Eisenman Has at It

New Practices New York competition winner Urban A&O designed the Metropolis booth for ICFF in 2007.

The New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects saluted six young firms last night for winning a jury honor in the New Practices New York competition. Urban A&O, Baumann Architecture, Common Room, Matter Architecture Practice, OpenShop Studio, and David Wallance earned praise in a biennial competition that celebrates small local firms building distinctive practices. But when juror Peter Eisenman started in with comments, the salute felt a little more like a Bronx cheer.

“What I missed was an ideological position,” the imposing theorist/superstar/Yale professor said about the firms’ written matter. “What they wrote about themselves was like copy for ad agencies, not about the process.”

The judging last night mixed architecture-school pinup with Noo Yawk hazing. A jury of five architects and Architect’s Newspaper editor Bill Menking (for whom I often work) reviewed 52 entries, selected six honorees, and dissected their choices under a PowerPoint of winners’ work while entrants and other hangers-on mingled in the audience at the Center for Architecture, the chapter’s gallery and office space in Greenwich Village. In a competition that values innovative business practices over eye-popping design, jurors praised architects for their strategies in landing new work. Eisenman commended them for taking on urban projects rather than just “garage renovations and installations.”

And he expressed some relief that their submissions avoided copycatting the superstars. “I didn’t see Zaha or Rem or Richard Meier or even Bob Stern,” he said. “And that was very positive.”

But as Eisenman’s remarks showed, the criticism last night often landed harder than the accolades. “What we saw were practices which didn’t seem to be assisted by theory,” he went on.

The winners get to lecture at the Center for Architecture this fall. One wonders what they’ll have to say about Eisenman’s output.

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