For and against Steven Holl Let’s start from music
Steven Holl in conversation with Michele De Lucchi
Michele De Lucchi When I took over as editor of Domus several months ago, I thought I needed to have one central concept, a reference idea, and to make everything follow on from that. My point was, and it still is today, that unlike animals, all the things we make are objects, because as human beings that’s what we do: we make objects. In making them, we express an artistic desire. But above all we draw on increasingly advanced technology, and on each occasion we try to obtain something different, something that evolves, in order to become more conscious of the planet we inhabit. In your opinion, is it correct that everything is an object — that chairs are objects, vases are objects, tables are objects, but also buildings are objects? Steven Holl Actually, I would take the opposite view. I think that five pieces laid down inside a frame (as in the exhibition dedicated to my work at the Jannone Gallery in Milan earlier this year) form urban spaces. When they add up or when they are laid on the ground they become a space. As an example, I can also mention my unbuilt project for Porta Vittoria in Milan, from 1986. Back then there was a polemic of the rationalists, who said that the city can only be made from morphology and typology. I completely rejected these two things. First I make perspectives from space, and then I project backwards into plans and sections. My plans for Porta Vittoria were conceived with the reverse process of making the space first as a drawing, and then making the morphology of how pedestrians might move inside that. What I think is provocative about your statement is that it makes you think about the contrary scenario. Any time you make a statement, you make an affirmation and you make a negation, and this dynamic of affirmation and negation also lies at the core of the planning discussion. MDL In fact, we could also state that objects create space and space creates objects. It’s a continuous interaction. In any case, if we see
the space from a distance it becomes an object. SH If you say that everything — including the city — is an object, then from the sky Milan is a series of circles, whereas Manhattan is long and thin, and Venice seems like two interlocking hands. MDL I know that you are also very interested in music. You use it for your work to stimulate creativity in some way. SH This is also a way of teaching. I teach at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Today, when you teach architecture and you assign a certain programme or site, it’s very easy for the students to come up with some computergenerated shapes without having an interesting project. So I say: “Let’s start from music. Let’s start with a fragment of a piece of music, using the thought that music surrounds and engulfs us, and it’s an immersive experience.” And that’s what architecture is too: an immersive experience. So although from this standpoint music has no façade or front, we think of architecture as being generated from a fragment of a piece of music. Our studio has now been going for almost nine years. For instance, we might start from a piece by Edgar Varese, a great composer who was born in Paris and was a very close friend of Duchamp. He was the man whom Le Corbusier chose to do the music for the Philips Pavilion of the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958.
This spread: Steven Holl, project for Porta Vittoria, Milan, Italy This page, bottom: site overview, 1986, ink on paper, 60.9 x 243.8 cm. Opposite page: view from the court of a four-sided pentagon, perspective and plan, 1986, graphite, ink and ink wash on paper, 75.5 x 56.5 cm