AAI Lecture Review - Professor Peter Waldman, Friday 8th October, UCD School of Architecture
AAI Lecture Review
‘Specifications of Construction'
Professor Peter Waldman
Friday, 8th October 2010
The AAI was extremely lucky to have Professor Peter Waldman of the University of Virginia lecture on the 8th October in the Red Room, UCD School of Architecture. This lecture was snuck in on short notice when one of the committee members heard that Professor Waldman was on campus for a workshop, and as such took place on Friday, rather than our more regular Thursday slot.
Those who attended were not disappointed. Professor Waldman’s background includes a CV that many would tie themselves in knots over, but he never traded off these famous names, and indeed wears those experiences lightly and with no shortage of self-deprecation. Eisenman, Graves, Meier – if they were in the New York Five, Peter Waldman probably learnt from them, drew up details for them or fielded angry phonecalls for them.
The lecture was nominally titled Specifications of Construction, a title that would seemingly point towards a dry, academic lecture. It proved anything but.
Something that was immediately evident in Professor Waldman’s lecture was the lack of pretension in how he described his work. Certainly, there was no shortage of reference to art, high or low, nor was there any glossing over the intellectual rigour behind the work; what was missing was the wilful obscurist tendencies of many architects, and the inability to see the potential for joy.
Another particularly noticeable quality of the lecture – well, noticeable in hindsight, perhaps – was Professor Waldman’s seemingly effortless ability to order his remarks in such a way that a clear hierarchy became apparent as the lecture progressed. The same preoccupations in his work would appear again and again, and instead of explaining them outright in the first project, he would gradually add more thoughts, more pieces to the puzzle, as the issue occurred again in another context, or another scale.
Projects that occured wilful or somehow disordered were thus revealed to be a finely balanced collection of ideas, desires and practices; some fundamentals of architecture, such as orientation, were constants factors, whereas other issues, such as the aging of materials, the process of construction [for which he showed deep understanding, even love] traded places in this unremarked hiearchy with symbolism and sustainability, depending on the siting, scale, program and ‘personality’ of the project.
It was revealing, and, as gauche as it may be to say it, educational, to see the layers of thought built up in such a coherent and cogent manner. Basic – or fundamental, depending very much on your viewpoint – moves were put in place, be they in terms of siting, orientation, alignment or construction process, and the projects moved forward on that basis. Nothing arrived fully formed; everything was a considered move, and often considered with very different mindsets.
For example, the structural system of his own house was considered from a theoretical background [with all that Eisenman growing up, who could fail to consider the ordering/disordering possibilties of a grid?] as well as with reference to common practice in the area in terms of contractors, the natural qualities of materials and their performance in various systems, specifications and situations, coupled with a full and thoughtful comprehension of the logistics of transporting materials to a remote site. All of these aspects were addressed and slid into place in a unique hierarchical system based on three elements: the architect’s experience, the site, and the program.
And this was just the structure! Every aspect of the project was dealt with with this sort of combination of intuition, research, logic and experience. Perhaps more relevantly to those attending, the projects were revealed this way; by that I mean that the professor had obviously taken the time to go back over his thought processes when designing, and assemble a narrative compiled of both his ideas, study models, sketches, photographs, drawings and anecdotes. Ideas and decisions were sketched out, rather than harped upon.
It was especially enjoyable and worthwhile then to see the energy and genuine enjoyment with which Professor Waldman addressed the many questions put to him by the audience. He really relished the opportunity to delve deeper into issues which he had brought up, seemingly because he saw a genuine interest in the question. In contrast to some other ‘question & answer’ sessions, Professor Waldman didn’t seem defensive about his work: he welcomed questions, tried to answer them with particular reference with some of the shown work, and then put forward in his characteristically modest way his own thoughts on the matter. He didn’t try to sell his answers as ‘the’ answer, nor did he back off from restating some fundamentals a number of times. Answers weren’t calculated, but considered.
Professor Waldman is a natural teacher and educator, something that is best appreciated by hearing him speak to a modest audience. His lecture, at the end of what was a long, involved week on his part, and on the eve of his return to Virginia, spoke volumes about his enjoyment of teaching, and the depth of his thoughts about architecture.
Professor Peter Waldman Bio: http://www.arch.virginia.edu/faculty/PeterWaldman/
The New York Five: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Five
Charles Gwathmey Obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/11/arts/design/11gwathmey.html