Peter Eisenman, esteemed architect and author of “Guiseppe Terragni: Transformations, Decompositions, and Critiques,” dismissed his most recent release and brainchild of 40 years as an outdated “gem of the past.”
Nonetheless, hundreds crowded into Hastings Hall Thursday evening for a symposium entitled “The Long Swerve: Peter Eisenman’s ‘Terragni’ and the (Mis)Reading of Architectural History,” held in celebration of the completion of his latest book.
The symposium featured distinguished panelists such as Harold Bloom, Robert Somol, Vincent Scully and Eisenman himself. Joan Ockman, who edited Eisenman’s text, served as moderator for the event.
Eisenman said the architect Terragni first piqued his interests in 1961, when a visit to Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como, Italy incited him to return to Cambridge University and begin writing a Ph.D. thesis paper entitled “The Formal Basis of Modern Architecture.”
Ockman spoke about the unique literary form of Eisenman’s book, which she said combined “artistically articulate” architectural diagrams with nearly indecipherable phraseology.
“The [diagrams] drew someone like me, who did not yet know how to see architecture, into the [subject],” she said. “But [as for the text], he forced the reader to perform a set of intellectual contortions in order to follow — the art form being described.”
Sterling Professor of Humanities and prolific author Harold Bloom — who declared that he “knows nothing about architecture” — followed Ockman’s comments with further discourse about literary form, delving into an extrapolation of how subjectivity or consciousness in any endeavor is formulated in the context of other works.
Referring to his work “The Anxiety of Influence,” published in 1973, Bloom discussed Freud’s notion of ego as an entity that strives to maintain creativity as well as autonomy by separating itself from external influences.
“[The ego] lies at the center of a unique narcissistic hubris,” Bloom said. “Its role is to withstand and survive — by compromising.”
Eisenman juxtaposed his speech with Bloom’s by christening it “The Ecstasies of Influence.” He underscored the role of anxiety in bringing his latest book to fruition, recounting the time he spent with American architect and author Colin Rowe in the early 1960s.
“The history I [ultimately] swerved away from was that of Rowe and Terragni,” Eisenman said.
Sterling Professor Emeritus Vincent Scully, dubbed “the only proper architectural historian” by his counterparts at the symposium, spoke about Eisenman’s architectural endeavors from a historically comparative context, unveiling slides of Eisenman’s work to supplement his remarks.
“Peter Americanizes Terragni, and does so in spite of his reverence for the European tradition,” he said. “[The result is] transatlantic transformation.”
Robert Somol, a lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles, rounded out the symposium, countering Eisenman’s self-deprecating perception of his work as obsolete.
“It’s an incredible work, a tour de force,” Somol said of “Terregni.” “It exists as a challenge of, if not implicit attack to, its followers.”
Describing the ultimate focus of the work to be Colin Rowe and not Terragni, Somol went on to delineate his interpretation of the book.
“His relation of space and structure opens us up to a provisional relation of time and movement.”
Barbara Pons traveled all the way from Cambridge, Mass. to attend the symposium.
“I was disappointed that there was no discussion [at the end of the program],” she said. “But it was nice to hear all [of the speakers] together. They had different viewpoints, which made it very interesting.”
Udo Garritzmann shared Pons’ appreciation of the speakers’ contrasting views.
“A big section of American architecture [was represented], and it included some opponents from the ’70s,” he said. “It was great to see them talk about each other.”
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