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    Lecture - Sylvia Lavin

    By RMartz
    Nov 17, '13 1:50 PM EST


    Welcome back everyone. Not too long ago we were fortunate to have Sylvia Lavin, Director of Critical Studies in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA and a leading theorist, give a lecture and also spend time working with the third year March students as this years Baumer visiting professor. Incredibly insightful and knowledgeable she was introduced as often using the phrase “Let’s be honest” to cut through the noise and chatter. She began her lecture with preface that this this lecture was going to be more her thinking out loud as she worked to combine 3 different topics she’s been working on the past years: the 1970’s, a series of questions of the shifting boundaries of the architectural discipline, and the role of the critical project in the contemporary.

    The presentation and the story of this lecture began with an exhibition Sylvia was giving on the 1970’s. She was including the work of artist Mike Kelley into the exhibition, particularly his thesis of 1978, when he committed suicide, resulting in all his objects being frozen and transitioned from living, breathing documents to an archival status. The same thing occurred with the death of Michael Escher. Meanwhile, the work of Gloria Nortman artist, who is still living, however had work that had been archived already, meaning Sylvia was able to present and interpret the work how she wished, against the artists wishes. A critical moment occurred after giving a presentation about this exhibition, when Peter Eisenman, who had been in the audience, said that the ”It was interesting and all, but those California artists have nothing much to say to architecture”. Thus she began to work on a counter-argument to peter that distills into a discussion of what does and doesn’t constitute architecture and the facts that artists/architects hide.

    She took time to identify similarities between various architects and the work of some of the artists as proof of the arts influence. She assumed that Mike Kelley would be appreciated by Eiseman because of their shared interest in the difficult and the struggle as a process. Similarly, Kelleys Birdhouse isn’t unlike early Morphosis buildings in their shared crafty nature. Even there being a certain shared domesticity between the two as Tom Mayne made the design and drawings into a game for the client so that they could better understand the building. A famous trait of Eisenman is his ability to draw what he could not see, originating from a famous story of Colin Rowe sitting him down and telling him he could get up only when he could draw what he couldn’t see. This trait of the invisible appears most importantly with an instructional drawing for a small building by Bruce Nauman, in which he wouldn’t allow the actual drawings that where used to make the piece to be exhibited. In trying to understand what art is and isn’t Bruce Nauman made the statement that “anything I do in the studio” is art, which lead to memorable art when Nauman danced around his studio or let his cat run around at night, while taping with a night vision camera. These points are relevant in understanding and questioning Eisenmans House I.

    There is always the question of what is capital ‘A’ Architecture versus lower case ‘a’ architecture. In this discrimination between the two we find that house I is really two; two narratives. In school we imagine and are taught the almost mythical nature of the house, but what Sylvia did was to point out all the mundane typical things, those things that make it lower case architecture, the 2nd narrative. The first narrative is the one of mythology, of deep structure, of drawing what couldn’t be seen. The second is a reality check for the mythology of Eisenmans work, hence the erasure of its existence. She made the point that the project, rather than a mystical origin, began as any other with a client meeting, and in drawings we see the daily items like dimensions and cabinetry. In the end the drawings were abstracted as much as possible to hide this, evidenced in the name “House I” instead of the original “Baron Holtz Pavilion”. She even presented a particular section, which interestingly said “Section needs more lines for credibility”.

    The above is part of her argument for Peter, but it brought her to the discussion, one we had been holding in our Baumer sessions, about the boundaries of the architectural discipline. She brought up a particularly eye opening example of the company Creative Space. The term “creative space” has in a sense become today’s version of Wolflins Gothic Shoe. There is a particular meaning to the term creative space that has become used by the real estate market: a space that can be flexible and reconfigurable in a huge array of ways. When you start looking at their work it becomes difficult to draw boundaries between us and them (up to the reader on whether that’s good or bad), most jarringly apparent when they end their manifesto with a quote by Rem Koolhaas.

    "The City is a box of speeds, rather than an urban artifact, implying the potential of the architecture of the city to be a passive agent, acting merely as a vessel for movements and flows." - Rem Koolhass 'Mutations' (

    Thus leading us to Sylvias challenge…
    “They are all called creative. Now you have a world in which everyone with an iPhone is a creator sitting around in creative spaces and it is simply inadequate to say that is not architecture, in the way Eisenman said to Mike Kelley. The challenge to us all is to figure out how to not leave it at that, but to do something like Mike Kelley did, which is to say, to take that world and figure out how to re-originate it as an architectural problem, as an architectural set of possibilities.”

    Keep an eye out for a recap of Baumer sessions with Sylvia from earlier this year and those to come next week. As always you can find video of the lectures as they become available at the schools event website at

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This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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