chapter  3
26 Pages

Peter Eisenman: In Search of Degree Zero Architecture

Whether one agrees or disagrees with what he has built and written, the fact remains that Peter Eisenman has secured a signicant position in contemporary architecture. His work has opened and left behind many formal and theoretical territories. From his engagement with the New York Five Architects, to his recent projects, Eisenman has relentlessly and uncompromisingly pursued the tradition of modern formalism. With its huge investment in intellectualism his work, ironically, does not touch on the basic premises of the project of the historical avant-garde. Instead of challenging institutions or wanting to integrate architecture with the life-world, Eisenman cultivates the progressive fruits of humanism; a discourse initially formulated by Andrea Palladio, then given a radical twist by the work of Piranesi,1 and later institutionalized in the neoplasticism of the De Stijl group and the elementarist constructivism of the early twentieth-century avant-garde movements. His occasional turn to the topological aspects of the earth-work, though, is promising. In projects such as Cannaregio (1978), Arono Center (1996), and Memorial to Murdered Jews (2005), he sets up a rapport between the body and the object that is attributed to the minimalism of the 1970s. If this is a plausible theoretical window to look into Eisenman’s work, then one should also consider two other vectors of his work. First, like Roland Barthes in Writing Degree Zero (1968), Eisenman has launched a radical challenge to architecture as an institution, denying it any purpose yet subjecting it to the thematic of the very process of such a denial. Dialectically, and this is the second vector, he has left himself with no choice but to indulge in architectural history to the point that he is an excellent teacher for those who want to pursue architecture’s disciplinary history from a formalistic point of view. There is a price to be paid for all this: Eisenman’s intellectual vigor has forced critics to see and analyze his architecture primarily from the point of view of themes and concepts on which he has written or lectured. In this encounter, the least that can be expected from his work is a demonstration of the developmental process of postmodern “theory,” an interdisciplinary approach to cultural discourse without which a fair assessment of Eisenman’s work would be dicult, if not impossible. That said, we should also notice another turn in Eisenman:

the velocity unleashed by electronic technology has nullied any theory that does not conrm the logic of this technique. This much is clear from Eisenman’s “silence” during the last couple of years, whereas before this, his writings disclosed not only the state of his own architectural praxis, but also presented a concise formulation of the ongoing problematic of contemporary architecture. The architectonic implication of the suggested “closure” will be discussed in the nal chapter of this volume. What needs to be said here is that a sense of periodization is central to any critical assessment of Eisenman’s work.