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Peter Eisenman: “There are no little Mozarts in architecture!”

Published time: June 03, 2010 11:42
Edited time: June 03, 2010 11:42

“When I speak in the US, not many people understand me,” one of the world’s top architects, Peter Eisenman, started off his lecture in Moscow. “I’m an architect from outer space.”

“It’s very funny for me to come to Moscow for the first time and speak of capitalism. I want to distinguish between design and architecture. Design is an agent of capital. Architecture has always been a critique of what design does,” the architect said on his trip to Moscow on invitation of the AD magazine.

Peter Eisenman
The 77-year-old guru of architecture said he spent years collecting Russian magazines and books on architecture of the 1920-1930s. “I have the largest private collection of Soviet magazines. I know more of your architecture than you do! I may not speak your language, but I can speak your architecture language.”

His creations speak for themselves. Among them are the Frank Residence, better known as House VI, in Connecticut; Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin; La Villette and Musee du Quai Branly in Paris; Memorial Square in New York, to name a few.

Revolutionary and reflective, unconventional and nonconformist, the leading light of unorthodox architecture says his “clients love him”.

“They come to me because the work that I do for them is not easy,” Eisenman explains. “Literature is difficult, novels are not. Music is difficult, noise isn’t. For me architecture has always been difficult, design and building – not. I don’t want clients who are interested in the easy.”

Eisenman’s approach to art is as sharp as a cutting-edge formula.

“I acknowledge madness as an art form. You have to be somewhat mad to be an architect. My work has always been trying to make the ground we stand on become figure. I’ve always attempted to bring ground into figure.”

And that is exactly what he has been doing since 1999, working on City of Culture of Galicia, in Spain. It is a complex of six buildings featuring varying scales, materials and forms turned into an opera house, research center, an archive, a research center, a museum and a stadium. Eisenman says, they are “trying to play six buildings like a jazz quartet.”

Eisenman has a roster of prestigious awards, including the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement which he received at the International Architectural Biennale in Venice in 2004.

City of Culture of Galicia
City of Culture of Galicia (Click to enlarge)
He is also the author of several books on architecture and says writing has always been vital to him.

“Every great architect that I admire always wrote before they built. It’s very important to have an idea before you build. You cannot be an architect if you don’t know what architecture is. You have to see it, feel it. If you don’t know the architecture of your country, you cannot build anything. You have to study the history. There are no little Mozarts in architecture! It takes time. All the people that I know have studied architecture very thoroughly."

He has students at the universities of Yale, Cambridge and Princeton but says he wishes he also had some students in Russia.

“I’m deep at heart a teacher and I’m here as both an architect and a teacher. I teach by asking questions. My sadness is that I’ve never had a Russian student. There were Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Jordanian students, but not a single Russian.”

Eisenman says many of his own “heroes and models” were involved in philosophy, literature and sculpture, as well as architecture. “In recent times I had three teachers: Colin Rowe, Manfredo Tafuri and Jacques Derrida. They are all dead now.”

When Eisenman is speaking, it seems that the luminaries are still there…

Valeria Paikova, RT