In the wake of the turbulence of the late 1960s, the emergence of an architectural avant-garde based not on the utopian dreams of Modernism, but on the translation of architectural theory into concrete form, was an obvious move into academicism. In... [more]
In the wake of the turbulence of the late 1960s, the emergence of an architectural avant-garde based not on the utopian dreams of Modernism, but on the translation of architectural theory into concrete form, was an obvious move into academicism.
In America, this trend coalesced around the New York-based Five Architects, a loosely related association whose nominal figurehead was Peter Eisenman. Grounding their work in the formal properties of Modernist architecture from the '20s and '30s, the five - Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier - exhibited a sensibility reminiscent of the pre-war avant-garde. Famously presented in the seminal publication "Five Architects," their projects posited an architecture derived from internal poetic logic, without any sense of the discipline's social role. Giving voice to this approach, Arthur Drexler, then the Director of the Department of Architecture and Design at New York's Museum of Modern Art, wrote in his preface to the book: "Architecture is the least likely instrument with which to accomplish the revolution... and in America is a fact like a convenient stone wall against which architectural journalism can bang heads."
Using Le Corbusier's work as a common departure point, each architect took a particular instance of High Modern style as his model. Thus, Graves turned to Cubism and an analysis of the paintings of Juan Gris, Eisenman turned to the Italian Rationalist Guiseppe Terragni, John Hejduk looked to De Stijl and Theo Van Doesberg, while Gwathmey and Meier remained grounded in Le Corbusier's Purist period. The result was a series of projects - all, notably enough, houses - of uncanny brilliance and beauty. Some were built; others, especially Hejduk's Wall Houses, remained conceptual elaborations, instances of what has been called (sometimes in praise, sometimes in derision) "paper architecture." The work in "Five Architects" was buttressed by essays by Colin Rowe and Kenneth Frampton, the heavy-hitting English expatriates whose influence on the American architectural academy was to be profound and lasting. The publication became a watershed in architectural theory, when architecture was understood as the outcome of a theoretical practice and not necessarily the result of practical motivations.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the subsequent evolution of the Five Architects as individual practitioners has had little to do with their origins. Hejduk abandoned his early formalism in pursuit of idiosyncratic, mythological architectural installations and works on paper. Gwathmey serves as architect to the stars, designing modern mega-homes for the ultra-rich. Graves, in what some see as a sell-out, has moved to a decorative Postmodernism, which is most garishly enshrined in his Disney Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Meier has stayed relatively faithful to his Purist roots; a series of public commissions, notably the Getty Center in Los Angeles, has established his reputation. Only Eisenman remains wedded to theory as the driving force behind architecture, though his allegiance has shifted from Semiotics in the '70s to Deconstruction in the '80s to Chaos Theory, his current fascination. [show less]