Friday, March 24, 2006

Materiality and Architecture - Leon Krier

In this forum, a reoccurring theme in some posts has been the relationship between the materiality of Architecture and the ephemeral and transcendent nature of Architecture. It’s materiality has been painted as a medium for larger concepts, and sometimes hindrance to the delivery of these ideas, by infatuation, fetishization, or disinterest. The Jacque Herzog quote two months ago, from his Pritzker Prize acceptance speech, may have most succinctly and poetically captured this duality – how the conceptual and the material in Architecture are forever interdependent, yet necessarily autonomous at operational levels.

Mapping an unexpected corner of this relationship is Leon Krier. The Belgian architect and designer for Prince Charles has built a career from a frontal assault on Modernism, earning professional celebrity in the 80’s from an ongoing debate with Peter Eisenman about the direction of design exploration. The two are dear friends now, and recently Mr. Eisenman sat on a final jury for Mr. Krier’s studio. The following discussion is a polite exchange between the two as Mr. Krier introduced the studio problem. It is valuable as it suggests a way to approach Western Architecture’s cultural heritage and even catches a participant in one of those “Architecture is…” moments, where in order to explain why we intervene in a certain way with our work, we end up offering a definition of Architecture as a common starting point…
Leon Krier: We looked at this. The students – everyone—had to draw. We had to research here. They had to draw for the first time in their life one of the buildings. Not only in […] but also in grade elevation, understand the construction, understand the materials. An all of this material had to be put on the computer so it becomes a bank of knowledge, not only of style but also of technique. Which then became a common index which can be reused by everyone in the next phase, which was the problem phase. Once these records were made, we could do some brief exercises -- to take a detail and to distort it. Distort it from the grotesque to the sublime, [in order] to be able to understand what is classical. To understand what is the nature of the classical, what is the best proportion of the column in a given situation.

[Three minutes later, at the end of the studio problem introduction.]

Peter Eisenman: Leon, before we get started, I have two questions. What is the difference to you between the grotesque and the sublime? You said before you were going to take a classical column and move it towards the grotesque or the sublime

Krier: There are many, many ahh...

Peter Eisenman: I need a quick mission statement.

Krier: Bulimia or anorexia would be a good, ahh...

Peter Eisenman: Oh. And the other would be, what's the difference between classical and vernacular?

Leon Krier: Yes. Ahh. [...] I think that architecture is ninety percent vernacular. Any of it...

Other: But what does it look like?

Leon Krier: It is technology. It is technique of building. It has no "style." It is joining natural materials in a tectonic way. Concrete and steel displaced this, because everything becomes style. When you use concrete there is no more "vernacular."

Peter Eisenman: Why not use concrete instead of vernacular materials?

Leon Krier: No. It’s not a natural material. It’s nature. And we are not nature, we are cultural. We are artificial. Whereas concrete is a form of blubber, which has no shape. It sticks together in forms which are completely untectonic and holds up for a while. But not for very long. Its a very fragile material. And very well nasty...

Peter Eisenman: What's the difference between bricks... bricks and mortar, mortar and concrete materially?

Leon Krier: Bricks? Oh, the cost. The energy cost. We should have Glenn Murcutt up. The energy cost to produce or create one brick is about... "x", and to produce reinforced concrete cost would be a factor of about seven -- at a minimum.

Peter Eisenman: But P.S. -- just in terms of cost – [Demitri Porphyrios?]'s brick-and-mortar building at Princeton is the most expensive buildings ever built, at Princeton. And I don't know what...

Leon Krier: We are conducted to an architecture, to brick buildings, any style -- all our buildings are fake. Even our industrial building. But that's the industrial condition. Nevertheless, we have the model of joining natural materials in a tectonic way, that is the overriding intellectual discipline. Materials, which informs architecture. Now Architecture is when you join these materials in an artful way. But I don't think you need 150% of []'s to be happy. Maybe 10% of the [] is enough. It is correctly those...

Peter Eisenman: That's the artfulness of the vernacular? When vernacular becomes artful it's classical?

Krier: Yes.


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