Aug 31, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

Q&A: Edwin Chan

(page 5 of 7)

IA: There is a mystic or uncanny quality to this project, which reminds me of the work of John Hejduk or Aldo Rossi. There is an idea of fragments of architectural typologies as well as grouping of individual buildings within a city-like landscape. The architecture here attains not just autonomy but individuality, and the buildings begin to communicate with each other. As an observer, you find yourself caught in that gaze or moment of encounter.

EC: This project is important piece of the puzzle. We talked about the early work and now you can start to see the continuity of the work in medium scale, which will continue all the way to large-scale projects like the Disney Hall and Bilbao. But in the end it would be interesting to think about it in a context of the evolution of all three kinds of work as a continuity of development of the certain urbanistic ideas about Los Angeles. It's not just sculpture for the sake of being stand-alone sculptures or to be iconic per se, but to be at the service of the experience and activating the public realm. 

IA: Let's talk about the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Oftentimes Bilbao Museum is thought of as the one single building that changed an entire city. And the reverberation of this “Bilbao effect” whispered new (urbanistic) possibilities for architecture. Do you see the Bilbao museum as the icon that transformed the city?

EC: I think a lot of people also think about Bilbao as a stand- alone sculpture. But they miss the point that when they first approached the Guggenheim and after completion we always thought about it as an infrastructural project. In fact, at that time they already had the vision to create a master plan that included not just one building but an infrastructural or holistic approach in how they envisioned the city. So the Bilbao Museum is only a small piece of the puzzle. And I would say that is a common misperception about Bilbao. It just happened that we did a pretty interesting building. But the building has to be understood in the context of a larger vision which included the subway, new train station, and series of other cultural buildings, and a vision about the waterfront and everything else that they implemented in a very systematic way. So it’s not just one piece but it’s a synergy of different pieces that created that. Of course each piece had to be distinctive. But there were other cities that were under the impression that you could just make one building that would have the “Bilbao effect” and it never really works that way. The architecture for the sake of being iconic without the program, infrastructure, the support, etc. rarely succeeds.

Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

Courtesy an.onymous.com

IA: We talked briefly about Frank’s idea of re-conceptualizing the practice of architecture, and I think with that comes a new process of production. And one of the things that interest me in that process is the use of models in Gehry’s office. From what I understand, the process always begins with programmatically color-coded massing blocks and studying different configurations between them. Once you arrive at that, then the project becomes a wrapping exercise and about how you design a surface or an envelope that contains the programmatic boxes inside. So how is this any different from the (Dutch) pragmatism where architecture is essentially about mediating program? Behind these beautiful surfaces will we find the same old boxes?

EC: This is a good point! As I mentioned to you earlier, "Rotterdam" was always a place of interest to me. But I think that one of the main aspects about Frank's work and my own personal interest is that architecture without program is not interesting. So in many ways, because the formal or sculptural expression of Frank's work is so strong, people tend to forget that the expression is ultimately of the program and the spaces inside. And I think maybe that is one of the main differences between art and architecture, which you were asking earlier, and that is: architecture has to address or express certain aspects about the program. And the program in this case is not just where the toilets are, but it is it’s purpose. Whereas in art, it's a different kind of program, and to me this is the biggest distinction between the two. It's not scale or form, but it's purpose. Because of that, a lot of time in the design process in Frank's office is dedicated to the exploration of the program, even before one would discuss the formal attributes. And the configuration of the spaces or the volumes is absolutely an integral part of architecture. But the massing blocks are also a way of engaging the client in the process so that you can have a dialogue with them.

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