The sky was suffused with all hues of red declaring the sun. The boy had already seen many castles. Capturing the built and the beauty around in his sketchbook, he sought a new road to travel to live out his dream. Little did he know, that the road would lead him to the day when he will become ‘the architect of his own belief’? These words could set the tone of Peter Eisenman’s biopic. Unlike other architects of his era or the present, Eisenman has embraced the changes with integrity and made the most of it.If a controversy remains synonymous with his identity, making meanings always at the foreground is his forever style.
Peter Eisenman was born on 11th August, 1932. As an architect, theorist and educator, Eisenman is characterized with “no style, but all styles”. Within 50 year span of his long career, the buildings Eisenman has completed are often incredibly dense in their ideological underpinning.
After completing his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and working as a former educator, Eisenman’s reputation as an architect took shape in the 1960’s. He rose to fame as part of the New York Five, besides Michael Graves, Richard Meier, John Hejduk, and Charles Gwathmey.
The group shared a common interest in professional activities, architectural criticism, and theories integral with the production of built form. Precisely, architecture antithetical to the then modernist society. Five Architects of 1972 is a juxtaposition of Eisenman’s writing and polemical buildings that have placed him at the forefront of the architectural dialogue of the decades gone and decades to come by.
Formally, Eisenman had adopted a revision of the International Style that he called “cardboard architecture”, inspired by the modernist work of the 1920s and 1930s of Le Corbusier (1887–1965) and Giuseppe Terragni (1904–1942).
White or white and grey and limited use of primary colors had the feeling of cardboard models. Eisenman had written that “cardboard is connotative of less mass, less texture, less color, and ultimately less concern for these. It is closest to the abstract idea of the plan.” It is Eisenman’s intention that the “deep structure,” although not explicitly apparent, would be apprehended by the viewer, thereby intensifying the viewer’s understanding of architectural space.
Cardboard architecture concepts are evident in Eisenman’s initial designs of his many houses. The Frank House, built for an architectural historian and her husband in Cornwall, Connecticut, is House VI and was completed in 1975. It is a perfect prototype of Eisenman’s cardboard architecture.
Originally from New Jersey, Peter Eisenman always had strong cultural links with European intellectuals, historians and artists. From the start of his career, Eisenman was highly inspired by the American – British architectural historian, Colin Rowe. Eisenman drew inspiration from Rowe and was deeply interested in the importance of form in architecture. He constantly challenged the conventional concepts of it. For him, the form had never been just a simple cognitive tool. Rather it determined the physical structure, which differentiates active and passive, static and dynamic, inside and outside.
By structuring a volume around this concept of form, Stefano Corbo links together Eisenman’s architecture with his theory in his book Formalism to Weak Form: The Architecture and Philosophy of Peter Eisenman.
Narratives were another integral part of Eisenman’s approach which he had borrowed from American linguist, philosopher, and historian Avram Noam Chomsky. Eisenman compiled Chomsky’s linguistic theories with architecture. It stated that when architecture is derived from the same linguistic and syntactical structures, viewers become capable of interpreting the motives and functions of that architecture.
At the same time Peter was also inspired by the similar theories of Jacques Derrida, an Algerian-born French-Jewish philosopher. He was best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction, which he discussed in numerous texts, and developed in the context of phenomenology.
This was the DE constructivism stroke of serendipity in Eisenman’s life. Inspired by both men of substance, Eisenman conceived architecture as textual. Collaborating with Derrida, this was an initial strategy to implement a mapping procedure for the plan of his famous Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, completed in 1989.
Each project has a parable to say, like the Koizumi Sangyo Corporation Headquarters Building, in Tokyo, Japan completed in 1990. The aim was to develop something from within instead of imposing something new from without. Within the postwar tradition of curtain-wall building, there existed the possibility of introducing anomalous elements that could erupt and cause both the inside and the outside of the structure to be modified, like putting a grain of sand into an oyster to cause it to grow like a pearl. Hence, two pieces of sand into the opposing upper and lower corners were inserted. In growing out from the interior, the architecture mirrors the functions inside and describes the process of making, marking, and reading space.
In most of his interviews, Mr. Eisenman calls himself a vernacular architect both in style and spirit. Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin, Germany is an exemplar of Eisenman’s deep relation to culture and values. However, in this monument, there is no goal, no end, no working one’s way in or out. The duration of an individual’s experience of it grants no further understanding, since understanding the Holocaust is impossible. The time of the monument, its duration from the top surface to the ground is disjoined from the time of experience. In this context, there is no nostalgia, no memory of the past, only the living memory of the individual experience.
The City Of Culture Of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain is a humongous and the most recent achievement of Eisenman’ s consolidated theories of vernacular, Deconstructivism, philosophy, and narration.
The hilltop site overlooks the medieval center of Santiago and with pedestrian Caminos, or ways, on the site are derived from the city’s historic street pattern. Whereas, the forms of the buildings, related but different, seem to roll out of the landscape and echo the shape of the surrounding hills. The use of local stone, design of double roofs, and an on-site power plant contribute to its environmental sustainability.
Prior to establishing a full-time architectural practice in 1980, Peter Eisenman had worked as an independent architect, educator, and theorist. In 1967, he founded the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) and served as its director until 1982. Currently the Charles Gwathmey Professor in Practice at the Yale School of Architecture, Mr. Eisenman’s academic career also includes teaching at Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard, and Ohio State universities.
In May 2010 Mr. Eisenman was honored with the Wolf Foundation Prize in the Arts, awarded in Jerusalem. Among other awards, in 2001 he received the Medal of Honor from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale. Please visit for further galleries and projects at https://eisenmanarchitects.com/.