Between February and August of this year, Luca Farinelli met with some 20 architects, critics, and historians and presented them with an identical sequence of questions, recording each meeting on video. Conversations with Emilio Ambasz, Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Bjarke Ingels, and Thom Mayne can be found in Log
23 (Fall 2011). We continue publishing those interviews here with Preston Scott Cohen, chair of the department of architecture and the Gerald M. McCue Professor of Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design and founder and principal in the firm of Preston Scott Cohen Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Place of birth?
Ashville, North Carolina
What is your profession?
Professor of architecture.
Mountains or sea?
I guess sea. Yes, sea.
Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Unfortunately, the Beatles. It's more trivial, but I'll have to admit it.
Lady Gaga or Beyonce?
Mac or PC?
Do you ride the wave or do you resist it?
I think I resist it.
Do you spell architecture with a capital
What is your favorite color?
I have no idea, honestly.
Plan or section?
Axonometric or perspective?
Plastic or tectonic?
Tectonic. I've evolved undoubtedly from plastic to tectonic. The implications of tectonics -- compression and tension, for example -- are extremely important for the plastic. You can't have the plastic without the tectonic -- it's subsumed under the tectonic.
Is the architect a victim of circumstances?
Largely, yes. But only in the practical sense. Architecture has another genealogy that far exceeds circumstance.
Can architecture be used as a language?
Is architecture a means or an end?
An end with its own means.
Is architecture democratic?
Should architecture be democratic?
I'm afraid it can't be, if by democratic you mean everyone has a role in making every decision that produces it. I don't think any of the arts are democratic. You can't have a committee deciding the plot of art. Representation is problematic because it is politicized. If someone represents the voice of a larger group, they are always politicized by virtue of their obligation to that group and their own self-preservation. This muddles the decisions by the public and diffuses the interests of the architectural.
Spider, bee, or ant. Which is the best architect?
Is architecture masculine or feminine?
I think it's feminine, because it's about the interior. And by the interior, I mean all dimensions of interiority. It's very complex, too subtle and too nuanced to have its projection be what you would call masculine, if I'm going to accept what is likely the definition of masculinity.
One of your favorite buildings?
I'll choose something everyone should know: Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum.
Farnsworth House or Glass House?
Corb or Mies?
I've thought about that many times. I'm back to Corb.
Less or more?
That's tough. I'll go with less.
Form follows function?
Yes, it should.
What are Corb's five points for a new architecture?
five points? The free facade, the free plan, the pilotis, the fenetre en longueur
. . . and what was the final one? It's not the promenade. The roof garden! I love the roof garden! How could I forget it? My little Torus House is all about that.
Greco-Roman or Gothic?
Lately I'm very interested in the Gothic, but I suppose a lot of people have become more interested in the Gothic. I'm going to stick to my guns and say Greco-Roman.
Collage City or Spatial City?
It's not a very good choice. Neither of the above.
Whites or Grays?
Probably Grays, oddly enough. Ultimately, given how many things one has to include, the Grays are the likely victors in this debate.
Is there architecture without architects?
Is there architecture without buildings?
Is architecture autonomous?
Is Main Street OK?
No. The politics of exploiting the assumption that it exists, when clearly it doesn't, is not OK. If it existed, I'd say it's OK, though very marginal to the problem of architecture. I'd be indifferent to it.
Global or local?
Portrait or landscape?
Everything is architecture. Is it?
What is the greatest architectural invention of the past 20 years?
I don't think there's been a great invention in architecture in the last 20 years.
Double envelope. Is the inside to be reflected on the outside?
Dubai. Yea or nay?
Is the blob formal excess or lack of form?
Is utopianism still alive?
No, it's not.
Is architecture hiding behind technology?
Oh yes, lately, definitely.
Is the architect a specialist or a generalist?
Right now, a generalist.
Is the city a place or a condition?
Condition is one of my overused words, so I guess it's a condition.
Did print kill or create architecture?
It didn't do either of those things.
Did animation kill or reinvent architecture?
It certainly didn't reinvent it, and it didn't kill it either. Animation wouldn't be the reason architecture could be dead.
Will simulation kill or enhance architecture?
It is indifferent to architecture and architecture is indifferent to it.
Is the architect working for the client or for society?
Which architect? You mean what the architect should do idealistically, or what I have observed to be the case? They are very different things. My observation would be that they work for the client. What I believe they should do is much more what you would call working for society. They can do things that are obviously in the interest of society, despite their obligation to the client. They can subvert the client.
Between art and science, where is architecture situated?
More in the art category. But it is actually in another category. More like law.
Is digital technology redefining architecture, or is it confusing the architect?
I don't think it is doing either one of those things. It is advancing our ability to be very sophisticated and precise, which improves the discipline, but I don't think it's reinventing architecture. I don't think it is confusing things; it's clarifying. Digital technology requires a far clearer commitment.
Is architecture a conservative discipline?
Yes, it's always in the past. Even when it's in the present, it's in the past.
Is the West going through a midlife crisis?
Midlife? We might be at the end-of-life crisis!
Is architecture itself in crisis, or the solution to it?
I don't believe it's in crisis. There are larger crises than architecture.
Find more conversations in Log 23 (Fall 2011)