Wang Shu (at UCLA), Peter Eisenman (at SCI-Arc) and Memory in Architecture

Written by

In an amazingly prescient coup, UCLA’s School of Architecture last Monday hosted a lecture by Chinese architect Wang Shu, the very week it was announced that he had been awarded the…

a lecture by Chinese architect Wang Shu, the very week it was announced that he had been awarded the 2012 Pritzker Prize. Wang Shu’s work, created in collaboration with his wife, Lu Wenyu, is little known outside his country and the award marks a creative coming-of-age for China (discussed in relation to the auto industry on this DnA). It also marks an appreciation on the part of this Pritzker jury for an architect who mixes his Modernism with a love of found materials and handcraft.

Wang expresses his disdain for China’s current throwaway building culture through such projects as the Xiangshan Campus of the China Academy of Art in his native Hangzhou (in image, left, by Lu Wenyu), which he covered, wrote the New York Times, with more than two million tiles from demolished traditional houses. “Everywhere you can see, they don’t care about the materials,” Mr. Wang said in an interview. “They just want new buildings, they just want new things. I think the material is not just about materials. Inside it has the people’s experience, memory — many things inside. So I think it’s for an architect to do something about it.”

This Monday night, March 5, the Southern California Institute of Architecture, (SCI-Arc) will host a lecture by another architect, Peter Eisenman, who also explores ideas of memory, but in a way that is more conceptual than manual. In the 1980s Eisenman, a prominent figure in East Coast academe, influenced a generation of architecture grads with his tortured application of Derridean literary theory to architecture; somehow his devotees understood notions like, “Our work imposes a conceptual memory on the volumetric massing of an object, and in doing so attempts to subvert icons of presence, the building mass itself, with a striated network of what could be described as lines of memory” (Peter Eisenman, from M Emory Games: Emory Center for the ArtsRizzoli, 1995)

Eisenman’s arguably most important and serious work came later: the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin (in picture, right, by Bennett Stein). Eisenman was himself considered in the running for a Pritzker, but his hypertheoretical approach seems, at least for now, to have been superseded by an appreciation for a more material and sensual kind of building. But he is famously witty and polemical so will likely be entertaining; the lecture Monday night, March 5, will be introduced by SCI-Arc director, Eric Owen Moss, and is open to the public. Fellow archi-theorist, Jeffrey Kipnis, will speak on Tuesday night, March 6, introduced by Thom Mayne. SCI-Arc is at 960 East 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013; lectures are in the W.M. Keck Lecture Hall.