Joseph Giovannini’s book “Unconstrained Architecture” is deeply researched

Joseph Giovannini’s book “Unconstrained Architecture” is deeply researched

Unrestrained Architecture: A Century of Subversive Avant-Garde
Joseph Giovannini | Rizzoli | $50

Joseph Giovannini has penned an unflattering manifesto against modern architecture, celebrating those who broke the mold of the International Style. Fifty years ago, in 1966, Robert Venturi published his gentle manifesto, Complexity and contradiction in architectureWhich became the bible of postmodernism. Instead, Giovannini focused his new book, Unrestrained Architecture: A Century of Subversive Avant-Garde On the works of a few architects who have dominated the past five decades by breaking the orthogonal grid of modernist architecture.

His introduction begins with two pages from Stanley Tigerman’s 1978 collection, Titanic shipin which Mies van der Rohe’s 1956 masterpiece, Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, sinks into the ocean, an iconic image that “marks the end of the Modernist movement.”

Frank Gehry, Gehry Partners, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 1989. Image courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP

Architecture is unbound It is a huge volume consisting of 876 pages with 698 images. It is a comprehensive survey of architects who broke new ground by abandoning Euclidean geometry. Giovannini celebrates and delves into the designs of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, Daniel Libeskind, and Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Wolf Brix, among others. It examines many of these architects’ most famous buildings in great detail, revealing their history and early influences. And for this we thank him.

For example, in her 2004 Pritzker Prize acceptance speech, Zaha Hadid explained how her design philosophy was strongly influenced by Kazimir Malevich and L. Lissitzky of the Russian Suprematist movement. “One tangible consequence of my fascination with Malevich in particular,” she explained, “was that I took up drawing as a tool for design. This medium became my first field of spatial invention… The obsessive use of isometric and perspectival projection led to the idea that space itself might be distorted and distorted to acquire dynamism and complexity.”

Eisenman Architects, Wexner Center for the Visual and Fine Arts Library, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1983-1989. © Eisenman Architects

To delve deeper into her design philosophy and how it has evolved over time, Giovannini examines the complexity and dynamism in Hadid’s renderings for the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany (1992), and explores how her Generali Tower in Milan was completed in 2017. A year after Her death – “the absorption of the strange and destabilizing spatial movement of Vitra’s diverging and converging lines and shapes.” In an interview about her design for a townhouse in London in 1981-82, Hadid said she “blew up the floors and parts of the city house in a distracting gesture that broke up the box, the mass, the whole orthogonal context.” “This blowing up the box is the premise of the whole book.

Besides Giovannini’s historical references to architecture and painting, he often refers to other arts to describe spatial and architectural ideas. He quotes Leonard Bernstein as saying: “Mozart’s music constantly escapes its frame, because it cannot be contained within it” as an example of how Lissitzky used axial drawing to create geometrically ambiguous images. In the chapter “Architecture as Cultural Practice,” he refers to the Dada painting of Marcel Duchamp, the poetry of Jean Cocteau, the philosophy of Sigmund Freud, and the music of John Cage to indicate the non-Euclidean geometric forms of the avant-garde. Architectural Engineering. John Cage wrote: “I’m all for keeping things vague, and I’ve never enjoyed understanding things… I try to make music that I don’t understand and that will be difficult for others to understand as well.” These intellectual forays into other creative projects are interesting and interesting, but they don’t make his message any clearer.

Thom Mayne/Morphosis Architects, Giant Interactive Group Headquarters, Shanghai, China, 2010. Photography © Roland Halbe

In Tom Mayne’s Hippo Alba Adria Centre, a banking headquarters in Klagenfurt, Austria (2002), the architect deliberately distorted facade elements to challenge the viewer and bend one’s sense of gravity. Giovannini describes the design as “one of the most complete interpretations of deconstruction,” which “pushes imbalance, complexity, dynamism, and ambiguity to their logical extremes.” It also discusses Giant Interactive Group’s University of Maine campus headquarters, located outside Shanghai, China (2010). It is a building with a ground level that evolves into a roof level, which bends and flows and is visually exciting and compelling. Giovannini refers to it as an “out-of-the-way, highly imaginative masterpiece” that celebrates the subversive and idiosyncratic aspects of Maine architecture.

Perhaps Giovannini’s most influential living architect is (deservedly) Frank Gehry. His work embodies the author’s theme. A late chapter, “The Avant-Garde on the World Stage,” begins with a powerful two-page photograph of the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (1997). It had such a powerful impact on architecture and the world, that the phrase “Bilbao Effect” became shorthand for transforming previously unknown places into destinations for international tourists. Since then, cities around the world have undertaken avant-garde architectural projects in search of a similar result, but few have come close to Gehry’s ingenious and successful transformation.

Himmelb(l)au Association, redesign of roofs on Falke Strasse, Vienna, Austria, 1983-1988. Photo © Gerald Zugman/Vienna

Giovannini listed buildings that had such a strong influence as “masterworks.” In addition to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, it houses Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (2003), Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin (2001), Zaha Hadid’s Opera House in Guangzhou, China (2011), and Coop Himmelb’s European Museum(l). au. Central Bank (2015).”

It is true that these are all undeniably important works of architecture on the world stage. However, there is a sense that Giovannini focuses on a few very well-known talents while ignoring others who have clearly had a strong influence and continue to influence the dialogue about where architecture has been and where it is going. The Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, also a Pritzker Prize winner, was completely ignored, except for the inclusion of a quote by Peter Eisenman, who said: “I’m not interested in the work of Peter Zumthor.”

Other Pritzker Prize-winning architects are overlooked, such as Shigeru Ban and SANAA from Japan. Likewise, the works of Santiago Calatrava, Jeanne Gang, and the architects MAD—all avant-garde designers in their own rights—cannot be found in this massive, historically accurate and well-researched volume.

(Courtesy Rizzoli)

Finally, there is a discussion of the term “deconstruction.” During a recent panel discussion at AIA/Los Angeles, Giovannini claimed to have coined the term in 1987, which may actually be true. In the book, he takes aim at Philip Johnson for not giving him credit for it in a 1988 MoMA exhibition Deconstructive architectureHe described Johnson as a “magician of propaganda” and wrote that “Johnson was looking for style rather than content” (p. 34). Not wanting to leave himself alone, the author returns to the 1988 MoMA exhibition on p. 660 to say, “Johnson, who had papal powers over architecture in the United States, canonized a small group…ignoring not only elements of the letter (but) whole sections of its history.” Johnson’s criticism is understandable. Many architects and journalists have found fault with his architecture and his leadership as a voice of the profession, yet it seems unnecessary to focus on a single term and its importance to architectural history.

Total, Architecture is unbound It is a comprehensive, deeply researched and stimulating read. The multiple references to artists in other fields as metaphors for architecture stimulate the imagination and help shed some light on Giovannini’s “century of subversive avant-garde” hypothesis.

Michael F. Ross is an architect, educator, and journalist in Los Angeles.

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