Aug 31, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Q&A: Edwin Chan

(page 3 of 7)

When you build anything in Venice, California, you have a height limit of about 30 feet. So when you think about the building in relation to the street, what do you do to address the street? You also have to keep in mind that when this building was done in the 1980s, the discourse of architecture was post-modernism. And you had people like Michael Graves who were doing this kind of flat two-dimensional facades. So one way I suppose - and this is just a speculation - is that, as opposed to making a flat facade, is to create a facade that addresses the street with a series of objects or sculptures that have depth.

IA: The building does look like it could be three or four different type of buildings, and even done by different architects. But what's interesting to me here is also the breaking of the scale. Because considering the 30 feet height limit, if you were to have a monolithic expression, the street front of the building would appear short and very long.

EC: The other way to think about it is that for Jay Chiat, there were other specific programmatic requirements. So the idea was that each element here would express some aspects about the program of the agency by expressing the type of spaces inside. Even within the binoculars there are meeting rooms and they are actually using the spaces inside. And when you look at the back of the building also has its own unique expression with punched windows. 

Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, California


IA: Are you suggesting that the binoculars are not just a sculpture or art, but it is actually architecture?

EC: Well, this is a different type of topic and depends on whom you talk to. But let's just say that spatially it is inhabited and used in different ways. So the left wing has offices that have a different function than the offices in the right wing. And then in the middle, which is directly the entrance there are conference rooms and inside the binoculars you have more private meeting rooms. So they are not just sculptural pieces, but in some ways they project the different nature of their use and spatial requirements. And, of course, every client wants more space inside their building, regardless of what they do. So by expressing the building pieces with this variety it creates their uniqueness within the homogeneity of the whole program.

IA: I'm interested to hear more about the binoculars and the collaboration with Claes Oldenburg. Have the two done more collaboration together?

EC: Yes they have but this is the only one that was actually built. Frank has also collaborated with other artists of his generation like Richard Serra. One of the conversations that Frank had with Claes is the same kind of conversation we are having now, which is what constitutes art versus architecture. Either Frank (or Claes) at one point had said that, “for it to become architecture it needs to have a window.” So they decided to put those small windows you see in the binoculars. 

IA: Here in the work of Claes Oldenburg we see a piece of art - a large sculpture of a pair of binoculars - striving to become architecture at the expense of adopting domestic architectural elements: the sculpture becomes architecture by acquiring windows. But what do you think about the way art is perceived here? In the traditional conception of art - for example an impressionist or even cubist painting of scenery - the object of art (the painting) represents an idea or impression of a concept (the scenery) which exists outside itself. In modern or contemporary art, however, when we look at the work of Piet Mondrian and his Composition series, the object of art is the real idea and it is not referring to or signifying anything outside itself. But there are also other artworks that have spatial and architectural characteristics imbedded in them. In my view, what Richard Serra has achieved with some of his work is a step forward from the modernist movement in art, for not only the object of art isn't referential to an idea or concept outside itself, but it is also addressing and acknowledging the viewer in a fundamental level; the objects demand a cognitive interaction with the viewer, and in fact the meaning of the artwork lingers on that subjective experience. And this “new subjectivity” is something that is different from the sensual experience of the space.

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