Peter Eisenman: Sandboxes: House 11A
Sandboxes: House 11A
(S. 118 – 127)

Toward a new concept of the house

Peter Eisenman

Sandboxes: House 11A

PDF, 10 Seiten

Voice 2: The first act after the turning on of the tape recorder and the slide machine is the exit of the architect. However, his voice remains to document the facts of this disappearance.

Voice 1: A work in progress: House 11a. 

Voice 2: The second act is the introduction of the voice of the client to record his equivalent condition—neither present nor wholly absent—to that of the architect. The triad of two disembodied voices and one projected object defines the condition of parity in which all three—maker, object, user—exist in relation to one another.

Voice 3: Contemporary families continue to undergo profound changes. Their houses will have to change in accordance with the greater independence of every member. If both parents have independent professional lives and the children pursue their own interests, the hierarchical order of traditional house types becomes obsolete. The project of House 11a is in part directed toward a new concept of the house as a configuration of independent but interrelated parts.

Voice 1: Today, in a time when the canons of the Modern Movement are in disarray, the architectural elements—space and plane, volume and membrane—return once more to their basic neutral condition, waiting to be charged with some new energy. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a period of transition like today, the vertical plane was transformed from a neutral condition of “wall” to a potentially loaded screen for the projection of ideas. Likewise, the plane today can take part in the changed relationship between man and object, becoming in and of itself part of that relationship.

In the Renaissance, the plane was used as the receptacle of content which was represented through extrinsic and mechanical means, creating illusions of an intrinsic condition of objecthood. At that time the vertical plane reflected the anthropocentric condition of man; architectural objects became mimetic devices or metaphors for the representation of man’s condition. Today, as in the sixteenth century, the condition of man has undergone a change in terms of man’s role both as maker and user of the architectural object. Modern man has begun to retreat from his formerly omnipotent role in relation to the objects of his creation and, in the distance that has opened up in the wake of this retrenchment, the objects have reappeared in the full colors of their objecthood and significance—newly sensuous, physical, tastable, poetic. The plane is redefined; House 11a, the first of a series of eleven variations of House 11, appears.

Voice 2: The work of Peter Eisenman has been a continuous search for the nature of the changed architectural condition. This search has had two main concerns: that of objecthood—in both its sensual and its poetic aspects, and in the meaning and significance of the object. This previous work has developed through two different phases: a formalist one and a modernist one. In the former, the architect conceived an initial image and proceeded to transform it through a process, which presumed a logic of form—some essence that inhabited forms and that had its own logic and consequent state of being. The expression of that logic and state of being was always thought to appear through certain formal juxtapositions—flat space/deep space, density/sparsity, central energy/peripheral energy, compression/tension, frontality/obliqueness. These energies consumed Houses I to IV. In House VI the beginning of what could be called a Modernist sensibility of sign and objecthood appeared. Not merely concerned with manifesting the inherent formalist dualities in space, but rather concerned with projecting its own history of coming into being, it became the record of its own transformation, a self-referential or Modernist sign.

This Modernist sensibility was carried over into House X, but there was an important shift. The house was no longer a self-referential sign of its history of coming into being, but rather a residue—a “suspension” resulting from a process of decomposition, which was the reverse of transformation and suggested a more uncertain condition of the universe. House 11a takes this condition of uncertainty as its point of departure.

Voice 1: The change in the condition of the sign in this new relationship of object to man is especially important. The Modernist self-referential sign is no more a primary concern today than the extrinsic or extrareferential sign of the sixteenth century. The new sign also is extrareferential, but now in the sense that it is an approximation of another, temporarily unreachable but intrinsically architectural condition. In this sense, it is a metaphor of its time.

Voice 2: We live today in an age of partial objects. The fragments we are surrounded by are the pieces or approximation of absent wholes. This is so, however, not in the sense of evoking any original totality—one that has been lost, waiting to be turned up and glued back together like the pieces of an antique statue, to create a unity precisely the same as the original one—but rather in the sense of approximating a subsequent condition. And far from being a unity, that subsequent condition may be one where the only relationships between the parts may be their difference; the whole is full of holes.

The rule of these fragments, then, is not the clarifying of their contiguities—the making of unified maps of the symbols of man’s condition in history and his particular condition of enlightenment—but, on the contrary, the rules and maps have to do with the measuring and recording of divergences and dispersions, of functional breaks in partial objects, of intersecting breaks in chains of meaning.

Voice 1: To fulfill this condition of fragmentation and approximation, House 11a begins from a certain set of parameters—initial limiting conditions. It uses these as heuristic devices in an attempt to find its own condition. The most general of these conditions relates not only to this particular house, but more broadly to the idea of distance or parity between man and object. Both maker and user share certain conditions with respect to the object—namely, they no longer consume it, nor are they consumed by it. In their relationship of parity or equality to the object, they reflect a more relativistic and uncertain condition of man in relation to his physical world; the object becomes a metaphor of postatomic life.

A more specific set of parameters derives from particular assumptions made by the client. These relate to how the viewer perceives the object.

Voice 3: As the client, I would like to remain a viewer of the house while inside of it. I think that most architecture leaves you with a sense of being isolated in one compartment or fragment of it. It forces you to close the door on the rest of it. The only connections that remain are those of the most elementary and literal kind—namely, function. For the first time, in thinking of a house in the conceptual sense, the house I am going to live in, I ask myself: Why would I be inside the house? What would I do inside the house?

I think I would like to be inside the house, apart from all the obvious reasons, in order to constantly reconstitute the world outside. Therefore, I would be a viewer who is inside, separate from what he is dealing with, which is the world short and simple on the outside; and at the same time, while I am inside and separated from it, I would be able to know about it, I would have the world present. I would like to be in this dual condition of the viewer who is both inside and outside the house.

In other words, traditionally we are used to perceiving houses as unitary from the outside and as “disintegrating” into shut-off parts inside. The public image of integral unity tends to be that of a mask drawn over the internal reality of the house. I would like to think that it is possible to modify this situation in such a way as to neutralize the exterior and “represent” the connections and separations among the parts inside. The internal distribution would offer a “visitor’s” approach from within and an “occupant’s” view from without. It might even be possible to go beyond these traditional opposites and define, in turn, both their relatedness and their difference—based not only on use but also on the conditions of life in a larger sense.

Voice 1: Even to say something about the essential separation of art and life.

Voice 2: So the house from the inside would also suggest the thing that is outside. It would suggest another object as it were, from the inside.

Voice 3: And on the smallest scale, the people who live in a house are separate entities themselves; they reproduce the state of the world outside, and sometimes, when they go out into it, they become like it and are apart. But inside the house they are also together. To simply reaffirm their separateness from the world would be to fall back on the oldest of clichés, the house as nest; the inside of the house would remain undivided and no new questions addressed. But the real question is, When the members of the family come back into the house are they together or separate, both from each other and from the world?

Voice 2: In this context, the house becomes a semipermeable membrane between the inside and the outside. Otherwise, if there were an impermeable membrane, the house would simply become a shelter again—something to bury yourself in against everything outside.

Voice 1: At the most specific level, the concept of process as a set of heuristic devices relates to the particular definition of shape, position, scale, and number. These, together with the more general conditions, define the initial boundaries that are set up in order to try to find the form. Thus, the architecture of the house is a set of ideas or a set of limits in search of a form rather than a form or an image in search of a reason for existence. It must be remembered that selection of one image over another is not based merely on aesthetic or intuitive responses but rather as to how well the image conforms to the set of predetermined boundaries—that is, how strongly the image projects the sense of indeterminacy, instability, difference, more relative as opposed to more conclusive readings concerning the position of man and object.

One of the primary heuristics suggested by the house as it evolved within the given parameters was the use of a topological as opposed to a Euclidean geometry. It has become clear in this century that Euclidean geometry is no longer fully capable of expressing the uncertainty and relativity of the modern world, the changed relationship between man and the objects around him. Topological geometry, on the other hand, which has to do with indeterminate distances and infinitely unbroken surfaces, seems to approximate this unchanged condition more closely. A Moebius strip, for example, is an invention of topological geometry. It is a plane which, when folded, produces a line along its edge which is simultaneously on the inside and outside of that plane. A Klein bottle is the same idea in three dimensions. In House 11a, a three-dimensional L shape was chosen as the primary form because of its inherent potential to suggest these differences between the topological and Euclidean universes.

When treated as a folded membrane, the L begins to approximate the unbroken and continuous surface of the Klein bottle, while at the same time suggesting an architectonic condition of inside and outside, as opposed to purely geometric readings. In Euclidean terms, the L is also a heuristic of a fragmentary condition. It is both moving toward completion as a pure Euclidean cube and moving toward dissolution from it. It is the essential fragment: complete in itself, yet asymmetrical, unstable, at once becoming and disappearing.

The architectural condition is conceptualized in the vertical and horizontal planes, the plane of man and the plane of nature, which are treated initially as two topological sheets; both exhibit qualities of permeability and distortion. The horizontal plane is made up of two layers: a white layer as a condition of air and a brown layer as a condition of ground. The vertical plane is conceptualized as a state of energy. The horizontal layers are distorted by the vertical energy, which imprints the white layer on the ground and the brown layer onto the air; pushing the white layer down through the brown and the brown up through the white. The resulting configuration appears to have an inside and an outside, but in fact there is no real inside and no real outside, only two deformed membranes. As a consequence, solids appear to grow or “loom” out of voids, light appears to radiate from behind opaque walls, and there is an aura of uncertainty about the whole.

The initial deforming agents are a series of three-dimensional L molds: The L shape is chosen, again, because in Euclidean terms it begins to suggest indeterminacy of distance and asymmetry, while in topological terms it suggests finite relationships and symmetry. The two (Euclidean and topological) together suggest a summary condition of differentiated attributes. The resultant molded L’s, the specific, thickened deformations of the topological sheets, are themselves deformed by a further series of L-shaped molds, which are conceived of as impacting the initial L’s from opposite quadrants, imprinting and distorting the topological mold. What these deformations lead to is a condition of uncertainty, not only with respect to inside and out but also with respect to right side up and upside down. Equally, the actual activity and sequence of transformation become uncertain as the distance from the initial heuristic grows and we approach a condition of approximation. There are now two different, nonsequential conditions of development: Either the lower segment can be seen as rotated down from the upper segment, or both can be seen as growing out of each other. If, taking the second possibility, one poured a mold in the negative space of the upper element, it could be seen to be the same as the positive element in the lower segment. These segments when taken together are asymmetrical in Euclidean terms and yet topologically symmetrical. Moreover, in its actual condition, the house is read as asymmetrical with respect to a vertical axis, and therefore as tipped over and fallen into the hole in which it is sitting. However, if it is rotated 90 degrees and placed upright on the ground, it becomes symmetrical with respect to the vertical in both Euclidean and topological terms. The actual stability of the house—it is, of course, structural—combines with the seeming geometrical instability to produce a reading of uncertainty. A further condition of uncertainty and instability is produced by shifting the upper and lower L’s with respect to each other. If the axis of rotation is taken about the outer segment (membrane) of the L then there is no shift (displacement). But if the axis of rotation is taken about the inside of the segment, then there appears to be a displacement (or shear) about the neutral axis of either the upper or lower L. Since the choice of which axis chosen determines the meaning of the resultant configuration, the least stable axis of rotation is selected.

As all the interior wall surfaces that partake of the whole are neither inside nor outside, the same condition accrues to the outside, where one feels literally that one is inside. Even the actual, phenomenological experience of the space between the two L’s reflects this uncertainty of where one is with respect to the object: The top surface of the lower L is glass, while the under surface of the upper L is a mirror directly above the glass surface. Thus when one walks between the two, in addition to the initial discomfort of walking on glass, one looks down, supposedly to the lower solid portion of the house, or one looks up, supposedly into an upper solid portion of the house, only to see the same image in a play of reflections and transparencies. Thus, the outside space that man walks in is transformed into a membrane whose two surfaces are nonexistent, being a space that is neither inside nor outside.

In the end, the sign, which is only an approximation, seems to disappear, leaving only the sense of that condition which it is approximating.

House 11a then is an attempt to conceive of an other condition of object; not a formal, arbitrary, representational sign; not a sign of itself; and not an abstraction, which is merely a less obvious form of representation. Rather, it goes beyond abstraction to approximate some deeper essence of architecture.

Voice 2: The machines are turned off, and voices recede, but some image remains embedded in the memory as the end of all approximation.

  • Architekturtheorie
  • Architektur
  • Raumtheorie
  • Haus
  • Zukunft
  • Postmoderne Architektur

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Peter Eisenman

ist ein US-amerikansicher Architekt. Seine Werke können als formalistisch und dekonstruvistisch bezeichnet werden. Derzeit lehrt er an der Yale School of Architecture.

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