by Eleanor Dodman, AA 4th Year
10 October 2012
AA Lecture Hall, London
On the tenth of October Peter Eisenman gave one of what has been many a lecture at the AA. Before beginning, amongst the turmoil of people finding their seats, a sash cord in the far left-hand-corner window snapped. This resulted in three of the windowpanes smashing, rendering the lecture hall silent. Shattered windows are not unknown to Eisenman, who was present in 1976 when Gordon Matta Clark shot out the windows of his Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies. One of Matta-Clark’s more gutsy performances, Eisenman was livid and was reported to have likened the act to Kristallnacht.
My interest in Eisenman lies in his house series, of which much has been written. I wish, however, to pose a different reading of the buildings – not one of their formal approach or a critique but maybe more one of their evolution. House I was built in 1969, not a house but a toy museum, built as an extension to an already existing house owned by the Barenholtz. Now, years after it was completed and after its clients have passed away, it seems from my research that the house is now being used as a massage parlour.
House II has a much more interesting story, built between 1969-70 for Florence and Richard Falk, who met Eisenman at a cocktail party. Instantly after bonding over their mutual love for Noam Chomsky’s linguistic theory, the Falks hired Eisenman to build them a house. During the build the Falks took a year-long sabbatical in California leaving Eisenman to finish the project. On their return, they were so unimpressed with the building that they fired him and hired a new designer, who finished the project by changing many aspects of Eisenman’s design. Still unhappy with the house, they put it up for sale but when it failed to sell, it began to fall into disrepair. In 2000, the house was bought by a couple who began restoring it to its initial state. The house is now up for sale again.
The third of the houses (House III) I know the least about. It was built in 1971 but the house no longer exists. Till now, I have been unable to deduce an exact date when it was pulled down but having looked at past Google maps I suspect it was around 1993. Above all the strangest thing about this house is the fact that the owners suddenly abandoned the house. I have been in contact with someone who visited the house in 1992 and he told me that when he visited the house, there was still a car in the garage and much of the furniture was left.
House VI was built for Susan and Dick Frank. It features a number of notorious features such as a slot in the master bedroom resulting in the need for two beds and a column being placed in-between two of the seats in the dining area. The house has undergone three restorations, one of them being so major that most of the roof was pulled down and rebuilt. When I spoke to Eisenman after his lecture he told me that it was the most beautiful one left.
Of the four built houses only one, House I, still exists in its original built form. The others either do not exist or have been altered. In a book published by Susan Frank, entitled “House VI: The Clients Response,” Eisenman writes, “I have never been interested in monuments, in the nostalgia for the status quo, in static buildings which do not grow and change over time. Rather I have always been concerned with changes in buildings brought about by changes in use, ownership, or merely the passing of time.”
For more information:
Peter Eisenman Lecture
Houses of cards / Peter Eisenman New York: Oxford UP, 1987
‘Cardboard architecture: the work of Peter D Eisenman’ / article by P D Eisenman in Casabella vol.37 no.374 (2) February 1973 / .17-31 (text in Italian + English)
‘House III: Miller residence, Lakeville, Conn.; Architect: Peter Eisenman’ / article by Peter Eisenman, David Morton and Robert Miller in Progressive Architecture vol.55 no.5 May 1974 / p.92-99
‘House VI (Frank Residence) in Cornwall, Connecticut; Architect: Peter Eisenman, Randall Korman’ / article by Peter Eisenman, William Gass and Robert Gutman in Progressive Architecture vol.58 no.6 June 1977 / p.57-67