A new exhibit from Billie Tsien ’71 and Tod Williams at the Yale School of Architecture aims to show the process of architecture — as well as the products.
“Matter: The Work of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien,” is the latest exhibit at the school in an ongoing series on visionary contemporary architecture.
“The exhibit is examples of work done in our studio over the past 20 years,” Tsien said. “We wanted to show the process of how we design. We don’t do commercial work. Its always done through drawings and models.”
Tsien said their work is somewhat in contrast to the recent trend of architects using high-tech tools like virtual imaging. Instead, the exhibit focuses on hands-on work, using drawings and models.
“We’re interested in things that are very, very real,” Tsien said. “It’s not about things that are done on a computer, it’s done by real people.”
Examples from their work take a number of forms, like furniture, study models, and prototypes. In videos shown as part of the exhibit, the architects speak about their work.
Tsien said the exhibit’s title represents not only the physical aspect of the architecture, but also the idea that the show displays what is important to the architects in their work.
“What matters to us is handwork,” she said. “Whether done in our studio or in small factories, we appreciate the work of the hand.”
Dean Sakamoto, director of exhibitions, said the content of “Matter” differs from other architectural exhibits.
“What makes it unique, is that usually [architects] will display their plans,” he said. “These are the objects, and the process.”
Sakamoto said he approached Williams and Tsien with the idea for the exhibit when they were scheduled to teach at the Architecture school. Sakamoto helped produce the original video accompanying the exhibit, “Inside/Out: The architecture of Williams & Tsien.”
Williams and Tsien have worked together since 1977, and have been partners in their own design studio, Tod Williams Billie Tsien & Associates, since 1986.
“They’re real people. Their work is very human,” Sakamoto said. “Their architecture and their lives are intertwined.”
In 2000, they collaborated on a book, “Work/Life,” which includes photographic portfolios of ten recent works.
“The result might better describe our individual talents, but we feel architecture which is so clearly a collaborative act,” Williams wrote in a description of the book. “It is far more exciting to discover what we can make together. Everything in the work is mine and everything in the work is Billie’s.”
“Matter” is the first major Williams and Tsien exhibit since their 1990 show, “Domestic Arrangements,” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.