the architectures (including their tools) that we see today.

    The premise: invite some older GSD alumni (John Johansen, Ulrich Franzen, and Victor Lundi) to candidly talk with current faculty about their early work and its importance to today's architecture.

    The reality: a night of awkwardness, starting with the all too common technical glitches and moving on to these alumni critiquing the contemporary school and practice, and in some cases personally attacking the younger (relatively) faculty for no apparent reason. At some points it felt like Thanksgiving dinner with your much older relatives complaining about the good ole days and not noticing the many similarities between their work (and times) and contemporary practices.


    Complained about:
    -Too much computer scripting
    -A lack of emphasis on building
    -Today's emphasis on the formal aspects of architecture

    I was dumbfounded by some of the things he said and the architecture he had produced. He didn't build a lot of his most interesting architecture, he is by far the most formal (along with Lundy), and he said that he is interested in the possibility of nano technologies changing the face of architecture through biomimetic building systems but is completely against computer scripting.


    Complained about:
    -Too much archi-speak and academic thinking leading to alienating the public and less commissions
    -Too much emphasis on shapes (Libeskind-singled out)

    I partly agree with Franzen, but in his delivery he was just rude to the hosts. He refused to answer any questions and decided to play games by making it personal instead. He really made the discussion awkward to watch and at the end I knew less about him at the end than I did at the beginning.

    Complained about:
    -The computer taking away ”˜art' from architecture and making less talented people look like architects. I think he meant art in the Beaux Arts sense of the word.

    Lundy is a really nice guy who used materials in poetic ways, according to him, from pure instinct and talent. His work is very evocative and he was the most willing to talk about anything from his personal experiences to his art and architecture. He was also wary about over analyzing his work, preferring to talk about symbols, technology and budgets. He provided one of those silent awkward moments when he remarked that his U.S. Atomic Agency Pavilion was a woman opened on both sides.

    It would be too easy to dismiss the comments as simply those from a previous generation who don't understand today's condition. Some lasting questions from comments during the symposium:
    -Do we really build less because there are fewer commissions and more architects or are we scaring the public with our archi-speak?
    -What is art? art vs. arch? Can you build architecture out of a performance piece?
    -Are we thinking too much about architecture and not trusting our instincts?
    -Can architecture really forget about the human component?
    -In 50 years if any one invites me to something like this, will I go in a tirade about the 3-D virtual reality brain chips kids are using?
    -These guys seemed like pretty wealthy people from the get-go who could afford to finance a few of their first projects. What does that mean for the rest of us (the proletariat)?

    Trailer for the Exhibit



    • AP

      ...where you there when Rufus Nims came and had an informal talk in the gallery (at UF) with Alfred Browning Parker? a couple of crazy old guys that are still at it...Nims in his 90s, Parker a bit younger...they were critical of current trends as well, but not in such a useless way (from what it sounds like, these guys at the GSD symposium were just bitching to no appearant end). Nims and Parker focused on principles - ones they took into consideration back in the 50's. They're both still interested in these issues...timeless considerations, not subject to passing fancy.

      Oct 12, 06 2:19 pm  · 

      I think they all have very valid comments which I am glad to hear.
      I am going back to graduate school after working for 9 years and I am tired of seeing flashy computer models. I think graphic representation in arch. has gotten to literal with putting patterns on everything!

      Oct 12, 06 2:39 pm  · 

      Na AP, I didn't make it to that one, I think I was in Cuba or something when it happened.

      And only one of these guys from yesterday seemed to be enjoying saying things to make his host squirm.

      These meetings with a much older generation can be an awesome learning experience if you don't let them become just a generational battle. For example: if an older architect says: I hate the computer, that's fine you just move on. But trying to reform an 80 year old is silly and a waste of time for all. Maybe it is called respect, these guys and gals have seen and done a lot you listen to them and let them talk.

      And a note for everyone: don't try to interpret someone's work in front of them, let them do the analyzing. As the title says, funny things happen on the road to give someone an insight about their own work (specially when they are over 80), this is what I think caused yesterday's meeting to go awkward.

      Oct 12, 06 3:36 pm  · 

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