Peter Eisenman is the deconstructivist theorist

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Continuing a series of revisions to deconstructivist architecture, we introduce the Wexner Center for the Arts and Peter Eisenman, an American architect behind the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe.


The legendary debate between architects Peter Eisenman and Christopher Alexander took place in 1982 at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. While Alexander advocated human-centered architecture, Eisenmann insisted on buildings that made people think rather than feel.

Things got hot when Eisenmann said that the best architecture was dissonant and dissonant, and Alexander accused him of “messing up the world.”

Above: Peter Eisenman. The illustration is by VesaS. The Wexner Center for the Arts is an important deconstructivist building.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

Eisenmann has always been interested in buildings that focus on ideas rather than emotions and functions. “I will never live in what I designed,” he declared in a 2007 interview.

Eisenman, along with Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi and Coop Himmelblau, was one of the major supporters of the deconstructivist architectural movement that emerged in the early 1980s. His work revolves around the process of removing traditional logic and sense of symbolism and applying new rules and interpretations instead.

This approach is strongly influenced by Jacques Derrida, the theorist who developed the deconstruction theory, which is half of deconstructionism. Jacques Derrida happened to be Eisenman’s best friend.

Villette Park
He participated in the competition entry at La Villette Park with Jacques Derrida.

Through Derrida’s writings, Eisenman was interested in separating the structure from the meaning, the columns were no longer considered vertical columns, and the roof no longer had to worry about shelters.

In this way, the building can be understood as a pure manifestation of the idea, without suffering from the weight of history or the limits of physics.

This method of deconstruction began to gain momentum in 1986 when Derrida and Eisenman collaborated on a competition proposal for La Villette Park in Paris. Their proposal lost to another deconstructivist design, but by Bernard Tschumi it marked the beginning of Eisenman’s journey to massive architectural destruction.

Turn theory into practice

Eisenman’s early career was initially rooted in academia. Born in New Jersey in 1932, he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in architecture from Cornell University and Columbia University, respectively.

Later, the professor suggested that he should “go to England to be smarter,” so he earned a master’s and doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge and completed his dissertation, “The Formal Foundation of Modern Architecture,” in 1963. rice field.

Peter Eisenman
Eisenman is one of the main supporters of deconstructivism.Photo by Chris Wiley

Eisenmann entered the first construction only after returning to the United States.

The architect, who founded the Architectural Urban Studies Institute, a think tank exploring alternatives to New York-based architectural education and practice, was keen to test some of his theories in the real world.

His first project was a series of case study houses, six of which were built.

Peter Eisenman's House I
House I was the first in a series of experimental homes.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

Each house was designed with different logic, with reference to the work of linguist Noam Chomsky. In House I, the architectural elements are at odds with the spaces they make up.

House II has two separate structural systems, one made of walls and the other made of pillars, both of which can independently support the building.

House III, on the other hand, was created by superimposing two vertical geometries on top of each other and rotating one by 45 degrees.

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Living in House VI was not the main concern of the architect.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

All the houses were designed to live, but this was not the main concern of the architect.

This range is revealed in House VI: Client Response. In this book, author Susanne Frank reveals how the house designed by Eisenmann was built with glass strips that divide the main bedroom, preventing the addition of double beds and how the dining table was built. increase. It was interrupted by an adjacent pillar.

House X
House X was frustrated after falling with the client.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

Eisenmann calls the project “paperboard architecture”. He often mentioned how he prefers them in the form of drawings and models, not constrained by the need to function as a home.

In an interview with the 2013 Architectural Review, he gave some insights into the motives of these committees. He revealed advice from Italian architect and theorist Manfredo Tafuri.

“Tafuri said history wouldn’t be interested in your work if you hadn’t built anything,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely right.”

Deconstructivism on a city scale

In 1976, a fallout with a client at House X stopped the project, and Eisenmann realized he was reassessing his priorities. “I realized what was wrong with my architecture wasn’t from the ground,” he told an architectural review.

He had a reputation as a member of the New York Five – A group of architects including Michael Graves, Richard Meier, John Hejduk and Charles Gwasmei – but we needed to find a new direction. So he abandoned the self-sufficient house and instead began to apply his concept on a city scale, further complicating his ideas using the physical context.

Canna Regio Plaza in Venice
Eisenmann designed an entry for the Canna Regio Plaza in Venice

The Brooklyn Fire Department, Berlin’s public residential area, and a series of landscape and campus proposals, including the design of La Villette Park and Cannaregio Plaza in Venice, show how Eisenman’s deconstructivist approach is in the cityscape. I started to show if I could be located.

But it was the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University that architects solidified his reputation.

MoMA's original deconstructivist architecture exhibition
His Biology Center at the University of Frankfurt was included in the MoMA Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibition

This visual arts gallery is a fusion of elements such as scaffold-like structures that reference the grid of Ohio Street, modernist-style window walls, and red sandstone elements reminiscent of castle turrets.

Eisenmann had little construction when he was appointed to the project. But by the time he opened in 1989, his bet was high shortly after he attended MoMA’s original exhibition of deconstructivist architecture.

Ohio State University Wexner Center for the Arts
The Wexner Center for the Arts has cemented his reputation.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

When gallery director Robert Stearns decided not to decorate the art until a few months after the building opened, it could have been a sign of the building’s suitability as a space for art. In fact, the Wexner Center has had significant success.

In a New York Times review, Paul Goldberger describes it as a “notable structure.” “This is a difficult building, but it’s not as difficult as Eisenman’s rhetoric makes us believe. Beyond the architect’s words, it reveals a building of considerable sensual power.”

Find discord and discrepancies

Eisenmann’s work has grown in scale and confidence since the 1990s, supported by advances in computer-generated design possibilities.

At the Greater Columbus Convention Center (1993), he combined past and future references to divide the size of the building into a series of railway-inspired ribbons.

Greater Columbus Convention Center
He designed the Greater Columbus Convention Center.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

The University of Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for Design and Art (1996) takes the form of a geometric collage with colliding angles and candy colors.

The Cultural City of Santiago de Compostela (2011) is probably the most ambitious work of Eisenmann to date, even if the later stages of the project are canceled due to budget overruns. This huge cultural complex appears to roll out of the landscape, reflecting the shape of the surrounding hills.

Cultural City of Santiago de Compostela
The Cultural City of Santiago de Compostela is another important project.Photo courtesy of Eisenman Architects

But most influential is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe (2005) in Berlin, a sense of dissonance and dissonance that Eisenman sought more than any other work in Harvard’s discussions. It is a sculpture work that captures.

What looks like a rational grid of concrete blocks (total 2,711) can be seen to be filled with differences and turbulence. It acts to overwhelm and disorient the people passing through it – here is the effect that feels appropriate.

European murdered Jewish monument
The monument to the murdered Jews in Europe is his most influential project.Photo by Roland Halbe

The Eisenmann building is not without its extra shape. Reports of roof leaks, improper materials, and inadequate shading systems have plagued his career.

But his work changed the way architects think about structure. When Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2000, he announced in a speech that Eisenmann was more worthy of the prize than he was.

As an architect who was always more interested in ideas than results, Eisenman succeeded in opening up a space for himself in history books.

Deconstructivist series logo
Illustration by Jack Bedford

Deconstructivism is one of the most influential architectural movements of the 20th century. Our series presents the buildings and works of key supporters such as Eisenman, Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi and Wolf Prix.

Read the Deconstructivism Series ›

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