PETER EISENMAN

Cardboard Architecture

House I

House I was an attempt to conceive of and understand the physical environment in a logically consistent manner, potentially independent of its function and meaning. The thesis presented in House I, the Barenholtz Pavilion, is as follows: one way of producing an environment which can accept or give a more precise and richer meaning than at present, is to understand the nature of the structure of form itself, as opposed to the relationship of form to function or of form to meaning.

House I posits one alternative to existing conceptions of spatial organization. Here there was an attempt, first, to find ways in which form and space could be structured so that they would produce a set of formal relationships which is the result of the inherent logic in the forms themselves, and, second, to control precisely the logical relationships of forms.

There were three steps in this process in House I. First, an attempt was made to make a distinction between those aspects of form which respond to programmatic and technological requirements and those aspects of form which relate to a logical structure. In order to make this distinction, an attempt was made to reduce or unload the existing meaning of the forms. Second, a formal structure was made from these marks in the actual environment. Third, this formal structure of marks was related to another formal structure of a more abstract and fundamental nature. The purpose of this procedure was to provide an awareness of formal information latent in any environment which previously was unavailable to the individual.

One aspect of the first step was an attempt to reduce or unload the existing meaning of the forms dictated by function so that the forms could be seen as a series of primitive marks. This was attempted through a manipulation of the relationship of the color, texture, and shape of the built forms. White forms are used in House I to shift our visual perception and conception of such forms; from the perception of a real, tangible, white volumetric architecture to the conception of an abstract, colored planar space; from the 'white' of the 1920s to the neutrality of 'cardboard*.

A second aspect of the initial marking process involved the structural elements - the columns and beams. They appear initially to be rather conventional parts of a structural system. However, upon closer inspection this is found not to be the case. It is actually not possible to determine how the structure functions from looking at the columns and beams. All of the apparent structural apparatus -the exposed beams, the free-standing columns - are in fact non-structural . . .

The second intention of this work called for taking these marks and deploying them in such a way as to make a complete formal structure and to show that this structure was a primary consideration in the design of the whole building. To focus on this, required a further shift in the primary conception of an environment; this time from a concern merely for marking elements and their meaning to a concern for their relationship in a formal structure. To force this shift in House I, the formal structure was in a sense over-stressed or over-articulated so that it would become a dominant aspect of the building. One means to over-stress such a structure was to suggest two simultaneous structures which overlay and interact. These were based on a simple combination of two pairs of formal references: planes and volumes, on the one hand; frontal and oblique relationships on the other.

The two formal structures are marked by columns and beams . . . The intention was to use the columns and beams to mark two systems without giving preference to either. Together the counterpoint of these two formal systems, the frontal planar layering and the diagonal volumetric shift, overlaid and interacting with one another, make it more difficult to read a single coherent formal system directly from the physical fact. Rather they reinforce the intention that these marks in order to be understood first require disengagement of the two systems from one another, an activity which takes place in the mind . . .

If we analyze the nature of meaning in any specific context we realize it has two aspects. The first is meaning which is iconographic and symbolic and derives from the relation of the form to some reference which is external to it. For example, the particular juxtaposition of solids, columns, windows and railings in Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye is intended as a direct recall of the super-structure of the modern ocean liners, and with all the implications of the sea; discovery, newness, and ultimately man's conquest of nature. But underlying that level of meaning there is another aspect, itself a potential source of information, which conditions any iconographic interpretation; it is derived from, and is in a sense inherent in, the structure of the form. For example, the same juxtaposition of solids, voids and columns at Poissy gives us cues to entry, sequence of movement, the relationship of open to closed space, of the center to the perimeter and so forth. This information can be said to be the product of the internal structure of the form itself. While formal relationships can exist in an environment at a real, actual level, where an individual is aware of them through his senses - perception, hearing, touching, they can also exist at another level in which though not seen, they can be known . . .

If we mark both these levels in the environment they can be explicitly perceived and understood. This is the third aspect of the work - a shift in focus from an actual structure to an implied structure and to the relationship between the two .. .

This second level includes in addition to a set of irreducible formal regularities, the transformations of these regularities necessary to produce a specific environment. Transformations may be described by such formal actions as shear, compression, and rotation, to produce a new level of formal information in any specific physical environment. . .

These transformations and regularities have no substantial existence but are merely a description of this second level of formal relationships, in other words, a possible model for an architectural deep structure . . .

Any physical environment has this second or deep structural level, which not only has the capacity to convey information but does so continuously at a less-than-conscious level. It exists without being consciously designed, and there is a conceptual capacity within each individual to receive this information. Marking deep structure in the actual environment may bring it to a more conscious level. As was said above, there is no reason or meaning intended in the use of a particular formal strategy. The two overlaid systems are neither good nor bad in themselves. They are intended merely to exemplify the logic inherent in any formal structure, and the potential capacity of that logic to provide an area of new meaning. <ppl5-17)

Extracts. Source: Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier, Oxford University Press (New York), 1975.

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