Born in 1943, Eric Owen Moss is an American architect, whose oeuvre spanning over 40 years stands as a series of buildings that challenge the notion of post-modern and contemporary architecture. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA, he pursued Masters of Architecture at UC, Berkeley and the GSD at Harvard University. 

He established his practice, Eric Owens Moss Architects in Culver City, California, in 1973 and has been recognised for the wealth of architectural creations, lauded by the public and the critics alike, receiving over 100 awards and honours, both local and international.

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Eric Owen Moss ©www.sciarc.edu/people/faculty/eric-owen-moss

He has also held teaching positions at prestigious architecture schools across the globe, constantly interacting in the architectural discourse. The firm’s body of work is detailed in over 20 published monographs, highlighting not only the projects but also the ideologies evolving through the volumes. Moss’s work is influenced by his literary inclinations, and while his buildings often defy strict categorization, they never fail to inspire intrigue and awe. 

Over the many lectures, debates and interviews he’s partaken in, his arguments divulge the depth of his ideas, which for people within the architectural community have provided food for thought, and even inspiration. Here, we elaborate on some of his philosophies to better understand his creative genius.

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Samitaur Tower, Culver City, California ©Eric Owen Moss Architects, photographed by Tom Bonner

Post-Vietnam War Los Angeles

Moss credits the Post-war scenario of his home city as a defining factor in his design journey. The uncertainty following the Vietnam War and the lack of belonging were resounded in the booming architectural industry of Los Angeles. The various movements took different, often diverging paths and the non-existence of definitive precursors was followed by saturation with contrasting styles. 

Within the purview of the architectural identity, especially the one of Culver City, Moss relays that the lack of a dominant style meant that the young architects of the time had a unique opportunity to define it through their works. 

Many of his designs materialized in Culver City are now integral to the city’s culture and the responsibility to develop a distinct and contextually rooted structure each time has contributed heavily to his introspection regarding existentialism. 

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Umbrella, Culver City, California ©Eric Owen Moss Architects, photographed by Tom Bonner

Penelope Theory of Architecture

Homer’s Odyssey chronicles the wife of Odysseus, Penelope, and the shroud she creates. For three years, awaiting the return of her husband from war, she weaves the shroud every day and undoes it every night.

Moss’s opinion is that the state of architecture must also follow this unending cycle of creation and destruction, pertaining mainly to an architect’s own designs. He adds that an element of dissatisfaction accompanies this introspection, but having the conviction to make something, while also having the scepticism to take it apart drives the design cycle forward.

While most architects form beliefs and solidify them over the years in practice, Moss aims to differentiate himself by following this introspective evolution and not just a single ideology.

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Pterodactyl, Culver City, California ©Eric Owen Moss Architects, photographed by Tom Bonner

Instinct over Method

Moss’s dependence on introspection shines through this ideology that contrasts instinct and method, wherein the former is an intuition that precedes the latter, a methodology. He believes that the method, when taught and perpetuated, overtakes instinct, leading to a “Pied-Piperism” of derivative expressions of architecture. The creative solutions demanded by each project can be justly provided only when instinctive ideas are cultivated. 

He practises this experimental approach by maintaining an assortment of sketches and models that he creates daily, free from site constraints and budgets, only an expression of shapes and ideas.

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Beehive, Culver City, California © Eric Owen Moss Architects, photographed by Tom Bonner

Pedagogy

Moss’s experience as a faculty member at several architecture schools, including the directorial position at SCI-Arc, California, brings a keen understanding of the education side of the industry. A strong proponent of evolution and individuality, Moss has encouraged the pedagogical realm to adapt to the changing demands of the profession and bolster the ideas of students with the tools necessary for progress- both technological and visceral.

His conviction is that the learnings should support the growth of creative intuition, and the legacy embodied by the schools of architecture should resemble a diverse ecosystem and not a cookie-cutter approach of any singular ideology. Moss also says that an ideal learning environment requires the students to question and analyse, especially the criticism and suggestions offered. In his opinion, the minutiae of design should undergo thorough research, for which idiosyncrasy is paramount.

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Stealth, Culver City, California ©Eric Owen Moss Architects, photographed by Tom Bonner

Gnostic Architecture

Moss’s key ideology described in the 1999 publication of “Gnostic Architecture” sheds light on an important aspect of the approach to design. It draws from the gnostic people, who held knowledge and personal experience above the learnt traditions and preconceived notions of religion. Extrapolating this belief system to his professional endeavours in architecture, Moss prescribes perpetual introspection. 

The true merit of this approach lies in the fact that external factors and complexities of the practice are surpassed by personal exploration, the outcomes of which lend an insider insight. Another facet of this philosophy is the ownership of beliefs held- since one isn’t compelled by another’s opinions, one must rely entirely on their own understanding- that they cannot easily discard. While free from superficial agents, Gnosticism in architecture obligates an inner compass to lead explorations.  

Samitaur, Kodak Headquarters Office Building, Los Angeles, California © Eric Owen Moss Architects, photographed by Tom Bonner

Eric Owen Moss’s architectural works only scratch the surface of his creative expressions. Over the years he has fostered friendships with his peers including Frank Gehry, Kenneth Framptons and Wolf D. Prix whose debates and conversations have marked many prestigious events within the architectural community. His publications show the extensive research and rigorous experimentation in each project he has documented, replete with ideologies gathered over the years. 

Needless to say, his contributions transcend the location and duration of his works, serving as an exemplar of individuality and creative innovation.

Author

Sagarika Latwal is an architect based in Bangalore exploring creative outlets and entrepreneurship within the industry. An armchair expert in art history, film and - oddly enough- ornithology, she is in constant search of hidden ideas to inform her designs. With her inclination towards architectural journalism, she hopes to make the beautiful complexities of architecture accessible to all.

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