Peter Eisenman : post-modern architecture and the question of mannerist influences
Dawe, William Charles
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This essay on the contemporary American architect, Peter Eisen- man, aims at examining the inherent difficulties met in understanding his rather hermetic designs and also the equally challenging problem of relating them to the architectural milieu as a whole. As a former member of the now inoperative, yet quite controversial, group of architects dubbed by critics as the New York Five, Eisenman enjoys a strong reputation as both scholar and architect: along with his architectural practice in New York City, he serves as director of the important center for architectural theory and history, the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, apd is the editor of that organization's scholarly journal, Oppositions. Throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s, Eisenman and his colleagues' designs startled the architectural critics with their free use of the style long associated with the European avant-garde from between the great wars—the "International Style" of LeCorbusier and Giuseppe Terragni, in particular. Their work was a critique of that former style, about which a great debate followed. Eisenman's seemingly anti-modem methodology feeds this debate; his use of diverse disciplines outside the conventional understanding of architectural engineering and form is felt to be an intellectual complexity, even though many of the issues he touches upon are found in the past decade's designs as a whole. Eisenman and the others have been offered as focal points for some of these trends, which have been labeled post-modernism and allow for discussion of the dilemma attendant upon the dissolution of modernism. The principal formulations used in this critique of Eisenman's architecture are those surrounding discussion of "mannerism" in the arts. Although many insist that the style of mannerism be considered only within the context of Rome and Florence in the early part of the sixteenth century, its potential interpretive use far exceeds this restriction. An important characterization about this art is its use of "paradox"; the paradoxical form in the case of Eisenman results in an intense visual ambiguity. This is somehow suggestive of the quality of self-referentiality, that is to say, of an art which comments on its ora mechanisms. A parallel is offered between Eisenman's use of the axo- nometric perspective projection as it reflects the late-nannerist concept of Federico Zuccaro, disegno interno.