A Way of Seeing Things: The Shared Realm of Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor
The Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Witch Trials, commemorates the lives of 91 people who were put to death in the Norwegian town of Vardø between 1621 and 1663. The memorial is the result of a collaboration between artist Louise Bourgeois and Architect Peter Zumthor.
The exhibit centers on an installation, which acts as a device for viewing. It serves first as a simulation of the Memorial at Steilneset, and second as a way to reveal the affinities between the work of the artist and architect. As a structure, the installation is a recapitulation of the two pieces of the Memorial, but recombines them into one sequence, one assemblage, and one body. The viewer encounter’s the work of Zumthor, affixed to the frame, seemingly hung to dry like the catch of Vardø’s fishermen. One then enters the body of Zumthor’s structure, an elevated path drawn through eight wooden frames. The chair presents itself immediately and reveals the destination. Sail-like walls enclose the path on either side. Along the path, openings reveal themselves to provide glimpses towards the work of Bourgeois, opposite the work of Zumthor and elevated to the new sight line of the observer. Etched within the opening s are quotes from Bourgeois herself, describing her past, and its presence in her work. One looks through the windows and through her words to see the art itself. From here, one is meant to see the work of Bourgeois from the inhabited body of Zumthor. Finally, the viewer reaches the chair, bathed in orange light. The light is reflected in the glass surfaces that surround the room on three sides. Through the glass one can see the site of Steilneset, a sublime landscape of pallid hues. While the frame and its path represent outward observation, key to the work of Zumthor, the room and chair represent inward identification, explicit in the work of Bourgeois.
The installation’s polemic is to say that Bourgeois and Zumthor look towards the same things, but from two different points of view, as if they stand on opposite sides of the same window. While Zumthor makes his architecture through the recollection of past physical experiences and external memories, Bourgeois’s art is the objectification of inner emotions which attempt to reconcile an unresolved past. Yet both look through the window of emotive responses made manifest by the haptic properties latent in the presence of things which they create.
At Home (Not) on the Prairie: A House for a Chicago Lot
This house is an exploration into the domestic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. It recapitulates his spatial language with the intent to clarify, codify, and evaluate his work. It draws from Wright’s early Prairie Style houses as well as his later Usonian models.
The house is designed to work as either a single, stand-alone building, or as a pair of houses developed in tandem, as it is shown here. As a design, it employs three strategies commonly found throughout Wright’s architecture: the use of a module, overlapping spatial volumes, and a balance of local symmetry within a larger composition of asymmetry. The plans are based on a 3’8” module, while the elevations use a module of 1’1”. Together, the modules create a three-dimensional cage into which every point in space is placed. The plan on the first floor is arranged axially, keeping the stairs and utilities tightly bound in the middle, while allowing the living and dining spaces to extend outwards. Upstairs, the bedrooms and bathroom form a linear arrangement, with the master bedroom positioned towards the street. A balcony with planting bed runs alongside the bedrooms, moving the rooms back from the property line and creating space for light as well as privacy. Construction is kept simple. The house is built with a platform fame using 2 x 6 studs, 1’10” on center. Two steel beams, resting on masonry cores, run the length of the house and provide support for the floor joists and cantilevered balconies.
To my generation of architects, Wright remains elusive and largely ignored as a source of precedent. However, to follow Wright is to discover a replicable system of design that can be employed in a variety of situations. Far from nostalgia, the polemic here argues for Wright’s relevance today by constructing a house that lays open to his influence.