Each of the six glass towers of the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston is engraved with one million numbers, each representing a person who died in the concentration camps. The architect of the memorial, Stanley Saitowitz, said he wanted the light shining through the glass to cast shadows on the beholder, who would then feel “engulfed as a momentary victim in this tragic past.”
On Monday night Saitowitz, a professor of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, came to speak about his theory of “expanded architecture” in Hastings Hall of the Art and Architecture Building. Dean Robert Stern of the Art and Architecture School described Saitowitz’s creations as demonstrating a “freewheeling modernism.”
During the lecture, Saitowitz showed slides of some of his projects, while discussing his aesthetic ideas and their impact on his creations. Saitowitz’s buildings are constructions of bars and rectangles, characterized by wide, empty expanses and light. He said he prefers to focus on air rather than substance in his designs, to create a world of what he called “constructed emptiness.”
“I’m interested in space rather than meaning, the emptiness that the form contains, in the invisible,” Saitowitz said. “I want to create ephemeral objects of absence and silence.”
The results of Saitowitz’s theories are buildings that are “expanded” in feel rather than physical size. In one example, he talked about bringing light into the depths of an urban rowhouse. In another, he used floor-to-ceiling windows to make a 1,000 square foot house seem spacious.
Saitowitz also talked about other aspects he considers when creating a project such as the function of a building as an apparatus — “a camera rather than a photo” — and a building’s ability to amplify its unique temporal and geographic position. He said he was particularly interested in buildings as systems that harmonize with environments and organisms. In one example, Saitowitz showed a house in Napa Valley whose rusted walls were meant to reflect the seasonal changing of the colors of the landscape.
“I’ve sometimes thought of buildings as geography, pushed by forces,” Saitowitz said.
In his houses in the South of Market district of San Francisco, Saitowitz said he experimented with fusing elements of modernism with classicism. He often created tall, narrow houses in which Victorian ideas such as the bay window influence modern designs.
Saitowitz also spoke about the impact of technology on the field of architecture, particularly in computer design programs. Unlike other architects, Saitowitz said he prefers to retain the conceptual integrity of his designs.
“He talked a lot about gratuitous form-making with digital means, and looking at other ways [of design] which are probably more traditional,” said Malaika Kim ARC ’04, who found the lecture to be interesting.
Saitowitz’s works are wide-ranging, including synagogues, skate parks, a house for the drummer of Metallica, and the San Francisco Embarcadero Promenade.
Jason VanNest ARC ’04 said he took issue with the uniformity of the programming used to design very different buildings.
“Is it a problem for the architect to use the same approach for Metallica, a Jewish place of worship and skateboarding parks, and not differentiate in any way, shape, or form?” VanNest said. “I wouldn’t wear the same clothes to a synagogue as I would to a skate park. Architecture, in one definition, is simply an outer layer of clothing, how we clad the body in a larger sense.”
Saitowitz is currently designing a library at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as the architecture school at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.