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Peter Eisenman’s work seeks to undermine the conventions of architectural formulation. It does so without reference to external cause but wholly through a critical manipulation of figural content. The comfortable deception of past realities embodied in architecture demands confrontation, yet such is the complexity of the task that few have been able to approach it. As is inevitable in any experimental procedure, Eisenman’s critical development has not been without confusion and uncertainty; yet at every step it has offered insights that must be subjected to close critical scrutiny.
The proposal for a new art museum on the campus of California State University at Long Beach marked the most complete development of a conceptual process that began with the Cannaregio project of 1978 and was evolved in the Friedrichstrasse housing project, designed in 1980 and 1981. The work on the museum also followed Eisenman’s success in the 1983 competition for the Wexner Center for the Visual Arts on the campus of Ohio State University. In the first half of 1986, when the museum was being designed, both the Berlin project and the Wexner Center were being prepared for construction. Radical projects that in the 1970s had been seen as marginal were now being realized and becoming known internationally. The confidence that grew from this success makes the Long Beach project of particular interest. The 526 items recording the development of the design for Long Beach document every aspect of the evolving design, from the hastily scribbled exploration of a fleeting idea to elaborate polychrome presentation drawings.
The Eisenman/Robertson office in New York, on the ninth floor of a 1900s loft building west of Broadway, is a raw space with little to suggest the creative character of the enterprise being conducted within, save the spotlighting of several project models. Eisenman has two work spaces, a private office where he takes phone calls and reads – he surrounds himself with books – and a desk in the main drawing office. The drawing office has work stations for fifteen people, and it is here, surrounded by his assistants, that Eisenman designs. There was and remains an intensity of mood to the place. Work on the Wexner and Berlin projects shared the space with Long Beach and Eisenman would move through the day from one project to another, as his interest and enthusiasm dictated, maintaining a rolling creative energy in which each activity would feed on another. A typical discussion might draw on the meal or the movie of the night before, some contractual nuance of Berlin or Wexner, or the specifics of Long Beach.
Of the fifteen associates named on the Long Beach project two were central to the process: the German Thomas Leeser, associate in charge, and the Japanese Hiroshi Maruyama, project architect. Eisenman was in daily discussion with Leeser, testing ideas, at first verbally and then through drawings and models. The assessment of each formal move as represented in drawings would lead to further drawings, and, at key points in the process, to simple layered models in Foam-Cor. Eisenman held the center, redrawing and overdrawing as one idea supplanted another. Throughout, Eisenman safeguarded the central proposition that drove the work while encouraging continual critical reexamination, not only to clarify the intention but also to give it the validation essential to an activity of such an esoteric nature. While Leeser was the handyman to the creative process, Maruyama played the role of devil’s advocate. Leeser, with great formal sensitivity, advanced the evolution and transformation of the abstract proposition into the real, drawing on an association of almost ten years to maintain rigorous consistency with Eisenman’s critical program, while Maruyama played the role of spoiler, continually seeking to undermine or disturb the proposition with new evidence and new ideas. Both Leeser and Maruyama draw in a style similar to Eisenman’s but with perhaps a little more precision. However, neither Leeser, Maruyama, nor any of the assistants appear to have used texts in relation to drawing. This act belonged to Eisenman. It is the interaction between text and image that places him at the center of the critical exchange.
Within this highly verbal and interactive group, against what was the work being judged? The debates were often elliptical and made reference to philosophical and literary ideas and to the texts and objects of others. The critical exchange could be characterized as a search for a particular visual direction to emerge from the drawings. This was not some rarefied intellectual puzzle (though the process certainly was) but the creation of a tangible presence that had visceral force. This force would lie not in the beautiful or sublime, but in something systemic yet difficult to retrace or recompose, a quality revealed in the drawings and models that was latent in the rational process and yet disturbed by it, something new and inexplicable that occurred where the critical strategy eroded or displaced the essence of the originating object or idea.
In each part of the process, the frequency and character of different types of drawings reflect the fascinations of the author and can therefore serve as an index to the creative intention. The Long Beach project is documented in more than 510 drawings and 14 models. The great majority of the drawings (nearly 300 sheets) are on yellow tracing paper or vellum, and most of these are worked in freehand by Peter Eisenman. The last of the four phases in the development process consists mostly of formal drawings in ink on Mylar. There are 90 of these, in turn reworked in various forms of reproduction, frequently overdrawn in colored pencils. The prevalent graphic procedure is one of tracing and retracing from some preexisting mechanical plan or map, for the most part in fine lines of black ink. Out of almost 250 freehand tracings, approximately forty contain texts. These drive the narrative character of the work and range from small word puzzles to lengthy diagrammatic assessments of the relationships between graphic figures. The texts seem to reflect the way in which the author sustained his interest and pleasure in the process, and their frequency and length seem to relate to specific points in the evolution of ideas. The importance of text seems to have declined as the process of clarifying the conceptual proposition moves from narrative idea to graphic form.
Four hundred thirty-four drawings, or 81 percent of the total creative activity, consider the problem only a plan. A clear majority of the plans concern not the practical resolution of specific problems but a progressive examination of the relationships between overlayed figural patterns. Eisenman calls this process “superpositioning” a superposition being a superimposition without domination. For Eisenman, superpositions reveal analogous relationships that were previously obscured.
Eisenman’s hand is evident in all the advancing and compounding of the layers of traced figures. His presence is less evident in the more formal and mechanical drawings prepared for presentation. Twenty-seven drawings are axonometric drawings, or oblique projections. These were used for converting the two-dimensional compound tracings into three-dimensional results. From this oblique projection, layered models were constructed (eight of the models are of this type). They were formed by pasting blueline prints from the most potent of the superposition studies into layers of Foam-Cor to represent in three dimensions the intersection of the figures. These then were overdrawn in colored pencil or carved to consider options in the way each layer was superposed on its associated figure. They were clearly used as critical evidence of formal evolution through which the team debated whether the pictorial process of superposition was creating appropriate disturbance. The models are followed by sectional drawings, twenty-five in all. They are mechanically drawn and suggest the two-dimensional character of this phase of the conceptual strategy, implying that the procedure of superpositioning was not able to operate in section. Similarly, the fifteen perspective drawings, the majority made at the end of the design program, suggest that Eisenman did not care to imagine in this form the three dimensional results of his figural studies.
Throughout the material, there seems to be a clear distinction between drawings that seek to present new thought and drawings that represent the result. The perspective drawings are among the most dispassionate documents of the archive. By not allowing himself to pictorialize, Eisenman seeks to avoid the trap of corrupted representation. Similar distinction cannot be made in the development of the model studies. The eight Foam-Cor models clearly serve the drawings and are continually worked over, while the more detailed models that move toward a final state of the project maintain a level of conceptual exploration that is possible only in model form. The effect of complex, intersecting layers was studied first in a chipboard model, then in a highly detailed basswood construction. The second model was clearly built more for intellectual and sensual pleasure than for practical description. It was followed by the most highly developed model in the collection, one in which each intersecting figure and layer is carefully picked out in complex sets of muted colors. The forms are lovingly explored, much more for their own sake than for any semblance to the real. It is a beautiful object whose character was to influence the final presentation, and one can imagine the pleasure it gave the team in its extraordinary freshness and strangeness. Its conviction would silence any of the pragmatics of its reality.
It is apparent from this analysis of the working materials that the conceptual process that shaped or structured the design for Long Beach arose early in the design activity and remained consistent until the end. This is unusual, but it is characteristic of Eisenman’s work. Many architects seek inspiration in a fairly loose and random way and describe the process by which creative synthesis is achieved as “having a concept.” This tends to describe a point in their assessment of the problem where a significant pattern or figure has emerged that seems to accommodate all the competing demands of the program. Eisenman rejects such a process absolutely. Instead, he seeks to establish a strategic text or narrative related in some way to the subject at hand. This relationship has no concern with the performance of the physical characteristics of the building. Rather, it searches in the circumstances of a specific place for patterns of order unique to that place. In the case of Long Beach, Eisenman wrote post facto that the formal project was “the outcome of a history ‘given to’ the building.”
This history was compiled from a series of significant dates, beginning with the Gold Rush settlement of California in 1849, the creation of the campus in 1949, and the projected “rediscovery” of the museum in 2049. The idea was to imagine the site one hundred years after the founding of the university and 200 years after the period of the Gold Rush.
Eisenman’s descriptive text for the project was written July 6, 1988, but it fairly represents a conceptual program that arose very early in the design activity. Eisenman represents this history with simple line tracings of what he selects as appropriate figures for the respective themes, all drawn in plan view. The Long Beach project takes its form from
the overlapping registration of several maps: of the ranch that once existed on the site, the site of the campus, and the changing configurations of fault lines, a river, a channel, and the coastline. They are combined in such a way that none of the notations takes precedence over any other, and so as to textualize coincidental overlaps by subjective interpretation.
For example, he traces the full extent of a ranch which occupied the area of the campus, including a significant piece of California coastline and a river that runs through the site.
This series of tracings in the end amounts to seven figures – ranch (and later ranch house), campus, fault lines, grids, river, channel, and coastline – which represent the total formal language from which the art museum will be formed. They also become the set of keys by which the process can be opened. Importantly, once they are detached from the original context, each figure is allowed to shrink, expand, or rotate to wherever or whatever associated position the syntactical process demands. In overviewing all of the fruits of this activity, one senses the way in which Eisenman begins to empathize with these sets of significant traces, the way in which they excite him. Although it is dispassionate, this is not a bloodless process. Eisenman sustains in his imagination the meaning of each trace and feels satisfaction in the revelations of paradoxical relationships.
Almost without exception, but particularly in those drawings which can be characterized as concerned with the conceptual process, there is no evidence of any interest in the actual place, in the way the project will be constructed, or in the experience it will offer those who enter it. These are not capricious oversights but crucial to Eisenman’s intent to redefine architecture by deriving it in a manner free from past modes of representation and symbolism, a manner that must displace program and must avoid representation in any form, human, natural, contextual, or architectural. Underlying this intent is the belief that overconsumption of the convention of past and present realities has eroded their meaning. The documents, therefore, represent a design process which operates totally without reference to any of the conventions of architecture or of building. In this way, it might be argued, a construction will emerge that will not only disturb past realities but will also make at Long Beach a wholly new performance of the idea of art museum. By any objective measure, the drawings show an obsessive singlemindedness both in terms of the obliqueness of the proposition and the conviction that it will lead to a productive conclusion. The activity is driven at the center by the question to which Eisenman continues to return: why does architecture look the way it does and how might it become other?
Although in these operations Eisenman represents the plan tracings of past orders that in various ways have touched the site for the museum, and although he manipulates the scale and rotates the positions of these trace representations, he operates on the resulting figures without reference to their nature, with utter neutrality. In other words, he has no interest in their figural or symbolic nature. For some architects (Michael Graves or John Hejduk, fro example), the drawing hand is so sensually linked to feeling that each line unavoidably embodies qualities of the thing represented. Such imaginations infuse the idea of things drawn, be it clouds, water, stone, or trees, into the rhythm and weight of the pencil line as it touches the sheet. Eisenman is blessed with a hand that appears incapable of conveying emotion: a hand without empathy that must find meaning wholly outside the character of the drawing. Overheated drawings would pollute the objectivity of the process. This unemotional hand is essential in depersonalizing the process, in removing not only emotions, but also human scale. Nowhere in his drawings does a human figure appear. Nowhere in his drawings is the spectated reality allowed to seduce.
In the beginning, this “synthetic history” is established as much by words as by the slender traces. The words initiate the pictorial imagining. The words are written in haiku-like figures, which guide the drawing. In drawing 1 16/01 (cat. no. 68; the drawing sequence numbers referenced throughout this essay were given to the drawings after the project was concluded), from the first series of studies made in late February 1986, he writes:
LOS ALAMITOS BECOMES OUR SITE / SITE BECOMES CAMPUS
As a companion to this idea, he overlays four traces: the boundaries of the ranch plan from 1849, which extends to the California coastline; at an equivalent scale, the actual site within which the project will sit; and at the center, in a diminutive form, the plan of the campus. Almost as an afterthought, he notes hurriedly at the edge of the paper:
CROSSING SCALES / INTERLOCK / TAKE ONE AWAY AND / WHOLE THING FALLS APART
He appears, here, to be reflecting on what he ahs drawn and begins to enjoy the intimation of possible tensions to come.
The character of the imagining involved in this process can be seen in the next drawing in the sequence (1 16/02, fig.49). The coastline and ranch trace remains at the scale of the preceding drawing, but the full campus plan has been enlarged to become an equivalent and rival figure. Attached to its western border the same plan reemerges, rotated, as a diminutive echo or coda of itself. Here the text reads:
CITY B. IS COUNTY B. / RANCHO LOS ALAMITOS IS CAMPUS / WATER IS WATER
“Rancho…is campus” clearly indicates the intersection of the similarly scaled figures.
In drawing 1 18/04 (cat. no. 67) he writes:
CAMPUS IS TO RANCH (WATERWAY SUPERPOSITION) IN SCALING 1 / AS RANCH IN SCALING 2 (IS SUPERPOSED OVER SITE IN / SCALING1) SO THAT PALOS VERDES [inserted] [IN SCALING 2] SUPERPOSES OVER / SIGNAL HILL IN SCALING 1
These are specific instructions to himself that he faithfully carries out, carefully doubling or halving the size of the figures and examining the interrelation between the layers of time and event. For example, when the campus is at a scale to match the ranch, the site for the building within the campus trace is also given the ranch, appropriately scaled down. Such a process requires a remarkable suspension of disbelief.
Consider again that this activity is explicitly about the design of a real facility for a demanding client on an actual site. One might ask of such an elliptical path: by what means is progress measured? Perhaps it is difficult to admit the necessarily indulged character of creative activity. Eisenman appears to be investing his traces with what might be called scientistic qualities. He appears to see them as part of the equivalency of all matter. No matter how confounded the individual traces become in the process of interactive layering, they retain their essential nature while bonding and being transformed by the interference of equally self-sufficient patterns. As in the preparation of a vaccine, the result is a compound antidote, in this case designed to combat the disease of overconsumed reality.
Progress appears to be measured in two ways: first, by the completeness and richness of the textual instructions and constructions, second, by the density of the resulting figuration. Continuing with the examples, many of the major figural associations are established in drawing 1 19/09 (fig. 50), where Eisenman writes:
√ CAMPUS → RANCH / - RANCHHOUSE → INDIAN HILL / CAMPUS →BURIAL GROUND /
√ RANCHHOUSE → BURIAL GR. & CAMP. / √ INDIAN HILL → BURIAL GROUND /
MISSING: √ SITE → RANCH / SITE → CAMPUS / SITE → SIGNAL HILL?
By drawing 1 19/11 (fig. 51), late in March of 1986, his imagination reduces these complex associations to a series of formulas with graphic additions that have the quality of equations waiting to be resolved:
R → CAMP / R – C / SH – PV / S → R / S → C / S → BG / R – S A – B / S – A / R – B=A
The problem of resolving s (site) appears to be how the actual site, the place of the building, will cut into the layers of the emerging palimpsested traces. Drawing series 1 19 ends in a dense set of associations including all the figures of the found vocabulary (fig. 52; 1 19/16), which serves as the problem field in which drawing series 1 20 will place the actual site.
The conceptual struggle in drawing series 1 20 is almost silent. Here, the large, axelike form of the site’s footprint fills the page and is moved over the palimpsested drawings to determine how best to frame the traces of history. It is not until layer 1 20/05 (cat. no. 74) that something clicks. Tentatively at first, but clearly noted in the corner of the drawing, the figural elements become layers in time. He writes:
RANCH 1885 / CAMP. 1949 / LONG B. 1899 / CAMP 1983
The drawing with this note contains fragments of all the races, positioned with increasing tension, and one senses pleasure in the transformation of the trace: an emergence of new meaning and a new potency in this tactical game. The lines have become, in his imagination, actual sections through time. He explains his perceptions in the descriptive text for the project:
The different historical layers and shifts could be understood as marks of intelligence or glimpses of the way a culture organizes itself. In this sense, architecture becomes the intervention into and the invention of stories, and this project represents a story about Long Beach that is different from those which have spoken for it previously.
The process continues into drawing series 1 20. Again free from text, Eisenman traces and traces over the mix of campus, ranch, burial ground, coastline, and river, always constrained by the now omnipresent frame of the actual site that will hold this museum. This frame becomes the window through which the traces are continually reassessed to find that significant disturbance that seems to promise the potential of a new state of the real.
In drawing 21/01 (fig. 53) dates replace words as the driving stimulus:
-1885 / - 198985 / - 1899 / - 1949 [line] PIER / - 1985
Through time he finds the appropriate figure for the appropriate date, and there is clear concern that the figure in time be substantial or substantiated. At the edge of the drawing, he notes, ‘1885 irrigation system,” against a long parallel bar that runs through the site.
Drawing series 1 22 and 1 23 pursue these layers with a disciplined regularity and silence. By drawing series 1 24 (fig. 54) the site plan frames a wonderfully rich palimpsest of overlayered landscapes. Is this silence, this absence of textual provocation, the result of the process being passed on to his assistants, to Leeser or to Maruyama? Is it that only Eisenman possesses the right, the key to the full syntactical game?
An observer, in time removed, wandering again through this extraordinary sweep of drawings, slowly enters Eisenman’s imagination, and more forcefully, Eisenman’s quest. There is a sense that for him all these traces become in his mind tangible forces with which he must do battle. Forces that surround him are not to be tamed, but to be fused together as if by alchemy, into a new and transcendent state of order, state of matter. The struggle, as one encounters it as a stranger, lies somewhere between that of Don Quixote and that of Ahab. Phase one of the activity ended, in his mind, on April 8, 1986. It had produced 24 series of drawings, all plans, and concluded with the superposited layers apparently unyielding. It is unclear from the evidence why Eisenman decided that the drawings made from April 9 until April 30 represented a distinct phase of activity. As a modest body of work, phase two lacks any fresh critical insight that the process needed to sustain in order to advance. This slowing down must be characteristic of such activity, as it involves acts of elaborate intellectual speculation within an objective basis for assessing progress, without rules for judging when enough is enough. However, it is clear that the process can and did lose energy in the second phase and a renewed intellectual push was needed to drive it on.
Beginning in May, Eisenman exerted all his will and concentration to renew and dramatically confront the myriad illusions that he had cast abroad – that is, as far as the surface of the yellow trace. The third phase contains a series of drawings that are exemplary of Eisenman’s mental process, at least as it was in 1986. The first (fig. 55) is numbered 3 14/01 and is dated May 24, 1986. It is worked on a letter-sized sheet of paper and takes stock of the ideas that have informed the project up to this time. At the top of the page he lists all the trace elements that are active at this stage, setting them out, for example, in tactical groups, for instance:
SAME / SIZE / SAME / SCALE
COASTLINE 1 / COASTLINE 2 / COASTLINE 3
SAME / SIZE / DIFFERENT / SCALE
WATER GRID 1 / JEFFERSON GRID 2 / TOWN GRID 3
The first set of associations is related to a group of words that includes Rainbow Pier and then to edge, perhaps indicating the seed of a figural idea that could be useful within the evolving grid texture.
On the right in fig. 55 is, I am assured, a typical Eisenman doodle. It does not seem to represent any of the ideas or figures within the Long Beach frame. Below it is a series of drawings and diagrams in a form which appears nowhere else in the Long Beach materials. The notes refer to fault lines and ask, “how does it get to the site” and seem to be specifically concerned with anticipating the way in which architectural form might emerge from process. They are coupled with elemental yet descriptive drawings which could become the outlines of simple buildings.
Below this are paired diagrams that illustrate exactly how Eisenman imagines the operation of superposition. The lines in the diagram on the left indicate how he sees the transference and rescaling of images. The drawing on the right is quite explicit in diagramming an interactive process. These small, studied figures represent the conceptual and pictorial activity within his imagination. He may in a detached way rescale and rotate, yet the search for underlying logic in the process is prefigured in his imagination. Below this, all the critical dates are restated. In among the familiar, there are two brief notes that seem to anticipate the need for a more forceful intervention. He writes:
FAULT / REVEALS ALL / REVERBERATIONS
and then alongside he writes:
RAINBOW OIL WELLS
These two fleeting thoughts will become powerful critical instructions as the project moves to a close.
The next drawing 3 14/04 (fig. 56) seems much more spontaneous. Eisenman again shows his formative concern for the relation between time and figure:
1849 RANCH ON SITE CANAL IS RIVER (COAST LINE) AND EDGE OF RANCH / 1889 RANCH
HOUSE ON SITE CANAL IS COAST LINE (FAULT LINE)’S CO / 1949 CAMPUS ON SITE
CANAL IS FAULT LINE (RIVER) / 1989 MUSEUM ON SITE / 2049 FIND 1989. MUSEUM
On the right is one dense inscription that seems, in its terse clarity, to suggest that he has achieved a clear visceral and conceptual understanding. It states:
2049 START TO DIG. ALONG A / FAULT LINE AND IT REVEALS: / 4 PLACES /
Under this he writes:
4 DIF SIZES: / NOW AS / SAME OR / SIM. SIZE / AT 4 DIF / SCALES / AT 4 DIF TIMES
Alongside this he writes:
MUSEUM WITH ALL THINGS IN IT 2049 / SITE 1989 / CAMPUS – 1949 RANCH
HOUSE – 1889 / RANCH – 1849
Even as it sits on the page, there seems delight in the instruction, “find museum by going ahead in time to 2049.” And he begins a very excited series of drawings in which he feels for the figural potency of this idea.
The idea of describing the future is certainly the most agitated in the whole process, and after many quick and quite specific investigations, he returns in drawing 3 21 (fig. 57) to the same question, “going ahead in time.” On this page, he seems to demonstrate both visually and sensually the relation between his thoughts and his drawings. As he draws, he looks for encouraging conflicts as well as specific rational, conceptual associations that justify location. The ranch house in the top sketch is the tiny speck by the river. It is placed here in its actual relation to the Long Beach campus. The same relation then reappears, and the campus figure is scaled up and transposed to the edge of what were once the boundaries of the nineteenth-century ranch. These studies are revealing in the way in which they begin to establish the principal relationships that are sustained into the final resolution. Progress is being made, and by drawing 3 28/05 (fig. 58), the notes have moved in tone from proposition to instruction to confirmation. He writes:
REVEALED IN / FA[U]LT LINE IN 2049 / 2049 MUSEUM / [space] RANCHHOUSE / 1989
SITE / 1949 CAMPUS / 1889 [arrow drawn from ranchhouse, above, to here] / 1949 RANCH /
-REVEALED IN / SIM. SIZES IN / DIF. SCALES / - 4 DIF. PLACES AT DIFF. SITES
There is one additional trace on this drawing that seems to strengthen his trust in the merging configuration. This comprises an extension of the city grid, which he names the Jefferson grid, and is a point at which the grid slips – a device that was important in ordering Wexner. It here represents the fault line: a reasoned figure for a cut through the layers of history. In drawing 3 28/06 (fig. 59) the fault line between the Jefferson grid and all other elements associated with this trace, including the coastline, are shifted up through the campus site plans to allow a more full-bodied intersection with the layers of history. Although, as the process continues, all these elements will undergo extensive readjustment, this drawing marks a point at which the experiment appears to be proven in the sense that the author has confidence that the activity will lead to the appropriate disturbed markings that he seeks. It is only after this point is passed that the process leads to more formal mechanical drawings and to the construction of layered models that explore the external spatial result.
What has been presented here is a synopsis of design activity that extended over a period of three or four months and involved 250 drawings. Given the extent of the drawings and the intensity with which the strategy is sustained, it comes as a surprise to discover how much looser and more gestural the activity becomes as it moves toward a usable building. In its final form the proposal for a university art museum in Long Beach is dominated by three figural elements that come later in the process than the profiles of superpositioned historical mapping that have consumed so much of the activity. This timing would seem to be typical of creative processes; moreover, two of the late arrivals are rooted in the text. The three are a rectangular trench, the “fault line”; a semicircular passage partly above ground, called the Rainbow Bridge; and a towering, open structure that appears to represent an oil derrick. The Rainbow Bridge grows grandly out of the tiny pier on the west side of the coastline. It appears to be necessitated by a realization, as the project is literally drawing to a close, that the compound palimpsest of layers has produced insufficient climatic force. The Rainbow Bridge emerges swiftly and late between drawing series 3 30 and 3 35, apparently as a ubiquitous device to give vigor to these fields of ambiguous trace.
The idea of the great fault, the great cut through the layers of history, had been very much in Eisenman’s mind from the midpoint of the process. He saw it operating like the Grand Canyon in carving a vast space that would give order at the center of his palimpsested plan. Yet when all the forces are mustered in the last phase, neither coastline, canal, nor river appear to combine to offer the appropriate measure of force that the concept demands. So, like any good director, Eisenman takes all the plays and players in hand and under his will forces a grand, broad, rectangular trench large enough to allow conventional building figures to arise from these edges of synthetic history. In the later descriptive text he writes as he feels:
In areas, the stone of the building bears the mark of a once existing riverbed or the outline of former ranch boundaries, always overlaid with similar textual marks of fictive conditions. Thus, the stone of this architecture, instead of “configuring” an “image” of a museum, records the traces of a lost and future history.
Once in place the trench and bridge are quickly given a companion in the form of a tall, open-structured oil derrick. This is an uninflected object, yet so much clearer than the superposed traces that it acts to diminish the process. On the oblique perspective in the final presentation, it straddles the fault line, cutting through the layers of history. However, unlike the synthetic armory at the Wexner, it is untouched by this disturbing force.
One last set of drawings is stranger from a critical perspective than all that precedes it. Late in the fourth phase, as the project moves toward conclusion, Eisenman sits down with a letter-sized pad of white tracing paper and a pen with green ink, and at one sitting attempts to accommodate the needs of the art museum within the multiple layers of patterns of his traced and invented history. He makes sixty-four drawings which raise difficult questions about the completeness of his conceptual strategy. He clearly is ambivalent about the analogical relation between the traced form and the required building function. In drawing 4 60/01 (fig. 60) the toilets become the leg of the campus plan, and a major circulation ramp seems to follow the sections of these conceptual traces. He shows great confidence in packing the building function into the traces with a result that is clearly much less refined or critically shaped than the superpositioned elements, which can be assumed to have become roofs of the building. None of the interior spaces that emerge from this process share any of the figural or formal significance of the surface relief.
The final presentation boards maintain clear confidence and pleasure in viewing the building as a polychromatic relief. The main drawing is a vividly colored and layered relief of the final resolution of the figural traces. The remaining boards were designed to take the client into the various activities of the building, but, as each board moves beneath the layers of the conceptual figure to reveal the detailed workings of the building, the drawings assume a quite different character. Plans are shown as though they were sections through the relief map. Color disappears as the sections move below the surface. Thus, the process of excavation affects only the surface of the artifact.
This last series of drawings, and especially the final presentation, raises a question about the overall activity. Is the essential process one of play and discovery, or of self-conscious manipulation? The sweeping conceptual acts leading up to the final presentation have all the marks and gestures of play. This is seen most clearly in the insertion of the gorge through all the layers of collage to dominate the confusion. One can empathize with the author as he sits trapped in a labyrinth of his own invention which he knows to be a combination of eyeballed composing and specious rules: x is to house as house is to river, as river is to self, and so on. It is his intuition, not his intellect, that forces the idea of a natural displacement to cut through the mass. And the final drawings take playful pleasure in the abstract collage that results: a collage with the painterly qualities of a latter-day Juan Gris that clearly takes its sympathetic tones from the advice of a color consultant, gaining an elegance and substance which have no relation to the realization of the project. In other words, there is no evidence that the final construction would have been so colored or have gained from the elaboration.
This outcome raises the question of the relationship between the obvious artistic and compositional nature of the drawings and the realization of the project. Le Corbusier used painting and sculpture to explore compositional and symbolic ideas, not to suggest that painting was a servant of architecture, but that architecture benefited from this exchange. In Aldo Rossi’s work, the relationship between painting and realized object seems much more obvious: The painting is used to establish a mythic context which in some palpable way remains an unseen presence in the completed work. In Long Beach, the problem with both the final presentation drawings and, in some sense, the overall process, is that they are caught halfway between self-reference and representation with no obvious benefits to either state from this ambiguity.
It would have been preferable, I would argue, had the process remained wholly self-referential. It would then have forced more complex strategic gains to accommodate the three-dimensional interpretation of the traces. The sectional and spatial consequences would have shared in the deconstruction and juxtaposition of the plan traces with much more disturbance than Eisenman’s insertion of the conventional plan, and the resulting occupation would have had a much more unsettling and renewing effect on the institution. But, for all its intelligent manipulation, the process results in a construction whose complexity is demonstrably skin-deep; a construction that has none of the mass or inscribed content that the text promises.
Apart from the still evolving garden entitled Chora L Works which Eisenman is designing with Jacques Derrida, the Long Beach project appears to conclude an activity which was fundamentally limited by the two-dimensional nature of the graphic process. Projects since Long Beach have had far more forceful, immanent texts at the center of their development. Unlike Long Beach, which relies on two-dimensional tracing, the Biology Center proposed for Frankfurt has both the conceptual and physical structure of the DNA molecule. In the program for Carnegie-Mellon University, the Boolean cube provided a much more robust and resilient three-dimensional strategy than mapped tracings. What is clear from the evidence is that the representational material that built the palimpsested figures out of which the plans were carved lacked what might be called an originating significance. It lacked enough physical and conceptual body for their transformation to be truly disturbing and revealing.
The process just described demonstrates a concern with, yet fails to resolve, the ambiguous relationship between a narrative idea and its disembodied visual equivalent. During the major part of this activity, the relationship remains in a state of unrefined generality. The Long Beach project sought, in bringing together in a specific, singular place various tracings of its history, to disturb and transform each figure’s iconic state. However, as is clear from the plans, tracings are so inadequate in representing any aspect of the iconic condition that the erosion remains as meaningless as the undisturbed remains of coastlines and rivers and rainbow bridges.
Disembodied, two-dimensional tracing coupled with Eisenman’s apparent disinterest in thinking three-dimensionally results in a strategy often inadequate to the intellectual task (particularly when compared with the work of Tschumi or Libeskind from the same years). Though he demonstrates exceptional conviction in the face of an appropriately absurd proposition, his conceptual invention is too self-conscious and too consistent to derive the transformation he seeks. From the evidence, no matter how energetically the figures are permutated and how intricate the texts that guide them, they are unable to realize the full disturbance or the full reembodiment that is the stated intention.
To return to Eisenman’s description of the project written in 1988, he was explicit in what he believed had been achieved:
The traditional role of architecture has been not only to realize a sheltering function, but to represent and symbolize it as well. It is proposed in this project that while a museum must shelter art, it does not necessarily follow that it must symbolize its activity. Instead, it could represent the relationship of art to society, raise questions about the museum as a social institution, or it could propose a new representation of that institution.
In this work Eisenman demonstrated a brilliant critical imagination and a profound and provocative belief in the infinite possibilities of reality; however, from the reading of the evidence the invention was insufficiently developed to give full form to the spatial promise of the intention. This exercise did not achieve a “new” representation.
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