From March 2 to June 30, 2002, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present Perfect Acts of Architecture. Organized by Jeffrey Kipnis, curator of architecture and design at the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Perfect Acts showcases 130 examples of two-dimensional work—ink and graphite drawings, collage, photo montage and watercolor—created between 1977–87 by internationally renowned architects Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Thom Mayne and Bernard Tschumi. During this sluggish economic period when new building was curtailed, these architects fueled an intellectual scene filled with passionate debates involving philosophy, criticism and social thought. Thus the stage was set for an eruption of “paper architecture” and graphic experimentation of incomparable beauty and depth. The five architects represented in the exhibition have all since earned major international recognition for their built works, and each stands at the pinnacle of contemporary architecture. This exhibition contains the foundation for their future endeavors. Organizing the San Francisco presentation of Perfect Acts is Joseph Rosa, the Museum’s new Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, with the assistance of Ruth Keffer and Darrin Alfred, curatorial associates at SFMOMA. The exhibition’s fully illustrated catalogue is available in the SFMOMA MuseumStore.
Each set of drawings in this exhibition explores, architecturally, the key debates of the time, from urban alienation to the radical reorganization of social life. Among them are some 20 works from SFMOMA’s permanent collection of architecture and design, including graphite-on-paper multiview drawings from Daniel Libeskind’s Micromega series, named after a satirical story by Voltaire; and ink and graphite renderings from Thom Mayne’s Sixth Street House series, a proposed residence for Mayne himself that ultimately remained unbuilt. A description of the other projects on view, and the individual architects, follows.
House VI, c. 1976
Stimulated by the formal structure of language, Peter Eisenman wanted to develop a type of architecture that was not based solely on function. From the late 1970s to the 80s, Eisenman demonstrated his esoteric theories by creating a series of eleven houses. Numbered rather than named, they expressed his investigation into the nature and meaning of architectural form. Instead of basing the design on function, with form to follow, the houses explore specific structural principles, with functions to fit in the best they can, if at all. This introduction of functional distress in a most treasured sanctuary, the single family home, is typical of Eisenman’s striving to produce dislocation and provoke anxiety. The most famous in the series is House VI, which was built in Connecticut. Eisenman generated hundreds of drawings for the project, then prepared for publication the set exhibited in the SFMOMA presentation.
Peter Eisenman has designed major projects in Ohio—the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Columbus Convention Center and the DAAP (Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning) building at the University of Cincinnati—as well as projects in Japan, Germany and Spain. The architect for the forthcoming Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, he has also redesigned a ten-block area west of Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. Having previously taught at Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard and Yale universities, Eisenman is currently Irwin S. Chanin Distinguished Professor at The Cooper Union in New York.
Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis (with Madelon Vriesendorp and Zoe Zenghelis)
Exodus, or The Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, 1972
After the political and social upheavals of the late 1960s, visionary young architects wanted to integrate a radical agenda into a discipline that seemed only to serve the rich and powerful. Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’s response was to reanimate architecture as an instrument of social and political change by exploring its subversive role in the city. The Exodus collages and storyboards—based on a new “city within a city” in London—injected freedom and irony into architecture with their groundbreaking, irreverent use of collage, cartoon, diagram and ideas from film. Theories from the Exodus project have exercised enormous influence in the field for three decades.
Rem Koolhaas was the 2000 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. His projects range from an inventive house in Bordeaux, designed to accommodate the needs of a client who uses a wheelchair, to the master city plan and giant convention center for Lille, both in France. Current projects include a student center for the predominantly Mies van der Rohe–designed campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, a new central public library for Seattle, Prada retail stores and a master plan and headquarters building for Universal Studios. Koolhaas is the author of Delirious New York and S, M, L, XL and has taught at the Architectural Association in London, the University of Delft, Columbia University and UCLA. He currently lives in Rotterdam.
Micromegas, 1978, and Chamber Works, 1983
Daniel Libeskind brings a lifelong obsession with philosophy and history to bear on every work he produces. For the first decade of his career, he garnered the attention of the international architectural community with a stunning succession of drawings and collages extraordinary in number, breadth and imagination, as seen in the virtuoso Micromegas, 1978. The less theatrical Chamber Works, 1983, grapple with the question of how ideas become universal, timeless and placeless. These drawings are a haphazard mixture of signs, symbols and scratches from Libeskind’s life; aspects of the drawings can be seen in the form of many of Libeskind’s later buildings, such as the heralded Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Daniel Libeskind, who was born in postwar Poland and lives in Berlin, is currently constructing the Spiral Extension to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Other projects include the redesign of San Francisco’s Jewish Museum, due for completion in 2004; an extension to the Denver Art Museum; and the Bremen (Germany) Philharmonic Hall. Formally trained in music as well as architecture, Libeskind has taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Harvard University, UCLA and the University of London.
Thom Mayne (with Andrew Zago)
Sixth Street House, 1986–87 and Kate Mantilini Restaurant, 1986
Thom Mayne’s fascination with machines and mechanisms—and with the part over the whole—shapes his architectural vision. While designing a house for himself in 1986–7 (Sixth Street House), he placed object-mechanisms throughout the house as interest attractors. In his drawing pairs for this house, which provoked endless imitation among architects and students, the relationship of each object to the house unfolds in a techno-spiderweb of layers. Another drawing sensation came with the Kate Mantilini Restaurant Drodel (drawing-model), derived by drawing sections of this restaurant interior on glass and stacking them to create a virtual model of the design in space.
Thom Mayne co-founded with Michael Rotondi the architectural firm Morphosis in the 1970s with the aspiration to design and build work of humanity and intellectual rigor; he is now the sole principal of the firm. Mayne is currently designing the graduate student housing for the University of Tennessee and two restaurants in Las Vegas. He was recently selected by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to collaborate with local firms on two new projects: a federal building in San Francisco and a federal courts building in Eugene, Oregon. Previous projects include International Elementary School in Long Beach, Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, graduate student housing for the University of Toronto, and Hypobank Headquarters in Austria. Mayne is a professor at UCLA.
Manhattan Transcripts, 1976–81
Bernard Tschumi also turned to the city in his explorations of architecture’s possibilities. In the four Manhattan Transcripts—The Park, The Street, The Tower and The Block—Tschumi tells murder mysteries and other stories using the traditional techniques of architectural drawing, enriched with collage, storyboarding, diagramming and film strips. “Perhaps all architecture, rather than being about functional standards, is about love and death,” Tschumi wrote. He exploits architectural drawing techniques to transform his illustrated narratives into buildings.
Bernard Tschumi’s projects include the commission for the Parc de la Villette, a 125-acre cultural facility in Paris; the Le Fresnoy National Studio of Contemporary Arts in Tourcoing, France; and a new student center on the Columbia University campus. He was awarded France’s Grand Prix National d’Architecture in 1996 and received England’s Royal Victoria Medal. Since 1988 he has been Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.
* * *
Perfect Acts of Architecture was organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. The exhibition was presented at the Wexner Center with the support of the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Wexner Center Foundation. Hotel sponsor for the SFMOMA presentation is The Argent Hotel.