New York

Stan Allen

Stan Allen contributed a challenging new installment to “miniseries,” a continuing forum for innovative work by young architects. He used a small, awkward space to intensify the productive disturbances that constitute his inquiry. Allen’s “Between Drawing and Building” examined this area through historical and cultural images as well as through several recent projects by the architect. That Allen’s selected architectural projects were all galleries in lower Manhattan provided a decisive twist. The programmatic implications of the designed, meticulously detailed art space tapped into a generous range of issues concerning context, spectacle, image, artist, and audience.

Allen has distinguished himself as much for his theoretical work as for his realized projects, and here he brought both pursuits into animated, if occasionally hermetic, exchange. The central element of the installation was The Draftsman’s Table, 1991. Inspired by a passage from Michel Foucault, the large apparatus consisted of a long metal slab divided diagonally by a translucent screen, stabilized by steel frames, like the sterile drape between surgeon and patient. An appendage extended from the table supported a stool, and the table’s end consisted of another table lying on its side. The austere object both projected and reflected various tangents and trajectories, creating geometries of light and shadow. It was a site for analytical surgeries and fortuitous incongruities (as when the sewing machine encounters the umbrella on an operating table)—for the produced and received notations that stimulate architectural invention.

On the walls of the room gridded groupings of drawings, photographs and prints depicted influences that situate Allen’s work ambiguously between the conventions of drawing and construction, architectural practice and common culture. They included Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendahat House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, grainy photographs of UFOs, Allen’s earlier theoretical work, as well as more recent drawings—recapitulations in which he “redraws” a built project. In these, drawing documents and interprets rather than precedes and influences the construction process; it becomes new information, not simply obsolete preparatory instructions.

For many architects the design of the contemporary art gallery provides a fertile domain for the consideration of the nature of architectural representation. The art space is designed to be yielding and incomplete—to accomodate short-lived occupations of art. Indeed, the architecture of the gallery is no more an end stage than drawing is simply a prelude. Allen’s entire installation projected the paradoxes of drawing toward building—absence and presence, theory and occupied space. One image appeared in willfully startling contrast: a 1937 diagram from a drafting textbook showed a technical drawing with instructions for the development of an axonometric projection. This precise, rational representation contrasted with the more poetic dimensions of architecture.

The sophistication of Allen’s investigation was enriched by the idiosyncracy of an individual mind at work. Here, the analysis was systematic but never entirely objective. Theory was made actual, but in the process reality became far more illusory.

Patricia C. Phillips