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August 1, 2012
by Daniel Fox

As a part of the AIANY Oculus Book Talk Series, Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, presented his latest book, Five North American Architects: An Anthology by Kenneth Frampton (Lars Muller Publishers, 2012) at the Center for Architecture [editor’s note: read the Oculus Book Review here]. The book is the result of a symposium held at Columbia University during the fall of 2010 to commemorate his 80th birthday. The subjects of the program included: Stanley Saitowitz, Brigitte Shim + Howard Sutcliffe, Rick Joy, John + Patricia Patkau, and Steven Holl, FAIA, the subjects of his book.

In June, Miguel Baltierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, interviewed Frampton. Here is an excerpt of his full interview:

Miguel Baltierra: On 11.10. 10, Columbia University hosted a symposium in celebration of your 80th birthday. All the architects featured in the book presented their work, and then participated in a one-hour discussion with you and the audience. What did you wish to accomplish and communicate to the profession about the five architecture firms you picked to represent North America?

Kenneth Frampton: I’m not sure I really had any a priori idea of communicating anything in particular, but I suppose these five could be seen to representing North American practitioners, who perhaps have values that might be associated with what I once tried to define, along with Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, as “critical regionalism.” Although I barely mention that in the introductory text…it is fairly obvious that there is this connection. So that is perhaps one unconscious attempt to recognize that aspect in the North American continent.

I suppose though, it’s important to admit at the outset…that this selection – why these five and not others – is always difficult to explain…Part of my raison d’etre if selecting these five is connected to the way in which we normally define North America. I don’t think it is unfair to say for my colleagues here at Columbia or maybe for many architects here in New York City and not only in New York City, that the term “North America,” consciously or unconsciously, is generally construed as being the United States. I wish in this case by choosing two Canadian architects and three architects from the United States, to somehow polemically illustrate the fact that, strictly speaking, North America is Canada and the United States together and not simply the U.S.

I have been and I am still very much impressed by the quality of Canadian work. Not everything of course, but I think there are four or five truly significant architectural practices in Canada…So that explains the choice of John and Patricia Patkau of Vancouver and Bridgette Shim and Howard Sutcliff in Toronto.

In terms of the other three practices…I had a regional notion in my head to choose one East Coast figure. That was Steven Holl, my colleague here at Columbia University. He is quite clearly an incredibly talented and distinguished architect and, for that matter, a loyal friend….I thought that Stanley Saitowitz could be said to represent the West Coast…and then the third, of the three American’s, was Rick Joy in Tucson, Arizona.

MB: What examples can you share of the exceptional values they demonstrate?

KF: Although the symposium took place almost two years ago, there is something very topical happening right now, almost by accident. These five architects will be featured in the coming Venice Biennale, curated by David Chipperfield, opening at the end of August. I think of it as a prologue to answering that question…I might say that it is almost by accident, but not entirely by accident.

The five have been invited to participate in this international exhibition and the main reason was the publication of the book…I sent a copy to David Chipperfield. And on the strength of that he decided to invite the five as exemplifying what he has generally called “common ground” as the theme of the forthcoming biennale. It alludes to this idea of common ground: what is it they have in common?

In my introductory text of the book, I felt the need to spell out what that was…landscape, material, structure, craft, space, and light…As an afterthought in the same text, I thought all of them share some propensity for typological invention. These terms were to be picked up by Steven Holl in subsequent discussions with me with particular regards to the forthcoming exhibition we are trying to curate together for the biennale.

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