GROUPIES & RENEGADES
“You should be more careful,” Peter Eisenman warned me in 1970, referring to my criticism of certain practices at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, which he directed. “We prefer groupies to renegades around here.” I had been brought in, along with two of Peter’s former students, to analyze and organize the disparate elements produced by Cornell undergraduates for a project on “New Urban Settlements,” (actually English New Towns of the late 1960s) whose final report was being demanded by the funding agency. During my involvement with this project I had to endure Eisenman’s facetious interference with our work; “I love knocking you down to see how fast you can get up again,” he said by way of explanation. I soon realized that all women associated with the architectural scene revolving around the Institute were spouses, lovers, groupies or victims. There were no women protégées. And groupies (of any gender) had to visibly profess their belief in the utter importance of the work of the Five Architects, the fictitious group of starchitects avant la lettre that Eisenman had made up to draw media attention. My admittance to the clubhouse was conditional, with allegiance being tested in every possible occasion: My paper titled “Verisimilitude”, for the CASE 8 conference at the Museum of Modern Art focusing on the work of the Five Architects, was abstruse enough to meet Eisenman’s standards; and he seemed to take as a compliment my critique of his avowal of “no meaning” in his designs when I presented my “House of Meanings” project at the Institute’s first lecture series in 1971. He also supported my proclivity for asking difficult-to-answer questions to the architects with successful commercial practices he invited to lecture at the Institute, because these questions reinforced the intended intellectual humiliation.
Being a groupie was inimical to my own sense of identity, and I could not accept that belonging to New York’s architectural elite could be based on allegiance rather than merit. I also found myself on the opposite side of Eisenman’s enforcement of exclusivity, not only with regard to admission to the club but, more importantly, regarding his own projects. I found abhorrent his bragging about clients renouncing their comfort and use of the houses he designed to preserve their conceptual integrity. I did not find it funny that Eisenman’s clients had to “live in the basement” or in a nearby conventional structure – perhaps due to a lack of sense of humor on my part.
Even though I continued to attend the Institute’s lectures and debates, a gradual distancing ensued, and I became a “renegade”, although I was not aware of it at the time. More than fifteen years after my work there I was asked to make a presentation of one of my projects in a meeting of the Institute’s “fellows” that was published in 1986 as The Chicago Tapes. I thought then that the status of “token” had replaced that of “renegade” – only to find out that I had been set up for a beating (the subject of a future blog).
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