The small but provocative exhibition Re-constructivist Architecture at the Ierimonti Gallery on 57th Street forecasts a major shift in the way emerging architects are thinking about architecture today. Curators Jacopo Costanzo, Giovanni Cozzani, and Giulia Leone, in conjunction with the Casa dell’Architettura in Rome, have selected the work of 13 young architectural groups whose members were born in the 1980s to develop proposals for a residence in the Roman countryside. The projects fill three walls of the gallery and are intended to challenge the previous generation of older venerables. To that end, posted on the wall directly across are three projects by deconstructivist “starchitects”: Peter Eisenman’s Yenikapi archaeology museum, Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Art Museum in Strongoli, and Bernard Tschumi’s rendering done specifically for the show, A house like a city, a city like a house.
While the winner has yet to be determined, the exhibition does highlight several important new trends.
It is intended more as a battle than a debate. That the younger architects feel entitled to challenge the Goliaths of the field signifies a fresh and audacious confidence. This new generation intends to offer alternative modes of thinking that signal a change in focus within the field, and eventually to question the premises, concerns, and lavish extravagance of the previous one. Interestingly, they do so by reaching back to the architects of the 1960s, who were devoted to exploring the language of architecture itself. This reversion to an older source would seem to be a conservative move, a kind of retro or revivalist approach. However, these young architects, who certainly acknowledge the “bravura” of the deconstructivists, are instead revisiting the values and cultural concerns of such groups as GRAU, Superstudio, and even Archigram. The theme of the show itself seems reminiscent of architectural exercises at universities where these 30-year-olds studied, especially the projects for the classes of the late Alessandro Anselmi, whose exquisite drawing appears on the announcement for the show as an homage. Importantly, the proposals avoid grand utopian visions and eschew extravagant megastructures. Instead, the theme requires them to confine their efforts to developing plans for a simple structure, and to exploring how to generate a simple home responsive to its natural setting. The projects, then, reexamine basic notions of place and how to design for living on a truly “human” scale.
Secondly, while there are three models in the exhibition, the proposals are primarily graphic. Like architects of the 1960s, these emerging architects deploy drawing to convey their concepts, with each group presenting only a plan and small rendering of their project accompanied by a more-or-less helpful description. Interestingly, the projects vary enormously among themselves in the way in which they are rendered. For example, the group AM3 from Palermo, Italy, elected to represent its solution in the form of two small etchings, executed in a loose, traditional crosshatch technique. AM3 chose to situate its villa on Lake Nemi, a design inspired by the legend that the Emperor Caligula had two gigantic ships built there as floating palaces. Of particular beauty are the drawings by the Portuguese group fala atelier. While the rendering is elegant and clear, the description verges on the poetic crypto-theoretical. It anthropomorphizes the site, stating that the house is “sequential and schizophrenic” with the central void defined by the surrounding wall that “competes with the landscape” and is both “attracted and repulsed by its site.”
Particularly suggestive is the project by the Warehouse of Architecture and Research. The point of departure is a ruin—a kind of palimpsest ubiquitous in the urban and natural settings of the region. The ruin is then animated by a visitor, the so-called “colonialist” seen in the drawing. This subject adds Venturi-esque elements to the site with ironic verve, as if cataloging the various forms in the contemporary architectural vocabulary. What results is an improbable composite in which the various styles and elements elide into a fantastical yet cozy home, a kind of faux-picturesque pastiche. The group Fosbury Architecture based in Milan has produced a dramatic solution: From the square plan rises a kind of cone-shaped thatched tower punctuated by a single enormous column at the center. The hollow column is penetrated by a winding staircase that ascends to an area, one assumes, for contemplation, similar to the solitary towers pictured in Walter Pichler’s drawings. Significantly, the descriptions all share a contemporary ironic undertone that is without a trace of nostalgia or sentimentality.
An essential modus operandi is the use of collage as a way of conjoining past and present, as it allows the connections among the pieces to remain hypothetical and to function as propositions capable of triggering discussion. In fact, the exhibition is only a part of a larger project. The plan is to use the show as a springboard for a series of conferences in Rome that address the significant issues uncovered by it. Beyond the evident visual eloquence and high level of craft, what the show reveals is that the two generations are speaking about distinctly different realms of architecture, and what the new generation is advocating is the retrieval of certain classical, historical values as part of the conversation.
Re-constructivist Architecture Ierimonti Gallery 24 West 57th Street, New York Through February 10