Peter Eisenman with Lucia Allais: A Conversation on the (Institutional) Origins of Architectural Theory


October 27, 2010

Architecture was hit hard by the post-critical wave of the last decade. The critical theory that flowered in American architectural discourse from the late 1960s through the 1990s has been thoroughly vilified, caricaturized, and anthologized. But for historians the "end" of theory is also an occasion to take a closer look at its "origins". Oral histories and archival investigations have begun to show that there is much to learn from this period about the potential of architectural research in design practice and pedagogy today. Far from unfolding only in the rarefied transatlantic realm of avant-garde journals, the phenomenon of theory was also deeply embedded in American institutional formations. If architectural theory became and remained for over two decades a distinct and vibrant mode of cultural production, it is not only, as is usually thought, because theorists brought glamorous European ideas and thinkers into architecture. It is also because they created a mode of architectural thought that internalized the pressures and seized the opportunities unique to American intellectuals in those decades—including the challenge of urban reform, the rise of think-tanks, and the crisis of the Humanities.

Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey Professor in Practice at Yale University, joins Lucia Allais, Behrman-Cotsen Fellow in the Princeton Society of Fellows, for a conversation about the origins of American architectural theory. Eisenman is principal of Eisenman Architects, a world-renowned firm whose recent works include the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the City of Culture of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He is also a prolific writer, whose latest books include Ten Canonical Buildings (Rizzoli: 2008) and The Formal Basis of Modern Architecture (Lars Muller: 2006). Between 1967 and 1982 Eisenman was the founding director of the Institute for Architecture for Urban Studies, an architectural think-tank that provided a crucial forum of advanced architectural discourse, teaching and debates. Allais recently visited the archives of the IAUS to conduct research for her article "The Real and the Theoretical, 1968", which appears in Perspecta 42: The Real , (MIT Press: 2010.) The seminar is sponsored by the Program in Media and Modernity.

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