Grounded: Eisenman Architects exhibition at the Sci-Arc Gallery

From February 23-April 22, 2007, the SCI-Arc Gallery is presenting Grounded, an installation by the world-renowned Eisenman Architects. Most of Peter Eisenman’s work has sought to overcome the traditional idea of architecture as a figure on a ground by “figuring the ground”: making ground a figure. Some projects carve into the ground, while others manipulate the ground surface to create a figured ground. Conceptually, the projects excavate information in both space and time, extending and superimposing plans and grids, creating traces of the past.

This installation considers Eisenman’s “groundwork” from one of the earliest projects, the Cannareggio Town Square in Venice (1978), to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio (1989) and the City of Culture in Galicia, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain (currently under construction).

Beginning from the conventional notion of the gallery wall as “ground,” the installation uses the wall to register each of the three projects’ differing relations with the ground. Rather than treat the gallery wall as the project’s ground, here the solid wall represents space, and the voids carved into the wall mark the buildings’ forms, inverting the expected object/wall relationship. The installation offers visitors a worm’s-eye view of the work and an understanding of the spatial qualities of a figured ground that would be impossible to see in the actual built works.

In response to an invited international competition to design a major public open space in Venice, the Cannaregio Town Square was one of the first of Eisenman’s projects to “break ground.” Starting from the notion of an architecture that invents its own site and program, the project creates a fictitious site continuing the grid of Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital as a series of voids carved into the ground. Objects of an earlier project, Eisenman’s House 11a, occupy this landscape at various scales. The Wexner Center for the Arts exists almost as a “non-building” an archaeological earthwork whose essential elements are scaffolding and landscaping. The invented site combines the 12.25-degree rotation of the Ohio State campus from the street grid of the surrounding city of Columbus with the traces, both excavated from the ground and freestanding, of the old Armory that previously occupied the site. The site of the six-building City of Culture of Galicia, combines the coquille shell (the symbol of Santiago) and the plan of the old city center. Rather than see the project as a series of discrete buildings the traditional form of figure/ground urbanism the buildings of the center are incised into the ground to form a figure/figure urbanism in which the buildings and topography merge into figures.

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