Immanuel Kant said that human beings make sense of our experiences by using the concepts of space and time. Famed architect and School of Architecture Professor Peter Eisenman said that architects tend to pick one or the other.
“Architects can usually be divided into two camps: those who are primarily interested in an ideology based on space or place … and those whose ideology is based on time, or the traces of memory as a record of time,” he said Thursday evening in a talk intended for students recently admitted to the school.
In his speech, “Wither Architecture: The Time of the Site,” Eisenman addressed post-structuralist thought and the covalence of time and place in the discipline, both historically and with contemporary examples.
While in the past, European architects focused primarily on the zeitgeist (literally “time-spirit” or spirit of the times), Americans were generally more grounded, giving preference to space and the physical presence of architecture, he said. But after World War II, with the “loss of any geist in the zeit,” site took priority even in the United States.
In Eisenman’s work, time plays an important role in his 1978 Cannaregio project in Venice, in which he kept the grid plan of an unbuilt project by famed architect Le Corbusier and filled them with water, to pay homage to the history of the site, he said.
The theme of time surfaced again when Eisenman addressed the concept of “lateness” — which he initially introduced by including the word “wither” in the talk’s title. To illustrate this concept, Eisenman referenced the City of culture in Galicia, Spain of 1999.
As a great Catholic pilgrimage site in Santiago de Compostela, the City of Culture welcomed more than 11 million people last year. Eisenman’s objective, he said, was to move the metropolis into the 21st century, and he did so while building on layers of the past — somewhat literally. Eisenman recreated the grid of a medieval street on one hilltop included in the plan, and he said that the virtual grid of vectors produced on the computer for the design was “analogous to the celestial ley lines that in the 13th century reportedly led the Druids to the coffin of St. James.”
Although the speech was meant as part of open house for admitted students, if one got there early enough, a seat would be available in Hastings Hall. But some audience members had to watch the talk on the screen set up for overflow, said undergraduate architecture major Kevin Adkisson ’12. Adkisson got in.
But not all were so fortunate. Tegan Bukowski ARC ’13 said that she was unable to attend the lecture, but several friends of hers, who are all considering coming to the school, heard the talk.
According to Eisenman, after the lecture, two students approached him and said they would love to come to the school just on the basis of what they heard him say. Eisenman also met with 15 incoming students during the day, as part of the open house program, as did other current professors at the school.