We define the theme of this year’s Venice Biennale, Common Ground, in physical as well as in intellectual terms. Physically, the intense intersection of the “detail”—the convergence of ideas, materiality, tectonics, and construc- tion—guided our vision of common ground through its inherently collaborative nature. An architect’s voice and vision remains intact as existential evidence of their ideas. We have framed each detail as a totem – an object carrying an abstract spirit of its own, an animistic character that echoes the personality and signature of an architect. By isolat- ing details and presenting them at half scale, one starts to inhabit this menagerie of architectural ideas as one detail starts to speak to another; they echo each other’s history, precedents, and references.
The idea of “details” is a particular homage to Carlo Scarpa, the architect of Veneto, and also to Piranesi, both of whom used details as moments of manifesto and as a springboard for their fertile imaginations and for the spaces they created.
Over the years, we have had the opportunity to work next to, in reference to, and in addition to the works of archi- tects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Paul Rudolph, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, and Philip Johnson. Five details represent each of these five Masters. Our intellectual response is represented in the five details that stand in paral- lel dialogue. These are silent exchanges with deceased Masters, yet conversations and speculations continue on, creating an intellectual continuity within the language of contemporary architecture.
All architecture must inevitably contend with history and gravity. These two forces are both fundamental and univer- sal; to confront them is accordingly not only to take the crucial first step in any attempt to reinvent the contemporary language of architecture but to connect to a vast lineage of historical precedents, creating a platform for devel- oping the discipline’s future as well as reflecting on its past. In my case, a series of dialogues with five American masters transpired from projects that required me to work next to, in addition to, or in reference to their creations.
Through these projects, we discovered that close studies at the level of the detail create moments of complex interchange, both literal and historical, disciplinary and existential. The details presented here are wall sections, the interface between interior and exterior. This liminal zone has always been contested: the twentieth century strove for a transparent boundary that could expose interiority through psychoanalysis, while the twenty-first century attempts to erase that boundary through virtual space. And so these five pairs of “totems” express common technical and tectonic concerns even as they mark the historical transition of architecture from the past, through the present, into the future.
Reference to: Philip Johnson’s Glass House and Greenberg Lee Cooking Pavilion
Philip Johnson’s Glass House has large window panes that are placed, proud of their frames, directly on the floor. In the Greenberg Lee Cooking Pavilion, a glass plane wraps the outermost surface of the building, projecting off the roof and cantilevering out from the floor, creating a condition where frames are lost and only the plane defines the volume.
Reference to: Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Greenberg Lee Main House
The Farnsworth House is exoskeletal, with an extrinsic structure capsuling the glass walls. A glass plane is inserted between the ceiling and the floor, creating a pure glass box inside the structural frame. The Greenberg Lee Main House has an intrinsic structure, creating a glass wrapper at equal dimensions from the roof and the floor to ex- press a condition of neutral suspension. If the horizon is the datum of human habitation, this house exists at equal measure between earth and sky.
Next to: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House and Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion
The Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion details counteract those of the Darwin D. Martin House: the Pavilion’s roof is a reverse hip-roof, and the use of glass opposes the solid nature of opaque brick. However, the Pavilion’s large triple-glazed glass panes grow out of the ground, cantilevered by continuous steel channels. Its plan reflects the open plan of the Martin House, which is supported by piers. This dialogue is an interpretation of Wright’s prin- ciples with contemporary materials and technology to create a new paradigm of organic architecture.
Addition to: Paul Rudolph’s Burkhardt House and House on the Gulf of Mexico I
The horizontal datum of the original house is extended by the pool house, which serves as a connective element of addition. The structural geometry reflects the rhythm and the lightness of the interior experience, where skeleton and transparency dominate. Our detail inverts the original house by reflecting a necessary change in structure for hur- ricane resistance: the new addition is constructed of steel and concrete whereas the original house is composed of wood with masonry infill.
Addition to: Marcel Breuer’s Breuer House, New Canaan II and House in Connecticut II
The original house, Breuer’s personal home for 25 years, is small but possesses monumental stone walls. Our addi- tion is taller and larger, and its base is the same height as the original house. The glass box topping our addition has a different translucency, opacity and transparency, creating a mutable effect that diminished its size through the re- flection of nature and light. The vertical extenuation from the taller and lighter addition contrasts with and increases the gravitas of the original house. It is a study in monumentality, size, and scale.
Tietz + Baccon (Erik Tietz, Brian Cronin)
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University: Janet Parks The Chicago History Museum
The Farnsworth House: Whitney French
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation: Margo Stipe
Martin House Restoration Corporation: Jonathan Claeys, Hector P. Garrido, Ted Lownie, Mary Roberts The Museum of Modern Art: Paul Galloway
The Philip Johnson Glass House, National Trust for Historic Preservation: Irene Allen, Henry Urbach Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP, Chicago: William Baker
Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library: Sean Quimby,
With the support of:
Ed and Betsy Cohen
Robert and Susan Bishop
Robert Greenberg and Corvova Lee
David & Deborah Prutting, Prutting & Co. Custom Builders L.L.C.