Inside SCI-Arc


Gathering in memory of Raimund Abraham
An international legacy and a rich collaboration with SCI-Arc

LOS ANGELES –(March 5, 2010)—A gathering was held at the Southern California Institute of Architecture on Friday afternoon to celebrate the life and work of architect Raimund J. Abraham.

Abraham, a visiting faculty member at SCI-Arc, died early Thursday in a car accident in downtown Los Angeles. He had given a lecture at SCI-Arc on Wednesday evening, hours before his death.

WATCH Abraham's last lecture >>

A close friend of the SCI-Arc community, Raimund Abraham first lectured at the school in 1982. He exhibited at the school and beginning in 2003 he frequently served as visiting faculty member.

Read Eric Owen Moss' introduction to Raimund Abraham's lecture >>

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Abraham, an accomplished architect and educator in Europe and the United States, was born in 1933 in Lienz, Tyrol. He emigrated from Austria to the United States in 1964, and taught at the Cooper Union for more than 30 years. Abraham pursued his artistic and scholarly interests in architecture with an emphasis less on building than on thought expressed through an extraordinary body of drawn work, as seen in his 1996 monograph [Un]built. His best-known building is the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, which opened in 2002.

At SCI-Arc in 2003 he presented the exhibition "Stargazer," an installation of seven star-viewing towers through which he considered temporality, collapsible structures and “vanishing architecture."

He wrote that in previous temporary constructions he tried to make the participant inseparable from space, but, "in Stargazer, the actual participant is imaginary, invisibly frozen in a fractional frame of infinite time."

In 2006, Abraham exhibited drawings and models at SCI-Arc for the JingYa Ocean Entertainment Center in Beijing. For the project he devised a new type of curtain-wall that surrounds and veils its interior structure. "Since the designated site in Beijing . . . had been voided of its urbanistic memory, I was forced to create my own site, my own memory, in order to provide the essential perimeters for the architectural intervention," he wrote.

In the current term at SCI-Arc he was teaching the vertical studio "Space-Stations Mexico," which involved mapping and site analysis at macro and micro scales.

Wednesday night, Abraham joked that he liked to lecture at SCI-Arc because Director Eric Owen Moss always succeeded at inflating his ego. In the lecture entitled "The Profanation of Solitude," he argued that architectural drawing is architecture, a pure manifestation unmitigated by the exigencies of buildings. He then presented three of his built works.

The first was a house he designed for himself in rural Mexico, completed in 2007. He recounted that his friend Ken Frampton questioned the size of its heavy roof structure, to which he replied "when I sit under that roof, I want to have the weight of my architecture above me."

Rare photographs of the private areas of the house show the kitchen (and his daughter, a chef in Vienna) and the large dining table--which he said was part of the architecture and illustrated that he was "an incurable formalist."

The second project he showed was the Austrian Cultural Forum—a 25-foot-wide building in midtown Manhattan that he said could not be built today because of current building codes.

Abraham ended his lecture with a music house, still in construction, that is part of a "sanctuary for the arts" near a former NATO missile base in Hombroich, Germany. He designed it for his friend Karl-Heinrich Muller, the visionary founder of a "radical" personal museum, the Insel Hombroich Foundation.

Abraham first studied architecture in Graz and had an architectural studio in Vienna in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He emigrated to the United States in 1964 and first taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1971 he moved to New York, where he taught at Cooper Union until his retirement in 2002. In addition to his professorship at Cooper Union, Abraham taught at Harvard, Yale, the Pratt Institute and at universities in Graz, Houston, London, Strasbourg, and Los Angeles.

Abraham's work has been shown widely throughout Europe, Mexico, and the US, with exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museo Correr, Venice, Italy; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Pinakothek, Athens; National Gallery, Berlin; Leo Castelli Gallery, New York; Architektur Museum, Frankfurt; the Venice Biennale; Krinzinger Gallery, Innsbruck; Architectural League, New York; and the Graham Foundation, Chicago.

In his final lecture at SCI-Arc Wednesday, he made references to Heidegger, Mies van der Rohe, and Aldo van Eyck—whom he described as a "forgotten" architect and "one of the great humanists in modern architecture."

But Abraham concluded with the central theme of his work: the primacy of the architectural drawing. He specifically addressed students in the audience: An alternative way of making architecture "means you don't have to become a slave in a corporate office or groupie of a celebrity architect, because all you need is a piece of paper, a pencil and the desire to make architecture."

Other links:
Los Angeles Times obituary >>
New York Times obituary >>
Architect's Newspaper on Abraham's tragic death >>
News story on >>
Story on >>
Lebbeus Woods's Blog >>