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I Never 'Got' The Discipline of Architecture

The Sun is running a laugh out-loud interview with architect Peter Eisenman ’55 today. Eisenman is perhaps best noted for his Berlin-based Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a worthy -- if not inappropriately named -- monument chastising Nazi transgressions.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm perhaps not the most well-prepared to comment on matters of architecture or other artistic concerns. Keep in mind that I'm someone who actually likes the external appearance of Uris Hall. But Eisnman's designs seem worthy of consideration and possible artistic merit, even if like most works of modern architecture they fail to appreciate the role of human form and function. Consider the City of Culture in Galicia.

That said, I know pure academic drivel and bullshit ego-boosting when I see it:

PE: I haven’t been critical of function; I mean, I think architecture is about being critical of function. In other words, how does society advance if we don’t rethink function?

Sun: Now, you said “advance.” That points toward a tension I wanted to get at: On the one hand, you seem critical of function. On the other hand, you seem to want to disavow a narrative of progress. You said the word “advance.” I’m trying ...

PE: I didn’t really mean “advance.” OK, let’s take this chair. Do you need this chair? Somebody needs to sell a product, so they have this dumb chair. I can’t do a chair. I wouldn’t know what to do if you told me to do a chair.

In contrast, this makes Rem Koolhaas's description of his Milstein Hall design sound like the epitome of sane:

“The box is always an isolated thing. But here, we use the box as a connector. You could say it’s a postmodern use of the box.”

He said he had entered the “apparent warfare between blob and box” in contemporary architecture, and that he was “trying to short-circuit that dialectic.”

Which brings us to the latest Milstein Hall controversy: That upon receiving its final green light from the City of Ithaca, some University faculty have called for a moratorium on its construction due to concerns about adequate programmatic space, sustainability, and cost in light of the recent budget shortfalls.

I've refrained from commenting on the controversy because I don't have all that much to add. Others have provided much more adequate commentary than I have.

Still, I commented last summer that I would prefer the building not to be built, but in light of the accreditation pressures the school faces, going forward with construction with the money in hand seems like the best option. And I would even say that I have somewhat warmed to the design in the two and a half years since it has been released, even if I think the idea of an outdoor plaza behind Sibley Hall will result in a terrible joke of a wind-tunnel. Not to mention the cost-per-square foot for the project is outrageous!

At any rate, Milstein Hall will most likely get built, but it's a shame that the Sun didn't take the opportunity to ask Eisenman his opinion of the design. We do know, however, that he is not interested in sustainability:

I am not interested in sustainability, I’m not interested in green architecture. I think these are charades, I think they don’t get at the fundamental issues. I think those are the people who are immoral, because they’re selling something that closes off the real possibilities of doing something in the environment.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 20, 2009 (#)

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