For and against Steven Holl Let’s start from mu­sic

Steven Holl in con­ver­sa­tion with Michele De Lucchi

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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

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