New York

Peter Eisenman

John Nichols Gallery

Seeing an exhibition of Peter Eisenman’s models and drawings on Plexiglas is unlike looking at the work of any other practicing architect. The work itself and the accompanying texts are difficult, and so original, so private, that they seem unintended for public viewing. Yet Eisenman reaches out insistently, absorbing new information and thought generated in fields as diverse as psychology, literature, linguistics, and theology His work represents an area of architectural investigation that is abstract, restless, visionary, and, finally, revisionary, a conceptualization of process that is a mystery to some and an important influence for many.

Challenging over 500 years of architectural convention, Eisenman has proposed abandoning the anthropocentric generators of form, proportion, and program in architecture in favor of a new design. tautology based on discontinuity, displacement, appropriation, and simultaneity. He insists that architecture (or his architecture) be involved in constructing a future based on the most contemporary epistemological theories. His strategy for inventing the “new” is a process called “scaling,” in which the juxtaposition of similar yet unique analyses of a single form creates a recursive geometry for architecture that remains open and unfinished. The sanctity of the original is not only refutable but absurd; the starting and ending points of process are undifferentiated and covariant.

Moving Arrows, Eros, and Other Errors is an accurate model of Eisenman’s thesis. This theoretical project is a diagrammatic analysis of three different versions of the story of Romeo and Juliet that date from the 16th century. Eisenman codified the three narratives, which are thematically similar but uniquely developed, then “recreated” them on separate sheets of Plexiglas, which were then mounted one atop the other so that the narratives were superimposed. The whole provides an architectonic narrative, a codified record of an uninterrupted exchange. Through the process of scaling Eisenman subverts questions about original narrative and its subsequent interpretations to generate a neutral field where new and old are equally legitimate.

The issues that Eisenman raises in his architecture not only concern process and perception but also address the absence of any critical system for evaluating an architecture of immanence. He is not unique in his application of new sources and old narratives to construct an architecture; yet this project’s often perplexing insistence on its own viability is located in its potential to transform its premise. For many contemporary architects, historical sources seem more an accomplice of process than an intrinsic part of it; the original premises remain unchanged. With this new work, Eisenman has punctured the hermetic enclosure of current architectural practice, and as it is being drained of content, he is refilling it with generative material. He is by no means an iconoclast, but he is a formidable theoretician, one for whom practice generates theory and theory transfigures practice. Eisenman does appear to grow disinterested and impatient with his own ideas, leaving others to flesh them out while he moves on to the next ideological confrontation. However, his work, though often difficult or obscure, is infinitely more intriguing, more atmospheric, than the unrelieved cloud cover of most contemporary architecture.

Patricia C. Phillips