Two weeks ago, I spent an hour on the phone with deconstructivist Peter Eisenman, in what turned out to be anything but a talk about academics. We delved into the mighty Giants and the lowly Redskins, shifted gears to William Faulkner and Absalom, Absalom, and pondered Gehry, Eisenhower and the National Mall.
But mostly, we talked about the work of Andrea Palladio. Eisenman’s spent the past decade developing a groundbreaking exhibition of the Renaissance master’s work, called “Palladio Virtuel.” It opens in New Haven at the Yale School of Architecture Gallery on Aug. 20. He’ll give a lecture there on the 30th – and a book is slated to follow next spring.
Today’s post on A+A is the first of three, all based on our conversation.
You teach a course on Palladio at Yale. Why?
I’ve researched the history of art and architecture, and the only “ism” named after an architect in history is for Palladio.
There’s “Miesian” and “Corbusian” but no “ism” for anyone else. That tells you how important Palladio is in the world of culture. It’s a fact you can’t explain.
Actually, I don’t teach a course on Palladio. I teach an introductory theory course to first year masters’ students, a focus course with Brunelleschi and Piranesi, 12 different architects from the 1400s and1500s, with Palladio among those in the middle.
I teach that you can’t create the new without understanding the discipline it’s founded on. You can’t write atonal music without studying what music is.
How do your students respond to his work?
It’s like giving kids medicine. They don’t want this stuff. They want what’s hot. But they need to learn what architecture is, in order to learn innovation when they get out.
Students regard it as fashion. If you’re at the University of Miami or Notre Dame, architecture concerns history. At Yale, it may be go-go, up-to-the-minute hot stuff, but that stuff may not be hot in three years.
In the fall of third year, we take a trip to Italy, to Vigevano, where the best public piazza in all the world exists. Ninety-nine percent of them have never heard of it – so then they’ll understand that what they hear about is not what they need to know.
I use Palladio in my work with design, and I teach why it’s important to students today. The piazza in Vigevano is from a design by Bramante, the great synthesizer of ideas from Vitruvius – he also did a church in Milan – and he brought it all together from Greek and Roman architecture.
I take students on the Bramante trip because in its day, the piazza was a very radical place, by a very radical architect.
History has a way of taking radical ideas and making them traditional.
Tomorrow: Hadid, Gehry, Koolhaas, Graves – and Palladio too.
For more on the exhibition, go to www.architecture.yale.edu/exhibitions
For more on Peter Eisenman, go to http://www.eisenmanarchitects.com/