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.

On Santiago Calatrava:
MG: Cala-f*cking-trava!?
PE: When Calatrava came to Yale, he was paid an inordinate amount of money—I don’t know what it was but I could speculate…far more than Michael and I and others charge. He got up, after a long introduction, and he said, ‘I’m going to draw.’ He had a camera over a drawing board which was on a lectern. And he turned on some music. He didn’t say a word—I mean, he *does* speak English. And he drew—not very pleasant drawings, necessarily, for a whole hour, turned the music off, stopped, and walked off the stage. I couldn’t believe…
MG: Such a bore!
PE: It’s the height of arrogance. We were sitting there watching him draw—with music, of course. So that’s my feeling about Calatrava. I don’t need to say anything more.
MG: We don’t learn from Calatrava…”We” meaning architects generally.

Graves on his education:
I wasn’t educated. My architecture class was a design class and I use design in the pejorative in that we learned how to align things. We learned Mies van der Rohe at Cincinnati and we learned Le Corbusier at Harvard…We looked at a little new town called Vällingby in Sweden and that’s as close as we got to Palladio. So I came out of school not knowing jack about architecture. The things that kids get at Yale…and other places where they’re trying to do something, it’s exciting to hear about the options there. But in Cincinnati and at Harvard it was fend for yourself.

Graves on what he didn’t learn from José Luis Sert:
We were given a concert hall to design, in José Luis Sert’s class—we called him “Teeny Weeny Deeny”—and all sat at high tables on stools like Bobby Cratchett, and he came by after a party in Cambridge, at one or two o’clock in the morning, and he came up to my desk and put his chin on my board. I was looking at the Paris Opera—a big section of the Paris Opera was open on my desk, in an elephant folio—and he said “What are you doing?” and I said “I’m looking the Paris Opera. I want to see how the architect dealt with the seating and the sightlines and so on and the architecture.” And with all his strength, he took both sides of the book, closed it, and said “You won’t need that here at Harvard. Gropius and I are on the same page”—he didn’t say that, that’s today’s lingo, but—”We’re on the same page—no history.” So that’s what you were up against. It wasn’t just no history. It was anti-history….so I went to the school of self-taught.

Graves on the new Michael Graves School of Architecture:
David Mohney and a group of six others have written a new curriculum for Wenzhou [China]. We’re pretty happy with it. It’s heavy on hand-drawing all the way through. You learn the computer in a techniques course, not a design course, and you travel a lot, and you learn all of the other things that are required to get accredited, which are quite a lot. But I would say what sets apart is a lot of travel back and forth from China to the U.S. and from both China and U.S. to Rome, and then drawing. And in fact my building has a big vaulted roof on the design side and the architecture side, and you enter that inner sanctum when you’re in the sixth year, when you do your thesis.

Graves on Eisenman:
You compete in every competition known to man and once in a while you win, and the winning isn’t all that you thought it would be, because it takes twenty-seven years to build one of your buildings.

Graves on his next building:
I’m ready for it. I hope it’s coming soon.