Category Archives: Overlooked Talent

The Lens: New York’s abandoned subway station

New York's abandoned city hall subway station (constructed 1904) as seen on Web Urbanist. (Photo courtesy Web Urbanist.)

Overlooked Talent: Peter Eisenman

So I know that most people with a significant interest in architecture will know of Peter Eisenman. He is known even better in academic circles.

What concerns me is his lack of prominence on a larger scale. I consider him one of the most important architects and architectural thinkers of the past 50 years. His work — both physical and intellectual — paved the way for much of the best architecture of today and influenced many of today’s most prominent architects, from Frank Gehry to Rem Koolhaas.

Eisenman was one of the first we-ll-known architects to practice the sort of highly intellectualized architecture that Rem Koolhaas and others practice today. He helped to invent deconstructivist forms as methods for more powerful forms of expression in buildings. He sees buildings not as simplistic shells for functionality, but as active elements within our lives. His buildings actively challenge their users to think and experience and think in different ways.

The idea of the active design is the forefront of architecture — it is the architecture practiced by Thom Mayne, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas and, to a slightly lesser extent, Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It is still somewhat divorced from the public realm, but that is to be expected of radical ideas. Its influence, however, cannot be understated.

But whereas many architects practice ‘active design’ in a rather bounded, stiff manner — Rem Koolhaas, for instance, seems to skirt historical forms nervously, as if frightened of acknowledging or referencing them — Eisenman’s architecture is one of confidence, borne of a thoughtful and knowing master.

Eisenman's Wexner Center at Ohio State

It’s tough to beat that. And yet this building, along with most of Eisenman’s others, is tragically unrecognized by most outside of academic architectural circles. It is for that reason that I label Eisenman an overlooked talent.

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Weiss/Manfredi’s Smith Campus Center

My favorite new building in Western Massachusetts is without a doubt Weiss/Manfredi’s new campus center at Smith College. Like all of my favorite contemporary architecture, this building is driven by a central good idea — in this case the idea of the building as a pathway between a busy street and the heart of the college. In plan, the building has a small, narrow end which reaches out towards the street, clad in white-painted wood and subtly distinguished from the neighboring historic houses. On the inside, the path that starts here widens as the entire building opens outwards to the campus — on this side the building is appropriately a much more assuming, dynamic structure.

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Overlooked Talent: William Rawn

William Rawn is a Boston architect who designs buildings that are contemporary but not always attention-grabbing, thoughtful but not always dynamic. Some of Rawn’s work tries too hard to fit in, and sometimes his buildings’ tasteful masonry cladding and interior wood paneling give them a slightly saccharine quality, but on the whole, Rawn is a smart architect and strong proof that contemporary architecture doesn’t have to always be about ‘starchitects’ and deconstructivism. Rawn proves that elegant contemporary buildings can blend in, and we can enhance people’s environments without ostentatiously drawing attention to the fact that we are doing so. Rawn’s buildings are elegantly and thoughtfully conceived; together, they make up one of the most subtly successful bodies of work around.

Temple Beth Elohim.

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