Drawing Attention

Jean Tschumi's Nestlé Headquarters (Courtesy Artinfo.com)

Just when we thought the season of giving was behind us, Bernard Tschumi has brought out one last gift for MoMA. The architect announced yesterday that he would donate 43 of his father’s architectural drawings to the museum, making it the only non-European institution with a collection of Jean Tschumi originals.

Père Tschumi with son Bernard, 1946

According to the NYT, the donated pieces range from drawings done during the Swiss-born architect’s time as a student in 1920s Paris to those of his work on the Nestlé headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, the project that would be his last, and many would say his best, work. Most of Jean Tschumi’s drawings are housed in the Archives of Modern Construction at Lausanne Polytechnique, which he helped found, and in the Basel headquarters of pharmaceutical company Novartis, for which he designed several buildings in Switzerland and France. MoMA’s collection already contains pieces by Tschumi the younger that include The Manhattan Transcripts Project and his winning entry for the Parc de la Villette competition.

Last year’s publication of Jacques Gubler’s Jean Tschumi: Architecture at Full Scale went a long way toward highlighting the architect’s career as part of the Deconstructivist movement, albeit one that was cut short with his untimely death in 1962 at the age of 57. Though ultimately he followed in his father’s footsteps, Bernard Tschumi has said he had little interest in architecture while his father was alive and regrets never discussing the subject with him—a comment that underscores the challenge of understanding the man whose name we recognize largely because of his son’s work. In a review of Gubler’s book for AN (#18, 11.04.2009), critic Thomas de Monchaux wrote, “One of the detective mysteries of the book is what might have been.” Now the mystery promises to deepen as, like the projects discussed in the monograph, MoMA’s new acquisition grants insight into the elder Tschumi’s world, and into what can be learned from it today.

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