Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman Dazzle with Comedic Stylings, Incisive Critiques

comedy hour 2

The dashing Peter Eisenman was the lone speaker at “Past as Prologue,” the Architectural League of New York symposium held Saturday in honor of Michael Graves’s fiftieth year in practice, to appear twice: first in the Paul Goldberger-moderated panel on architectural pedagogy and again for a day-capping conversation with Graves himself. Between the two appearances, Eisenman snuck away to watch the annual Harvard-Yale football game. As the Crimson was busy besting the Bulldogs 31-24, plenty of other longstanding rivalries simmered on stage, where even the conference venue (the recently constructed and steeply pitched Tishman Auditorium at the New School) was not immune to attack. The architectural symposium’s version of the Game’s last-minute 35-yard touchdown was what Eisenman, after initially professing that he felt like he had “gone to the wrong parade,” later described gamely as “The Michael Graves-Peter Eisenman Comedy Hour.” Here are some of the highlights.

On driving forces:
Michael Graves: Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas have their phones ringing all the time with “Would you do this for us?”
Peter Eisenman: For what reason?
MG: To keep ahead of Frank!

On form:
PE: What is it that makes your buildings look like they are?
MG: Architecture! I believe in architecture.
PE: So do I. How come they look different?
MG: It doesn’t matter that they look different. They don’t look like [the buildings of] those other people. That’s what’s important.
PE: That’s true.

denver central library

Graves on the CCTV Headquarters building:
Rem made a building, and if we had little blocks here we could do it…but it has a tower and then a horizontal tower and then another tower on its side. It finally comes back down to where there is a tower on the ground. And nobody said “Why?” What the f*ck is that about? Where’s the door? What are you doing, man? Are you high? And the magazines published it like it was heaven on earth.

Graves on Gehry:
When Frank farts they write an article! “The gastrological condition of Gehry.”

Graves on Graves:
My buildings have a foot and have a discernible door or more. It has windows to look out of—thank you very much, Cooper Union. You make a school of architecture with no windows, you’re going to get it from me! It’s got a roof. It’s got rooms….It’s got places to be. It’s got places to have lunch. And those are the things that make up the composition.

Graves on the all-Mies IIT campus:
I think it’s one of the most boring places in the world. I went into the chapel with a friend when I was taking a tour of architecture schools on the East coast…and it was white brick and black steel, like every other building, and then it had a rail—a confession rail—which is made out of three-quarter by three-quarter black steel. And my friend said, “Look at this! Isn’t this pure?” I said, “It’s a three-quarter-inch piece of metal.” People got so excited about the floating steps at the School of Architecture. I find them very worrisome.

On making an entrance:
MG: I would say that I celebrate the door and the threshold.
PE: That’s fine. I’ve never celebrated doors.

On identity:
PE: This [conversation] is projected as Yogi and Boo-Boo and that we’re two different people, but most people think we’re the same.
MG: They do?
PE: Yes they do. They say we’re cut from the same cloth. We’re both formalists….I think Bob Venturi, for example, thinks that you and I are the same, always has.
MG: Well he’s a formalist.
PE: Yeah, but of a different sort.