A book review by Michael Webb
A good interview requires an interlocutor who has researched his subject but manifests a lively curiosity to discover more. She must be a good listener, who knows when to provoke and when to stay silent, and who can steer the conversation while encouraging the subject to express himself freely. It’s a tricky balancing act and Vladimir Belogolovsky seems to have mastered it, for he draws enlightening responses from 30 widely varied practitioners in Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity. The interviews range over a decade and almost all sound fresh—as though these architects were talking about themselves and their work for the first time. Charm, and an air of naïvete may have played a part: Russians speaking English in an accent that evokes the wind sighing in the trees can be wonderfully engaging.
As a mosaic of the current architectural scene and the plurality of opinions, this collection has much to offer. In a couple of introductory exchanges, Charles Jencks and Kenneth Frampton offer radically different assessments. Belogolovsky himself opines that “Stararchitects assure healthy diversity and, apart from their stylistic identities, they encourage the development of innovative technologies and sophistication. They are our catalysts—they either succeed or fail in the most spectacular ways.” They raise public awareness and provoke debate.
The architects he interviews include a few stars and many who would angrily reject such a concept. Modest or ambitious, each cherishes a vision. For Peter Eisenmann, a house is a critical statement more than a place to live, whereas Steven Holl values the experiential over the theories that guide his work. Alejandro Aravena describes Chile as “an island nation—remoteness protects us from arbitrariness and trendiness.” Elizabeth Diller prioritizes invention and originality in everything her firm designs. As she explains, “I think questions are beautiful. The answers are dead.” It’s fascinating to compare these architects’ utterances with their buildings and see how close a correspondence there is.
Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity, Vladimir Belogolovsky, DOM Publishers, Berlin; $49.95.