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05.29.09 - 09.13.09 | SCI-Arc Gallery
Eric Owen Moss Architects: If Not Now, When?

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Photos by Josh White

Fabrication by Tom Farrage & Co.

Engineering Consulting by Buro Happold

Installation by Hinerfeld-Ward, Inc.: Tom Hinerfeld

Opening Reception: Friday, 05.29.09, 7-9pm
Discussion between Eric Owen Moss and Jeffrey Kipnis: Wednesday, 07.29.09 at 7pm in the SCI-Arc Gallery

If Not Now, When? by Eric Owen Moss

In 1998 the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio joined with SFMOMA and MoMA in a three-museum exhibition and debate examining the intersection of new conceptual design ideas with the burgeoning new capacity to construct objects that, so often in the past, could only be imagined.

The divide that separated visionary architecture from the technical capacity to realize those visions, from Gaudí and Mendelsohn to Lebbeus Woods, seemed suddenly to be narrowing. Now, the hypothesis went, if you could see it in your head, you could deliver it on the site. And the premise of that exhibit and the surrounding discourse has clearly been confirmed in the recent construction of building ideas that once came to life only in drawing…

The Wexner Center in Columbus was designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman as an admixture of an historic, largely masonry structure and an exhaustive examination of the organizational prospects of the steel grid, as the new building addition. The orthogonal system — the grid as conceptual premise in architecture and city planning — runs backwards for millennia, with landmark stops from Hippodamus at Miletus, the first gridded city plan, to the Park Avenue Lever House and Seagram Building.

The Wexner addition is the architect’s effort to finally exhaust the promise of the grid as an ordering and space-making mechanism. The galleries present the grid as floor, as wall, as roof, as glazing system, as lighting, and as structure. But there is more: the tilted grid, the bent grid, the folded grid. Grids uber alles.

The Moss office in its installation offered the Wexner an entirely different perceptual and space-making option. The grid qua grid is centerless, a conceptual neutrality that theoretically extends in every direction, endless, and without a focus.

The Moss alternative examined a contrary ordering mechanism: the curve. The curve suggests a different spatial prospect — the possibility of center. So in the lexicon of shapes, no matter how sophisticated the discussion of intricate geometries, the essential juxtaposition is centered and centerlessness.

Moss built the missing center in the Wexner, supplying the geometric opportunity (intentionally) omitted from the original architect’s design. We called that foreign vantage point the Dancing Bleachers.

The attenuated steel legs — the ribbons — tenuously attached to floor and roof, suggested a concentric order of seats arranged around an implied center. The Moss exhibit at the Wexner implied a spatial center, and simultaneously, a center for advocates to debate, surrounded by a seated group of participants. Hyde Park at the Wexner.

The Wexner exhibit constructed that prospect of a center for debate, surrounded by the studied manifestations of gridded neutrality.

Not long after the three-museum exhibition, the Moss office was invited to design a high-rise structure in Los Angeles at the corner of La Cienega Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue, adjacent to a long anticipated surface rail stop intended to connect the Westside of Los Angeles with downtown. The site is located in the south-central portion of Los Angeles in a poor, minority area, well known for two race riots, but for little else — left dormant for years as various other parts of the city were redeveloped.

The high-rise project was designed, applying the antithetical grid premise first used in the Dancing Bleachers. The tower buildings — there were initially two — were designed without the conventional orthogonal order of columns and beams, but rather were supported with a dense, curvilinear order of ribbons, neither beams nor columns, that densely circumscribe and support the building.

The Moss office received final planning and design approval from the City of Los Angeles in 2008 to construct the high-rise, now a single tower, that will adjoin the downtown-to-the-Westside surface rail route currently under construction.

The tower is called Bondage.

Today the single tower building is being re-drawn and re-engineered by Greg Otto at Buro Happold, interrogating the original conceptual strategy and form-making capacity first examined in the Dancing Bleachers.

Construction will begin in 2010.

The Moss exhibit at SCI-Arc, scheduled for May 2009, re-examines both the content of the Wexner exhibition and the premises of the Bondage Tower at La Cienega and Jefferson. Again, the ubiquitous grid of the surrounding concrete gallery space, and, by implication, the enduring grid pro forma that continues to inhabit the planning and architecture discourse is contested by the curvilinear spatial nemesis.

It’s past time to defoliate that grid. But if I do that, the opposition between orthogonal and curvilinear is gone.

Architecture needs an enemy.

So we present the ubiquitous grid as a metal box, hung as a conceptual foil from the gallery roof. The ribbons and box intertwine. And Bondage re-makes the grid.

The Moss exhibit promises a colloquium, an audience assembled to observe the grid-in-bondage discourse (which may or may not actually transpire). And the form language of the ribbons suggests the prospect of a center or of multiple centers, whether or not those centers are discoverable in the installation. The exhibit elevates the aluminum box, attached to the gallery roof, bound by plasma cut aluminum ribbons that belong to the geometric and space making order of curves.

The attached box confirms a speakers area directly below.

The speakers space is surrounded by orthogonal rows of old chairs, likely to be empty, that provide permanent seats for an assembly that, as with the Dancing Bleachers, may or may not take place.

About Eric Owen Moss

Eric Owen Moss holds Masters Degrees in Architecture from both Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Eric Owen Moss Architects was founded in 1973. The office, located in Los Angeles, California, is currently staffed with twenty-five professionals designing and constructing projects in the United States and around the world.

The firm has garnered over sixty design awards from Progressive Architecture magazine and the American Institute of Architects. In 1999, Moss won the Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2001, the firm won the AIA/LA Gold Medal for Design; and in 2003, Moss won the Gold Medal Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of California at Berkeley.

There are ten published monographs on the Moss office, including three by Rizzoli and one, Gnostic Architecture, by Monacelli Press. Most recent are Eric Owen Moss — The Uncertainty of Doing, published by Skira in 2006, Eric Owen Moss – Provisional Paradigms published by Marsilio in 2007, and Eric Owen Moss – Construction Manual to be published by the AADCU in 2009.

Moss continues to build, teach, lecture and exhibit. In 2002, the firm won two competitions in St. Petersburg, Russia, one for the New Mariinsky Theatre, the second for the redevelopment of New Holland. In 2003, Eric Owen Moss Architects won the international competition for the Queens Museum of Art in New York. In 2006, the Moss office won the City of the Future competition — LA, NY, Chicago — sponsored by the History Channel. The Moss firm has been featured regularly at the Venice Biennial, with exhibits that have included the controversial proposal for the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, at the Russian Pavilion in 2002, and the international competition entries for the National Library in Mexico City and the Smithsonian Institute in 2004. In 2006, the firm exhibited the Los Angeles/Culver City project in the Cities, Architecture, and Society section of the Biennale.

Eric Owen Moss first taught at SCI-Arc in 1974 and was appointed director in 2002. He has held chairs at Yale and Harvard universities, and appointments at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.

Moss is the 2007 Arnold Brunner Memorial Prize recipient from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for “a significant contribution to architecture as an art.”

About Tom Farrage

Tom Farrage studied architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) where he received a degree in 1987. After a brief apprenticeship, he founded Tom Farrage & Co. in 1988.

Specializing in the conceptualization, design development and fabrication of diverse projects, Farrage works primarily in metal, but has also constructed projects in wood, plastic and glass. His clientele consists mainly of award-winning architects and firms and has been widely published by leading international art and architecture magazines.

In 1993 Tom responded to the increasing demands for his architectural services by establishing the architectural firm Nakao :: Farrage Architects. Based on a design / build concept, they together have completed projects such as Smashbox Studios and HSI Productions in Culver City, and are presently engaged in the design and construction of a Maronite Catholic Church in Anaheim, California.

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