American architect Peter Eisenman is a deconstructivist who shuns the term. He embraces unconventional theories that have shrouded him in controversy.
Deconstructivism is a development of postmodern architecture that began in the late 1980s. It centers on the ideas of fragmentation, an interest in manipulating ideas of a structure's surface that distort some of the elements of architecture itself.
Deconstructivists seek to move architecture away from what they see as the confining 'rules' of modernism such as "form follows function", "purity of form", and "truth to materials." They prefer to stimulate unpredictability and control chaos.
Originally, some of the architects known as deconstructivists were influenced by the ideas of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Eisenman developed a personal relationship with Derrida, but his approach to architectural design was developed long before.
The principal of Eisenman Architects, he has designed large-scale housing and urban design projects, innovative facilities for educational institutions and a series of inventive private houses.
Known as an eccentric, Eisenman is often seen in a bowtie and a sweater with a small hole.
Eisenman was born in Newark, N.J. in 1932. He developed a passion for architecture as an undergraduate at Cornell University. At Cornell, he studied under theorist/critic Colin Rowe, receiving the Charles G. Sands Memorial Medal awarded for exceptional merit for his senior thesis. While working with Rowe, Eisenman re-examined the origins of modern architecture, particularly the early works of the French architect Le Corbusier. He was exposed to a set of ideas that formed the foundation of his early practice and architectural philosophy.
He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell, a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. In 2007, he received an honorary degree from the Syracuse University School of Architecture. He also has an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from the University of Illinois.
Eisenman taught at Cambridge, Princeton and the Cooper Union in New York, where he was founder and director of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies from 1967 to 1982.
He first earned recognition as a member of the New York Five, along with Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, Richard Meier and Michael Graves. They sought a return to the origins of 20th-century modernism, as seen in the early works of Le Corbusier, the Italian Rationalist Giuseppe Terragni (1904-1943), and the Dutch De Stijl movement architect Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). The work of the New York Five was driven by the more abstract and theoretical aspects of this architecture.
Experts say that Eisenman's focus on "liberating" architectural form was notable from an academic and theoretical standpoint but resulted in structures that were both badly built and non-functional.
The Wexner Center, the first major public deconstructivist building, has required extensive and expensive repairs and re-designing because of elementary design flaws (such as incompetent
material specifications, and fine art exhibition space exposed to direct sunlight). It was frequently repeated that the Wexner's colliding planes tended to make its users disoriented to the point of physical nausea.
In 1967 Eisenman had begun the first of a series of residential designs, labeled “cardboard architecture” because of their thin white walls and model-like qualities. It was here that he explored the implications of his theories in built form. His notable work includes the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus, Ohio (1993), the Aronoff Center for Design and Art at the University of Cincinnati (1996), the City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain (1999) and Il giardino dei passi perduti, Castelvecchio Museum in Verona (2004).
Eisenman has published numerous essays and articles on his architectural theories in international magazines and journals. His many books include “Eisenman: Inside Out, Selected Writings 1963–1988,” “Blurred Zones: Investigations of the Interstitial,” “Eisenman Architects 1988–1998” and “Giuseppe Terragni: Transformations, Decompositions, Critiques.”
Currently, he teaches architecture at Yale University and has also undertaken a larger series of building projects than ever before in his career, including the recently completed Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and the new University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.