RE- LEARNING FORM
Some architects develop their sense of form from buildings (Richard Meier), construction technologies (Renzo Piano), or program (Lina Bo Bardi), but most architects submit to the discipline’s stylistic tropes du jour, whether raised extruded volumes projected into space or classical pediments. This is inherent to a culture of precedents disseminated by the media. Original proposals take time, and this is in short supply when profits must be maximized or professional recognition rapidly acquired. This culture is learned first in the schools of architecture, and my education in Argentina was no exception: deviations from Le Corbusier’s five points or his emblematic buildings were either derided or ignored. I was surprised to find that this was also true of Ivy League American schools during last century’s 1960s and 70s. Like myself, my peers* in New York were trying to come out from under such oppressive influences, even as they continued to evolve Corbusian variations in their work for Richard Meier or Charles Gwathmey or in early commissions for their parents’ homes. Seeking to regain control of my ability to think form anew, I felt drawn towards the artists I had befriended since my arrival in New York, particularly Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse and Robert Smithson. They were about ten years older than I, and had already arrived at the kind of certainties I was just trying to discover. What appealed to me was their way of considering formal problems. Sol defined them conceptually, using words and numbers to articulate instructions and working drawings, both to “make” the form and to tell fabricators how to realize it. He radicalized this process when he started his “Wall Drawings” series because the “fabricators” of the drawings were asked to produce personal interpretations from written instructions. These, implemented by two different people, led to visually different results, making the form open-ended and indeterminate. This was also a characteristic of Carl’s and Eva’s work. What I liked about Carl’s work was that the pieces had only what was needed to convey meaning and make a place. Nothing more (or less). Also, the seemingly uniform structure of the metal rugs was deceiving. A change in the tiles’ width and length and, above all, thickness, texture and color, produced unexpectedly different results. Eva’s use of soft materials within rigorous –even rigid – formal systems, derived from the multiplication of common objects, made me realize the possibilities of modifying existing formal languages through an-other (female) point of view. All of them shared my preference for vernacular structures and for the making of work that could be enjoyed regardless of the viewer’s degree of erudition. Smithson’s thinking (more than his artworks) led me to develop analytical tools for understanding the hidden structure of sites. The culture of architecture was still contaminated by the premise that architects needed to develop an identifiable personal style, as if style was all that there was to architecture. That is why the work of these artists helped me open the door to escape the world of ready-made answers regarding form. That door led into the more difficult experience of learning how to ask the questions that might lead to the unsuspected form. But of course “form” is not all that there is to architecture.
* I was the only woman in the “Terrible 12” group that met in last century’s early 1980s to discuss work in progress. See Abercrombie, Stanley, “Sampling of the Work of an Emerging Dozen.” A.I.A. Journal, Sept. 1980
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