Friday, February 13, 2009
Encounters with Famous Architects (another comment from Design Observer)
In a post at Design Observer called The Kindness of Strangers, Jessica Helfland wrote about student encounters with leading graphic designers while she was in school. I responded with a comment about a similar experience when I was in architecture school.
In the following story, names are not changed to protect the innocent or guilty.
When I was a graduate architecture student at Penn, Lou Kahn was recently dead, Postmodernism was the fashion, and the faculty was very confused about what to teach us. On the other hand, the architecture school at Cornell (and its outposts at Columbia and Princeton), had a definite body of knowledge it was teaching, and I decided it would be good for me to take two Columbia summer school courses taught by Cornell acolytes to better understand what that was.
The first course was in Rome, and the second in Paris. In between, I traveled around for two weeks with the only other student who took both courses. Our first stop was Venice, where Duncan whispered on our first day, "Look, there's Peter Eisanman. Should I go speak to him?" (Duncan was a Columbia student who had charretted for Eisanman once.)
"You must be here for the Biennale," Eisanman said, talking about an architecture event about to take place that neither of us had heard of. "Meet me here tomorrow at the same time and I'll give you some tickets."
When we went back the next day, Eisanman had no tickets but Bob Stern was with him. "Meet me here tomorrow and I'll have the tickets for you," Eisanman said again.
The next day the same scene played out again. Stern waited for Eisanman to leave, reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of tickets. "If you're here for a few days, I can get you into lots of events," he said. "Just let me know." He also gave us tickets for two older students from Penn who were in Venice on a traveling fellowship from the school.
The first night, Stern generously included us all in the opening events, as well as a cocktail party afterwards, where it seemed that half the most famous architects in the world were standing around chatting. Stern kept us under his wing and introduced us to heroes like Denise Scott Brown.
After an event the next day, Stern invited us to dinner. The dinner was on an island and the boats coming back would arrive too late for the curfew at the hostel where the other two Penn friends were staying, so they had to choose between a free dinner and having a place to spend the night. They chose dinner.
We arrived at the address Stern gave us, where two gleaming Venetian motorboats were waiting to take us to dinner. Right after I boarded, Jim Stirling (a large man) sat down in the stern, the entire boat sloped sharply in his direction and off we went into the Venetian night, with San Marco glowing behind us.
To make a long story short, at dinner I sat between Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. I don't know who would have been more impressive to a student. At one point, Venturi said to me and one of my Penn friends, "If I were your age, the first thing I would do would be to go to Finland to visit the works of Alvar Aalto. He's been the greatest influence on my life."
Needless to say, the next day we went to the bookstore where we had first seen Eisanman, bought the small Praeger book that showed all the Aalto buildings and started planning our trip.
We both had Eurailpasses and arranged to meet in August at a university dorm outside Helsinki designed by Aalto that in the summer operates as a hostel. We visited virtually every Aalto building in Finland that could be reached by rail, and had discussions along the way about things like the Finnish stick style that had clearly influenced Venturi's Trubek and Wislocki houses. When Jim later worked for Venturi (I later worked for Stern), we discovered that Venturi had only been to Turku, where he had seen a single Aalto building before going back to Sweden.
But that's another story.
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Interesting post, Thank you.
Posted by: Architects at Jun 9, 2009 1:52:18 AM
We also took a trip to view Alvar Aalto's works in Finland and for those that are considering going, GO!
Posted by: architects cape town at Jul 1, 2009 10:12:23 AM