During his entire career, Peter Eisenman,
FAIA, has carved out a distinctive reputation as a theorist,
practitioner, and teacher. Recently, his book Giuseppe Terragni,
Transformations, Decompositions, Critiques (Monacelli Press),
which Eisenman spent 40 years writing, has been published.
Meanwhile, his largest work to date, the 810,000-square-foot
City of Culture of Galicia, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain,
is in construction. In addition to Eisenmans longest
and largest undertakings, other major projectsthe Arizona
Cardinals football stadium in Phoenix, and the Holocaust Memorial
in Berlinare being built. architectural records
editor in chief Robert Ivy recently talked to Eisenman about
his role in architectural culture.
Record: You are known for engaging theoretical ideas
and challenging norms. What do you see as your mission in
First of all, I do not know if I have a mission. Im
not a missionary. I might have been, 20 or 30 years ago. Because
of my nature, the kinds of questions that I ask of my workthe
questions that interest meseem to challenge norms. For
example, at Yale I teach a course on Brunelleschi, Alberti,
Bramante, Palladio, and Serlio, because the students do not
know anything about these architects. History is about people
who have challenged norms, and these people in their own ways
have done that. Rudolf Wittkower pointed out in 1937 that
Carlo Rainaldis Santa Maria in Campitelli in Rome challenged
norms in 1662the norms that Borromini himself had challenged
and then established. So at Yale, well be comparing
Borrominis San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane with Santa
Maria in Campitelli.
is an intellectual pursuit.
I am interested in intellectual pursuit, but I do not consider
myself an intellectual. I also do the Times crossword
puzzle on Sunday, I read mystery stories, I look at the Internet,
and play solitaire. I would not call that intellectually challenging.
I get up at 5:30 in the morning, and by nine oclock
I have written what I need to write and read what I need to
read. And Im done. And the rest of the dayI would
not call running an architectural practice an intellectual
So you leave the meditative realm and leap into the real world.
Yet few would characterize your work as single-minded or pragmatic.
Nobody says, Well, what is the idea behind this?
All they care about is what it costs and what it looks like.
As long as the clients are convinced that you, the architect,
know why you did it, they will go a long way. I have very
conservative clients, politically, who are willing to take
risks because they have a sense that psychologically they
can afford it. They come to me not because of aesthetics,
comfort, or familiarity. They believe I will give them something
that they may not be comfortable with in the present, but
which may be good for them in the long run.
Dont most people want comfortnot what is good
They do absolutely. Why not? That is what makes the world
the way it is. As Nietzsche said, if there werent this
world, there would not be the other world.
One of the fundamental facts about architecture or any sort
of vital human pursuit is the possibility of defining yourselfto
realize yourself; to continue to come into being, so to speak.
Are you someone who is in this constant state of self-definition?
Anyone interested in self-definition is both a narcissist
and egocentric. Whats interesting about constantly growing
and self-definingforget the purely psychological reasons,
the egocentric and narcissistic reasonsis that if you
do not have those qualities, you do not move. I am faster
now than I ever was. I can process information faster. I can
make decisions faster. Im 70 years old and have most
of my best work ahead of me, a good part of which is being
built right now. And you know, I havent won all the
prizes, or received all the commissions. I havent made
all the money. And now I watch some of my colleagues trying
to figure out what can they dohow come they are no longer
being invited to design this or that. And I say, But
youve already done all those things: Youve climbed
the mountain, and I am still climbing. And I suppose
I keep reinventing mountains to climb because I do not think
Id like to be at the top of the mountain. I would feel
very uncomfortable looking down.
You have described an interest in topological geometry in
relation to your project in the City of Culture of Galicia
in Santiago de Compostela. What about landscape? This is a
borderline realm of ideas that is both geophysical and abstract.
What is in that marriage of architecture and landscape?
First, let me go back to something Rosalind Krauss [art critic
and theorist] said. She said that the animating device in
the 1970s was the photographthe photograph was a record
of an event. In this sense it was an index, which was an attempt
to modify the iconic value of the object. What is the problem
with an icon? The object-as-icon is based on the metaphysics
of presence [a belief in a unifying force behind truth and
knowledge], as opposed to pure presence.
So, my own work in architecture attempts to produce a series
of photographic plates or indices in the sense that Krauss
was talking about: I have taken existing maps and superposed
them to reduce their iconic, historical, and pictorial value.
But the Santiago project is slightly different: It is no longer
merely an index of these superpositions. For example, in Santiago,
my idea was to superpose a Cartesian grid onto the existing,
organic, medieval grid, and warp or deform them
with a topological grid that projects upward. This produces
lines of force that were never a part of projective geometry.
They mutate in the third dimension. This has a powerful impact
on the ground surface. It is a way of dealing with the ground
not as a single datum, not as a foundation, not as something
stable. It disrupts its iconic value, turning it into an index.