Monday, February 6, 2012

Plays!  Books!  Movies!  Videos!

OK, let's just get it out of the way first...

Charles and Ray Eames are now hip enough that Ice Cube has made a video about his interest in them, their work, and the legacy they left for Los Angeles. It's a long way from Cop Killer...

By this point you may be aware that architects seem to be back in fashion as the object of desire in the media.

The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco is about to present a play, "Higher", about two architects competing against one another to win a competition for a memorial in Israel:

And, I am sure many of you have read the recently-published book about the architect who wins a blind competition to design a 9 / 11 memorial in Lower Manhattan, only to be revealed to be Muslim after the competition results are announced. Amy Waldman's book, "The Submission", has had every glowing adjective possible attached to it.

Which then brings us to the current spate of films about architects and architecture! The three films currently out are spread across the spectrum : a PR event for an architect, a most decidedly non-PR piece for architecture, and a third somewhere in between.

The first, Norman Foster's "How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster" seems to be a visual version of a vanity press book. If you don't know his work, or don't know much about Sir Norman, this will will visually fill you in.

The second, "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth", centers around the failure of the public housing project in St. Louis, and is summarized in the quote from its designer, Minoru Yamasaki, "Social ills can't be cured by nice buildings.'' Definitely not a PR piece for architecture.

And, finally, "Eames, The Architect and the Painter", an archival research piece into the world of Charles and Ray Eames.

Among the many fascinating pieces of the-world-according-to-Charles-and-Ray this film explores, three stick out:

1. Eames' explanation of what the architect, or designer has to offer a potential client at the start of a project: "You sell your expertise, you have a limited repertoire. You sell your ignorance, it's an unlimited repertoire." Not too far from what we have been telling clients (who generally don't want to hear this, or don't understand this) for years : "MH/A begins each project with the understanding that the questions which should be asked are more important than knowing the presumed final answers."

2. Eames' explanation of the issue of constraints, and how they are manipulated in the design process (as summarized in this excerpt from the book " Eames design, The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames"):

Does the creation of design admit constraint?
Design depends largely on constraints.

What constraints?
The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem—the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible—his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints—the constraints of price, of size, of strength, balance, of surface, of time, etc.; each problem has its own peculiar list.

Does design obey laws?
Aren’t constraints enough?

Have you been forced to accept compromises?
I have never been forced to accept compromises but I have willingly accepted constraints.

Which also pre-echos something else I have been telling clients for years: "The assumption on the part of MH/A is that the world is not an "either-or" universe, but rather a "both-and", and that one of the tasks of the architect is to discover the point in space where disparate arcs of issues actually coincide."

3. And, finally, Kevin Roche, expressing how "fucked up" (his words) he thought the Eames were when he went to their house for dinner, and they served a "visual" dessert, of beautiful flowers in a vase, at the end of dinner. He left and immediately drove to Dairy Queen.

You can watch the film, in its entirety, here.

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