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Thom Mayne, Sixth Street House is one of a series of publications of Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The catalogue was published in connection with an exhibition of work by Thom Mayne, Eliot Noyes Visiting Design Critic in Architecture, in the fall of 1988 at Gund Hall Gallery

Copyright © 1989 by George Wagner. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. The essays herein are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Harvard University Graduate School of Design, or any of its programs or faculty.

International Standard Book Number 0-935617-12-4 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 88-083838

Published by Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Copies of Thom Mayne, Sixth Street House can be purchased from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Office of Special Programs, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138; 617-495-9340.

Thorn Mayne Sixth Street House

Edited by George Wagner

Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Characters in Search of

The "pieces" populating the work of Morphosis, particularly the eleven characters inhabiting Thom Mayne's Sixth Street Project, appear to have emerged from a Pirandellian fantasy. The house's two-part shell- relatively symmetrical and vaguely reminiscent of a Venetian palazzetto via Adolf Loos - is conceptually arrogated by the insistent clamor of the protruding, occluding and intruding array of these eleven diverse elements. In the drawings, these elements are designated alphabetically" A" through" K" rather than numerically "1" through" 11 ," perhaps referring to the difficulty in naming them while teasing the drawings' would-be reader with the elements' acceptance of a potential name-producing system.

The elements subscribe to a form of anti-realism: they distort scale, subvert typological expectations and assert functional neologisms. Most critically, they affirm the presence of an artistic intervention, not through the traditional system of form validated through order but instead through the presentation of form in disarray. (Actually, considering current developments in the branch of science devoted to chaos, one could reasonably see the basis of a [neo-]neorealism in such an approach.)

Because of their elaborate textural qualities and appealing compositional values, evocative of those of Louis Kahn, a Morphosis project's individual plans and sections tend toward a twodimensionality that could be paralyzing were it not for the ubiquitous machine-object. Rarely do these "machines" actually function in the manner one has come to expect of a mechanical device in the heartland of Banharn's Four Ecologies. Instead, the machines' functions are limited to the cerebral realm: during the design process, they thrust the design and the designer's efforts from the flatness of a piece of vellum to the three-dimensionality of a projected architectural space;

once built, they act as inanimate totems. They help manufacture the architecture and then explicate the process that caused the architecture to appear.

The Play Structure at the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, like the Robert Graham column in the outer room at 72 Market Street, inhabits its volume like an earthbound space probe that has just signed on for a season with the Oscar Schlemmer dance troupe. "Play" tells us less about the structure's use than about what it appears to be doing.

Perhaps this is the most provocative aspect of the objets mecsniques. in their stillness, they repudiate the more overt sensibilities that modernism has affixed to motion, supplanting them with a concretion of temporal and locational change at once more tangibly immediate and phenomenally retrospective.

Each intricate yet rusted appliance stands frozen and de-functionalized - if indeed its function can even be uncoded - and "trapped" within a gleaming hulk. It is a spent technology within a pristine stronghold. A Morphosized building often unfolds as an improbable palimpsest, with peeling Piranesi revealing Mad Max, and the present delimited by the convergence of an expired futurism and a vital archaism.

Furthermore, while the machine-objects are generally motionless, or nearly motionless, they are often positioned so as to appear to have recently traveled. In the Sixth Street Project, for example, the fireplace/stove (6) appears to have forfeited its hereditary associations with the hearth (heart), yanking its flue askew along with many traditional notions of center. As a form, (6) suggests the momentary awkwardness of a graceful act as it might be displayed in a Muybridge still.

Because most of the recent work of Morphosis seems to reject any encouragement from precedent, preferring instead to initiate the perceiver to a more intimate challenge of a singular order, issues of both origin and practice inevitably arise.

The origin of the firm's work is not found in prior works of architecture per se, but instead in the effects of architecture. In this regard, the work of Morphosis bears considerable resemblance to the work of another namesake of "form" - Morpheus, son of Somnus and god of dreams. It was his province to shape the impalpable, to cause individuals to experience the implausible and to fabricate an autonomous world during the sleeping hours. For the ancient Greeks, the artifice of Dream disclosed the domain of Form, and that domain was shaped not by any causitive factors of the dreamer's life (that concept emerges much later), but by the god's desired effects.

The oneiric angels of Angeli may borrow certain characteristics from their Baroque progenitors-apparent weightlessness combined with an overripe massiveness and a confrontational predisposition - but they are operating instead within a formal system more representational of popular mechanics and ancient besiegement devices than of the human physique: with no visible means of support, a tidy, white airduct is propelled through the dining room toward a rough-hewn battering ram, which is itself flying in on less-thangossamer wings. Besides the obvious metaphorical references, the effects are of weight/weightlessness, darkness/light, solidity/hollowness, whimsy/expedience, the crafted/the engineered and archaism/modernity. Since this conception of origin depends on engaging perceivers at a level at which they can discern the work's narrative structures (after a suitable suspension of disbelief), the practice of this architecture must be directed toward the domain of discourse. As with any architectural work, there are two such domains

available: the formal presentation or exhibition drawing, which is the architect's last direct contact with the architecture and the public and his sole opportunity to delimit perception; and the completed construction, which succeeds such contact and opens an infinite range of observation. For Morphosis, the challenge is twofold: to imbue the building with the sensibility of the drawing, and to imbue the drawing with the sensibility of its production.

What Rosalind Krauss described as the "space of exhibition," particularly evident in nineteenth-century art, has largely dissipated as an issue with regard to twentieth-century drawings. The principal forums anticipated by the architect for the exhibition of architectural drawings are the magazine, the text and the monograph (for example, this, in your hands). They are the exclusive forums for un built works. The drawings that appear in these publications are typically dimensionless, that is, they are reproductions indeterminately larger or smaller than the original drawings. Most contemporary "presentation" drawings are produced in acknowledgment of this unpredictable space of exhibition, with a heavyhanded vacuousness that prepares them for any reductive contingency.

On the other hand, the drawings of Morphosis are almost always inadequately reproduced: lines disappear. blacks bleed together and, on occasion, pieces are mysteriously cropped. Quite possibly this is because the firm's drawings approach a nineteenthcentury conception of their proper exhibition space. They are produced at the scale of a standard drafting board and therefore always refer to their production, even when reduced. By containing oblique hardlined 'sketches: superimposed registration lines and after-images of drawings once taped beneath, the drawings subjugate facile legibility to provide a necessarily abridged, although still extraordinarily intricate record of the act, or better yet, the effects of the act of design.

Even Morphosis's exhibition models avoid realistic modeling techniques. The model of the Sixth Street Project remains an abstraction of the design and maintains the drawings' formative references. Its surfaces are indefinite as to materials, but suggest materiality. The model's base substitutes for the drawings' marginalia: it inverts the building's apparent order of mass, provides a proportional reference for the building, recommends a menu of materials and suggests a mode of analysis.

These approaches to drawing and modeling become manifest in the buildings of Morphosis, not only through the discursive aspects of confrontational forms, but also through the actual construction of lines-etched, projecting, revealed and painted. Whether looking at the drawings or wandering through the buildings, the viewer is offered a vicarious complicity in the process of design.

Finally, it is the pieces, the dramatis personae of the various Morphosis tableaux, which are the perceiver's accomplices in this formal complicity. And, like so many Cheshire Cats, their allusive grins shine from the drawings' edges as their corporeal presences mystify while provoking the perceiver toward revelations.

Alice ... went on. "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland

Val K. Warke

Chairman of the Department of Architecture Cornell University

Framing model, Sixth Street House

Drawings, Machines and Morphosis

This publication is devoted to a design for a house that will probably never be built. That design, for the Sixth Street House by Thom Mayne and Morphosis, was produced between 1984 and 1988. The design absorbs-one could say erases-an existing bungalow in Venice, California, owned by the architect. At some moment in the process of design, the rudimentary exigencies of shelter were overcome by a transfixed idolatry; the house became a medium for architectural research. Liberating the project from the propulsive forces of production, this attention has nurtured the design's simultaneous intensity and opacity, both literal and theoretical. As a result, the continuous refinement of the project allowed it to become the field for the invention of elements and themes employed in the firm's subsequent work. This catalogue traces the development of that research, and records the varying means of representation in conception and presentation.

The architectural practice of Morphosis is compellingly contemporary. Its international reputation is built on a handful of small projects of high quality and modest budgets. Of note has been the firm's employment of the apparatus of publication and publicity (for example, eleven Progressive Architecture awards since 1974), and its concomitant use of drawing and graphic design as a vehicle for the construction of an identity. Spread thinly across the media, each project is monumentalized by frequent publication. The visibility of the projects, constrained and defined by the Southern California market of modish restaurants, boutiques, pads and discos, has projected the work into the "public" life of Los Angeles, despite the projects' consistently small size. While success for many firms has meant little time for executing presentation drawings amid the rigors of production, each newly published project of Morphosis celebrates and refines current trends in graphic representation. On view in the

galleries of New York and Los Angeles, the drawings and models now populate the art world. However, Morphosis's demonstration at the visible levers of contemporary ambition does not obliterate the strengths of the work promoted; rather, such practice should be understood as standard procedure for the national success of young architects, especially since the vanguard media saturation by Michael Graves.

Drawings

The work of Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi acquires such presence in drawing and model-making, discovering and defining its formal terms so clearly through these formats, that the built work's authority as the terminal moment of architectural expression is challenged. Traditionally, architectural drawing has been regarded as a passive yet accurate means of representation, bound to objectivity and conveying the facts of building or the projection of a design. Alternatively, drawing can be seen as a window onto the architect's subjective vision, isolating its effect from the physical world of the bUilding-that of materials and gravity. In contrast to either of these formulations, the act of drawing in the work of Mayne and Rotondi seems to inscribe itself physically into the building. Reading the drawings, the eye ricochets between the object depicted and the page depicting, binding them together while attempting to sort them out. The techniques of drawing-tracing, rotation, projection and reduction - are not isolated representational processes, but rather are integrated into the conception of the building, becoming the animated seeds of a spatial dynamic.

Play Structure, Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, by Morphosis

An effect of the architectural drawing's traditional "objectivity" has been an insistence upon the building as the ultimate verification of its graphic representation. In a hierarchical relationship, the art of drawing has passively served the art of architecture. Mayne and Rotondi challenge this hierarchy by offering architecture and drawing equal status; the two are placed in open confrontation. The danger, of course - and one should be reminded that Mayne and Rotondi are architects who build-is that the wrong one will win. In an era when architectural drawings have successfully competed with buildings for notoriety, simultaneously shifting the focus of architectural dialogue from the built to the speculative, the techniques of drawing - the "simulated effects" of graphic design - have often dominated. The architectural drawing's prestige and heightened craft have created a situation in which one could interpret the building as an illustration of the drawing, while being warned, however, that graphic virtuosity is not necessarily transmissible to spatial quality; that two dimensions are not three.

For Morphosis, depiction is bound to construction.

Drawing, like architecture or lithography, is constructed - these are all constructive logics - and the cultivation of such equivalencies is the hallmark of Mayne and Rotondi's work. For these architects, a drawing or model is built as one builds a building, not just physically, but intellectually, through exploitation of the medium's logic. Building, drawing and model parallel one another, not just in common reference to some finished state but also in the mediation of technique, material and content toward the realization of a formal autonomy. Aesthetically, each format stands alone in its intensity, while conceptually the pieces are interlocked.

Longitudinal section of six-cylinder Ricardo engine From Harry R. Ricardo, The Internal-Combustion Engine, Vol. II. London: Blackie and Son Limited, 1923

Exploded axonometric plan of Crawford House by Morphosis

Machines

Mechanisms often have a certain obvious beauty, because the substances employed by us happen to be governed by relatively simple laws, and, much in the manner of graphs, they exemplify those laws. The tendency towards electrification is creating machines that are practically formless, "castings" containing insignificant spools. By the time we have got to disintegrating the atom, it may be there

will be nothing at all worth looking at. Our mechanism is primitive, and that is why it still looks gratifyingly geometric.

Ozenfant in Foundations of Art (1931)'

"Temple or Machine? The First Sulzer Compressor" From Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1952

To understand how the machine is conceptualized in Morphosis's work, it is necessary to trace the machine's lineage, because the time and place of the work so strongly eludes the presence of a historical pedigree. Machines were once the proud badge of modernity. "THE MACHINE IS THE RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION OF TODAY.'" Beauty, utility and efficiency were bound up together. An investment in pure use seemed to promise a return of pure beauty. Fernand Leger wrote of the automobile in 1924: "It is even a curious fact that the more the machine perfects its utilitarian functions, the more beautiful it becomes."l The optimistic desire for progress, imagining that the future's image will express technical advance, is a historical phenomenon. For the early Modernists-for Leger, Severini, the Futurists - the utility of the machine was the important aspect of its appeal; they wanted the new art to be both beautiful and necessary. But it happened otherwise: elegance and utility could not sustain their brief affair, even though the flirtation was justified by the moral imperatives of purism. And yet, as machines have become integral to our lives, their imagery is not easily derived by exploiting their physical properties, or even from an expression of the machines' use, but rather from the external application of a cultural veneer. The internal body of the machine -the "moving parts" that frequently no longer move-has been repressed. As machines multiply, the idea of the mechanical has entered the realm of nostalgia.

Critical silence has accompanied the machine's Ubiquity.

The complexity of our relationship with machines has only been reticently engaged. They are viewed as parasites on artistic culture, devouring aura and depreciating authenticity. In the myths of a high and low culture, the machine belongs to the low, and it is noteworthy that these affiliations carry class references as well. Another big problem is use: it is the characteristic that defines the machine, yet art isn't supposed to have a use. If something doesn't work, it's useless as a machine, yet that fact alone doesn't make it art. How is

the architect to engage the machine as subject matter? Typically he or she has chosen to represent the forces of production in the building's materiality. To do so is to render technology essential but to deny an aesthetic distance. The affirmation of the machine's instrumentality is not the only point of discussion. Sometimes things don't work. How does one register technological doubt in architecture? What kind of representational value can a machine have apart from its use?

Of course, architectural representation of industrialization has not been limited either to the presentation of mechanical objects or to technical images. Functionalism can be understood as an attempt to represent scientific thought. One of the most frequent criticisms of functionalism's legacy has been the narrowing of the role of architecture to mere utilitarian grounds, or more accurately, to the expression of the utilitarian. The scientific evaluation of architecture has interpreted buildings in quantitative terms, measuring success against specific criteria. Criticism of this evaluation suggests, quite fundamentally, that buildings cannot simply be SCientifically analyzed, for cultural and artistic domains exist that escape quantifiable evaluation. Thus history and personal vision have been cultivated as sources for architectural form.

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Exploded axonometric of 2-4-6-8 House by Morphosis

Fig. 137-Engine (Disassembled View)

From the Plymouth Shop Manual. Detroit: Chrysler Corporation, Plymouth Division, 1941

This retreat from the realm of the scientific, the reassertion of the cultural domain of architecture, is less recent than current theories of "post modernism" purport. The point is, what has happened to the machine? How do we resolve our reconsideration of the penetration into the artistic domain of the scientific method, the objective and the quantitative, with our inevitable mechanical destiny? Given its generative role in early modernism and its ubiquity in everyday life, can we be convinced that the machine is an element of science and not of culture? Can we accept how contemporary dialogues have polarized the artifacts of science and of culture? Can architectural humanism's defensive position be propagated, which suggests that engaging the machine as subject will lead us toward industry and away from architecture's cultural roots? Le Corbusier called the house the "machine for dwelling," but was less interested in the machine's use than in opportunities for generative analogies inspired by artifacts outside architecture's legacy. It is significant that in contemporary invocations, such as the "high tech" architecture of Richard Rogers, the mechanization of the image of architecture is more a strategy of monumentalization than an application of science's objective criteria. More troubling is the affirming tone of this work, whose creators use the machine as if they believe in it.

The artistic use of machines has traditionally been explained in terms of their function, which might provide a rationale for their existence. Certainly the consumer market has complicated any discussion of a machine's use by replacing it with perceived need. If the machine is to be accepted as a cultural artifact, are we to dismiss the fact of its utility? If so, are we left only with the machine's image, the very quality that transcends use, the machine's original significance? This complication is familiar, since the language of classical architecture proposed an imagery remote from any logic about its utility or origin. Most imagery of the machine is historical, dating from the era of the mechanical. Now its image is packaged, characterized by its "skin," as the artist Tishan Hsu has shown. And yet, due to the machine's pervasiveness, we need to accept it as a representational artifact. Charles Sheeler cultivated the image of machinery in his paintings and photographs. He was less interested in the specific functions of the machines he represented than in the idea of looking to them, unheralded presences, for a cult of beauty. Machinery presented Sheeler with an opportunity to expand painting's subject matter; he discovered a grandeur in material that had previously been refused. Scrutinized for the pleasure of its form, alienated from its use, Sheeler's images of complex machinery acquire muteness. Physical properties - the forces directed through the machinecannot be exactly deciphered, only sensed. The "simple laws" that Ozenfant acknowledged offered primitive machinery an intelligibility, like graphs. Robbed of that understanding and freed of the logics of use, the machine is fetishized. Silent in its voice, vivid in its gesture, the image of the machine becomes a body; the body of an other.

Autopsy by Tishan Hsu

Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Steam Turbine by Charles Sheeler

Courtesy of the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio

Mute, gestural, denied use, or at least mechanical intelligibility, the machine is free to become representational, that is, to engage subjects outside its own utility, even to be fetishized. Freud described fetishization as an act of substitution, whereby the qualities of one object are inappropriately applied to another object; for example, a foot is asked to stand for a sexual organ. In anthropology, a fetish is an object possessing magic or inspiring devotion. The aluminum air registers of Otto Wagner's Post Office Savings Bank (1904) suggest this process (if one suspends the associations of perversion Freud brings to the subject). The registers are clearly machines; their function is legible. They are not part of the building, but part of a system that serves the building. Yet one cannot deny the anthropomorphic quality of these elements. The registers are both sentinels and totems, proportioned to project a body into the space: the masked head, torso and limbs. Wagner's act of disengagement, of turning outside the language of architecture for these pieces, fosters the moment of invention. As alien presences, the registers challenge other bodies in a clearly theatrical fashion. In its architectural representation, Wagner's Post Office is machined. The building and its spaces are figured by architectural convention, while the materials reflect the evolving conditions of industrial technology. When a machine emerges fully from the architecture as a presence, as in the case of the air registers, it becomes a machined totem. A figurative architecture embraces the machine as an anthropomorphic ornament.

Aluminum air register in counter section, Post Office Savings Bank by Otto Wagner From Heinz Geretsegger and Max Peintner, Otto Wagner 1841-1918. New York: Rizzoli, 1979

Located symmetrically across the chasm of modernism from Wagner, Eero Saarinen's General Motors Technical Center (1951-1957) portrays a world transformed by rationalizing systems of scientific thought. Here beauty has been equated with the image of utility and efficiency. In architecture, abstraction has often been described as the refusal of the human figure as the generative icon for space and image. (A more penetrating discussion would insist, as Meyer Schapiro has, that architecture has always been abstract, has never been a picture of anything else and is simply the manipulation of an arbitrary language. The refusal of the human figure might then be better described as the process of emptying the classical conventions of space, image and body from architecture.) Thus Saarinen's abstraction at General Motors redirects the architecture towards the machine - not towards the mechanistic, but towards the signs of utility and efficiency. Technology's effects are embodied in the use of "industrial" building systems (brick, steel and glass). Repetition as a motif refers to industrial production. The interior space appears "universal," continuous, not figurative. The center's flattened space clearly is not generated by the Vitruvian man, unless he is sitting behind the wheel of an Oldsmobile; the scale of the project is automotive, far from Wagner's figurative space.

Because the process of embodying the changes industrial production wrought upon the world involved such a thorough "emptying" of architecture, little survived. Saarinen's position in the exhausting wake of the International Style was very different from Wagner's. The voice says "Find something in the system that will physically confront the occupant with the transformational forces of production." Wagner had many options, but chose an element that had always been there and was hiding: the register. Little remained to Saarinen: the reduction had been so severe that few elements survived scientific reformulation untainted. In an act of will, prescient of the strategy of his later work, Saarinen broke the system by withdrawing an element from the forces of functionalist reduction: the stair. The stair became the exceptional element, the monument of the project, retrieved from the warehouse of architectural form to invigorate the space. (In Saarinen's later work, the roof quite frequently plays this role, and sometimes the wall.) Saarinen's stair in the center's Research Administration Building is sculptural and machined. It could be the stair of Duchamp's nude. Rather than simply confront the body of the subject, as Wagner did, Saarinen engaged it physically. While the stair appears to exploit the imagery of industrial advance in its construction, it is actually in open confrontation with the deterministic rationalism of the center's architecture. Experiential and decorative, the stair both animates and qualifies the surrounding space's rigidity; a dialogue occurs through the polarization of object and space. Saarinen's stair can be seen as the calculated eruption of the archaic (archaic because it cannot be SCientifically quantified) language of architecture in the body of a machine. The machine is not presented as a nostalgic image parodying physical forces, but rather as the reification of the rationalizing facts of production. The stair is resistance as celebration.

Stair in Research Administration Building, General Motors Technical Center by Eero Saarinen Courtesy of Ezra Stoller © Esto

Orrery at Kate Mantilini's by Morphosis Photo by Tom Bonner

General Motors Research by Charles Sheeler (original in color)

Courtesy of General Motors Research Laboratories

Morphosis

If Wagner's vision forward is optimistic but unprofound, and Saarinen's forward trajectory arrested but redeemed by looking backward, the contemporary situation, exemplified here by Morphosis, reflects uncertainty of whether salvation lurks in either direction. It is this loss of faith that explains how the machine can be understood as a historical artifact. Here we rejoin the California architecture of the 1980s, conternplating the difficult gulf between the machine's current ubiquity, and imagelessness, and its historical distance-the location of its robust presence. Los Angeles is the bridge tenuously straddling this gulf. If the wizardry of electronic telecommunications seems to have disembodied information and its transfer, the car in Los Angeles seems destined to preserve the mechanical archaically while repeatedly presenting, in the city's daily spectacle, our awkward presence in time and space.

In the work of Morphosis, the idea of the machine has been important in a variety of ways: machined, mechanized, and harboring machines. The machine's image has frequently been the agent of the work's depth and novelty. In the work's theatrical, sometimes scenographic artifice, the machine is often the central actor, or stated more directly, the male lead. The existence of a historical pedigree for this work is important, even if that pedigree is not acknowledged or remembered by the commercial market. The firm's furniture has used the idea of casting, which Ozenfant warned would produce "formless," unintelligible objects, machined and yet unexplained by the certain shaping of physical force. The architectural machines of Morphosis take a variety of forms and are quite different in effect and intent: the Bergren Residence (counterbalance mechanisms); 72 Market Street (the operating windows and sunshades); the Orrery at Kate Mantilini's (a frozen machine with an "interpretive" function); the Play Structure at the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive

Cancer Center (a sculptural diversionary tactic that evokes the patients' struggle); the "architecture" of Angeli (a Cor-ten mask); the ten pieces (or is it eleven") of the Sixth Street House (a set of steel elements that attempt to populate a space, but instead become it). These elements share some qualities, most notably their presence within fairly conventional, sometimes almost figurative, spatial realms. As the foci of these spaces, the elements become iconic, representing the architects' personal programs and also documenting, with a stylish ambiguity, an aspiration to the vanguard. In more recent projects (Crawford and Reno residences), the split between mechanism and space has been forsaken; the building seems shaped by a mechanical armature, which rhythmically connects different parts like a manifold. Freed from obedience to utility, these machines instead serve beauty and expression. Sheeler's tradition of the machine emptied of specific use for the sake of contemplation (as architecture has so often been), continues in a cult of the sublime. But once employed as a badge of modernity - the aesthetic vehicle of an aspirant avant-gardism -the machine is simultaneously invoked as a historical artifact, its patina evidence of an "industrial archaeology" or "dead tech." The machine is a relic, predating the architecture to which it grants a past. The nakedness of the state of being new is blocked by the projection of an artificial history. Thus the architecture is authenticated.

Chair by Morphosis

Conference table by Morphosis

The historical dialogue of modernity is populated by discussions of the problem of authenticity. In the seminal words of Walter Benjamin:

The presence of the original is the prerequisite to

the concept of authenticity. Chemical analyses of the patina of a bronze can help to establish this .... The whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical and, of course, not only technical-reproducibility .... The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated .... That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work

of art.'

If it was the age of industry that once offered aura its obituary, in the work of Morphosis the image of the industrial is now employed to fabricate it. The ever-present patina on the models, drawings and buildings offers a visual depth and the suggestion of a history, but often patina is just a working of the surface. The space of the projects appears suspended, somewhat nostalgically, between projections of past and future. That suspension seems cantilevered off the edge of a precipice, like Wagner looking forward, or like Saarinen, realizing he must look back. What remains to be seen is whether the demons of modernity, in the cauldron sea at the bottom of the cliff, will reawaken to insist again upon an unromantic present.

George Wagner

Assistant Professor of Architecture

1 Ozenfant, Foundations of Modern Art. New York:

Dover Publications, 1952, p. 154.

2 Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, The Little Review (Quarterly Journal of Arts and Letters) (Summer 1926).

3 Fernand Leger, "The Aesthetic of the Machine." In Herschell Chipp, Theories of Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1924.

4 Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi, unpublished

manuscript.

5 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1969, p. 220.

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Key to Sixth Street House Sketches

Colored plan of main level

2 Section

3 Sketch of plan, revised trace of Number 1

4 Sectional sketch with counterbalance

5 Plan of main level

6 Sectional sketch with counterbalance

7 Colored partial basement plan with elevations

8 Plan of main level

9 Plan studies of basement apartment

10 Plan of main level

11 Plan of basement level with sketch overlay

12 Plan of main level

13 Elevations and sketch detail studies for basement "column transition"

14 Basement shower/tub elevation

15 Axonometric of basement columns

16 Axonometric of basement columns and shower with sketches

17 Partial east elevation with detail sketches

18 East elevation with sketch overlay

19 Sketch of east elevation with counterbalanced weight

20 South elevation with partial west elevation and drawing of counterbalanced stair taped on

21 South elevation

22 Section

23 Section with overlay sketch

24 Plan of bedroom level with sketch correction by Mayne

25 Axonometric of stair

26 Elevation of stair

27 Section/elevation of light monitor with overlay of structural frame and stairs

28 Details of monitor and stair

29 Axonometric sectional sketch of monitor and stair

30 Overlay axonometric of monitor and stair includes sketch plan

31 Axonometric and elevation of center beam

32 Early fireplace study, main-level interior

33 Fireplace study, main-level interior

Detritus and Flotsam

I am interested in the contemporary condition. I'm at home in the maelstrom, in a world in a state of perpetual disintegration and renewal. The work of Morphosis attempts to talk about uncertainty; it does not insist on the invariability or permanence of society's characteristics and values, but rather follows the lines of force already at play. Architecture's task is to interpret and confront the questions regarding man's relation to this environment. Architecture is a form of communication, a means to describe things for which words are inadequate or inaccurate and to express the culture from which architecture comes.

The work of Morphosis aspires to be about "inbetween"; it is simultaneously part of its context - its immediate world - and isolated, detached, critical, distrustful ofthe world as it exists (one can be secure in the world without ever feeling complacent). It is an architecture that accepts the demands of beauty and of life, and therefore necessarily addresses the complex and contradictory.

What is important to us is that the language remain conceptual and open in nature, that it not replace investigation and that it assimilate and resonate the specific aspects of its environment. In the end, it is architecture's ability to absorb the idiosyncratic that I find most interesting.

The Sixth Street Project continues our investigation of the impacted or imploded building, a metaphor for the veils or walls with which we protect ourselves from the world and from the secrets and mysteries that are so much a part of the human condition. This project, part of the diffused Los Angeles metropolis, accepts the suburban context as a point of departure. Present are the traditional concerns of shelter, structure, use, materiality, order, beauty and meaning

The Sixth Street Project is about objects and building, the one self-sufficient and uninhabitable, the other integrated, accommodating and occupiable. The invention and importation of ten pieces, whose original purpose has been lost, brings to the site an imagined prehistory - a contemporary archeology. The work prompts one to doubt the impersonal and detached existence of things.

The house explores the ground between these ten found objects and building. The pieces (parts of discarded machinery or dead tech) impart decay, tension, risk, balance-a world between utopia and atopia. Manipulated independently, simultaneously separated and associated through a geometric order, these discrete pieces describe a vision of a world that is neither fragment nor whole.

Beauty and ugliness blur.

The work is done with the awareness that one's personal sensibility could have been otherwise.

Thom Mayne

Sixth Street House Morphosis Project Team

Kim Groves

Charlie Scott

Andrew Zago

Maya Shimoguchi

Joey Shimoda

Tim Swischuk

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Curator of Lectures, Exhibitions and Exhibition Catalogues Margaret Reeve

Designer

Anita Meyer, Boston

Editor

Julia Collins

Production Coordinator Susan McNally

Silkscreens

John Nichols Gallery, New York Model Photographer Tom Bonner, Los Angeles

Printer

Franklin Graphics, Providence, Rhode Island Typesetti ng

Monotype Composition Company, Boston

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