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A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton


Hal Foster: Our occasion is the recent publication of Labour, Work and Architecture
(2002), but we should also look back to Studies in Tectonic Culture (1995) and
further back, given its wide readership, to Modern Architecture: A Critical
History (1980). Let’s begin with your formation as an architect.
Kenneth Frampton: I was trained at the Architectural Association (AA) in London from
1950 to 1956. After that I went into the British Army for two years, which was a
ridiculous experience except for basic training. I then went to Israel for a year,
which was a positive experience, architecturally speaking, in that it was a
simpler country with a basic building technology. Within this limited scope,
one was free to do what one wanted. I returned to London and started to work
for Douglas Stephen and Partners, a relatively small practice in the City Center.
I was an associate of this office until I left for the States in 1965.
Foster: Whom did you confront at the AA, in terms of teachers and fellow students?
Frampton: My group at the AA is a lost generation in many ways. There were and
still are peers of considerable talent, but they’ve had mixed careers. Neave
Brown is surely one of them. He has had the long career as a housing architect,
but it hasn’t been easy for him. Perhaps the most talented of my generation
was Patrick Hodgkinson, who worked briefly with Alvar Aalto as a student,
and then for Leslie Martin in Cambridge. He had a spectacular career at the
beginning, but then it faltered, and he spent the greater part of his life
teaching at the University of Bath. He was a brilliant teacher, but the
architectural talent he displayed as a student wasn’t fulfilled. Arthur Korn
was important to the AA climate at the time; he was a Jewish émigré from
Berlin who had worked for Erich Mendelsohn (he was also a close friend of
Ludwig Hilberseimer). Korn indulged in a radical leftist discourse during
this period. One of the things that now seems quaint is that in the 1950s,
inside a relatively small school like the AA, there were student associations
aligned with three political parties: communist, socialist, and conservative.
This was also the prime era of the British welfare state, which in architec-
ture affected school building in particular. After the Beveridge Report and
Education Act of 1944, there was a spate of rather brilliant school buildings,

OCTOBER 106, Fall 2003, pp. 35–58. © 2003 October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

especially in Hertfordshire. As students, we also visited Hunstanton when it

was under construction in the early fifties.
Foster: That’s the school by Peter and Alison Smithson, a landmark New Brutalist
building . . .
Frampton: Right. As it happens, Peter Smithson was our design tutor toward the end
of my time at the AA, perhaps the most distinguished teacher of that moment.
Foster: But they were a part of the generation ahead of you, as was James Stirling.
Frampton: The Smithsons had a rivalrous relationship with Stirling. In a CIAM IX
meeting at Aix-en-Provence in 1953, Peter Smithson seems to have shown
Stirling’s work without making it quite clear that it wasn’t by the Smithsons.
At that date the neovernacular forms being used by all of them, especially for
small-scale cellular housing, were similar. Interestingly, they were influenced
by a book called The English Village by Thomas Sharp, an English planner who
analyzed British agricultural villages and their characteristic cluster and linear
formation. Already nostalgic, I would say, but also a great modification of the
tabula rasa approach of the modern movement in the interwar period.
Foster: When you say your generation was semilost, do you also mean it was in the
shadow of the generation of the Smithsons and Stirling?
Frampton: I’m talking about my specific class at the AA, and some classes just don’t
find their way. In fact a class or two after mine, in which Edward Jones was a
leading figure, has effectively prevailed. I have in mind the current practice
of Dixon Jones ( Jeremy Dixon is his partner). It is a successful modern
British practice, having passed through the postmodern moment. That genera-
tion was able to distinguish itself and to sustain its creativity. My closest
colleague in London, John Miller, also did very remarkable buildings at the
beginning of his career in partnership with Alan Colquhoun, but they too
were affected by postmodernism and by the change in the British cultural
and political climate. After a while Alan withdrew to devote his time to writing
and teaching at Princeton. He was always a very powerful intellectual, and it
was a kind of fulfillment for him to move into scholarly work.
Stan Allen: To go back to the Smithsons and Stirling, they had an ambivalent rela-
tionship to the high modes of modern architecture. In the Smithsons’

Above: Alison and Peter Smithson. Hunstanton school, Norfolk, England. 1949–54.
Facing page: Nigel Henderson. Farm machinery, Colchester, England. 1960.
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 37

writings there is a strong sense of having come to modernism late and

inheriting an already formed tradition. Being taught by that generation, was
there a further distancing from those precepts for you and your peers?
Frampton: My first-year master at the AA was Leonard Manasseh, who was a hot
architect at the time of the Festival of Britain (1951). The Festival already
displayed a reformist position with regard to the modern movement. There
were exceptions, such as the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon, both of
which were rather Neo-Constructivist works. But the basic atmosphere, the
primary ethos, of the festival was very close to the populism of Stockholm
1930: the famous Gunnar Asplund exhibition. According to this position
architecture should be socially accessible and not too assertive. The two most
aggressive structures in the festival were the Dome and the Skylon.
Foster: In terms of other forces in play at the time, what about Reyner Banham and
the Independent Group (IG) in general?
Allen: Yes: when was New Brutalism articulated—by Banham and others—as a
counterpoint to that kind of populist architecture promoted by the Festival
of Britain?
Frampton: A key moment was the exhibition This Is Tomorrow (1956), which involved
some members of the IG. It was categorically opposed to the Swedish modern
line of the Festival of Britain as well as to the more populist line of the
London and Hertfordshire County Councils. At the same time Colquhoun
worked for the London County Council, designing neo-Corbusierian slab
blocks in exposed concrete, loosely modeled after the Unité at Marseille. All
of this was an attempt to recover the rigor of the modern movement in some
way. To an extent, the Golden Lane project proposed by the Smithsons for
the rebuilding of Coventry also tried to recover this spirit. Although it wasn’t
Le Corbusier’s tabula rasa urbanism, it was meant to be more assertive, more
rigorous. At the same time it also aspired to be rooted in a kind of nineteenth-
century sense of community rather than in the postwar welfare state. It
wasn’t opposed to social welfare,
but it hankered after t he
spontaneous social identity of
nineteenth-century urban cul-
ture—hence the reference by
the Smithsons to Bethnal Green
in the East End of London.
There was a connection here to
the photographs of Nigel
Henderson, who was also an IG
member. Hender son’s wife,
Judith Stephen, was an anthro-
pologist and social worker in the
Bethnal Green . . .

Allen: Was there the sense, through the IG, that the boundaries between architecture
and art worlds were porous?
Frampton: It was particularly so for the Smithsons. They were close to Eduardo
Paolozzi and Henderson, and together they staged the Parallel of Art and Life
exhibition (1953). The Smithsons were also open to Art Brut, Dubuffet, and
Existentialism. The Situationists were too much for them, I think, but they
were interested in CoBrA, and that already brought them toward Situationism.
All of this was part of the Smithsons’ sensibility, but not of Stirling’s.
Foster: And you felt more sympathetic to whom?
Frampton: Well, I was closer to Stirling personally. I don’t think I understood the
Situationist position then; I didn’t begin to appreciate it until the 1960s.
However, in 1963, when I was technical editor of Architectural Design, we were
the first to publish an English translation of Constant’s New Babylon. I thought
it was an astonishing text. Also, at that time in Architectural Design I supported
the work of Yona Friedman, who often came to our editorial offices in
London. He was famous for his space-frame, megastructural proposal Paris
Spatiale. He was and still is a died-in-the-wool anarchist, fond of saying things
like, “I think there is one art and it is cooking!”
Foster: There’s no easy fit between the Situationists and the IG and its followers.
(Legend has it that when the Situat ionist s came to the Inst itute of
Contemporary Art in London in 1960, mutual incomprehension prevailed.)
In the simplest terms, the IG embraced certain aspects of emergent consumer
culture, and the Situationists did precisely the opposite. I’d think you’d feel
more affinity with the latter, and be skeptical of Banham’s interests, say, in
an imagistic architecture that worked to capture a Pop world on the rise—
the work of Cedric Price, for example, and Archigram.
Frampton: Pop largely came out of This Is Tomorrow, especially with the work of
Richard Hamilton. My contact with Hamilton in the early 1960s also came
through Architectural Design. I found Hamilton a very interesting figure, and I
still do. As for Banham, his Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960)
was extremely influential. It was patently a model for my Modern Architecture:
A Critical History (1980).
Foster: In what sense?
Frampton: Banham organized his book in clear sections, with each one related to a
specific avant-garde movement; he also cited the protagonists themselves.
Those two aspects struck me as very effective, and I emulated them.
Foster: What about his particular revision of the canon of modern architecture
produced by first-generation historians like Nikolaus Pevsner and Siegfried
Giedion—his claim that by leaving out Futurist and Expressionist architects,
they had failed to articulate what was truly modern about modern architecture,
that is, its expression of “the machine age”? That emphasis appears somewhat
alien to you.
Frampton: It’s a complex issue. As you say, Banham’s book is energized by his
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 39

rediscovery of Futurism, and I found that reappraisal very important. “The

Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism” (1909) is earlier and in certain
respects more radical than subsequent Russian manifestoes, and it’s always
seemed to me to be the quintessential expression of avant-garde culture,
above all rhetorically, in terms of its aggressive euphoria about modernity. It
is this opening with Futurism that drives the book and remains impressive.
What is disturbing about Theory and Design in the First Machine Age—this
relates to Colquhoun again, who made an important critique of the book,
but it was also evident to me through my experiences at Architectural Design—
is its total advocacy of Buckminster Fuller, a position I found untenable, and
still do. Banham ends with Fuller as the new deus ex machina of the scene.
Also the effects of the States on Banham and on myself were completely
different. The United States politicized me in a way . . .
Foster: You’ve written about your primal scene coming to this country in 1965, flying
over New York and seeing enormous fields of lights across the megalopolis.
How precisely were you politicized here?
Frampton: Primarily through my contact with students, at Princeton and elsewhere,
moving toward 1968. It’s a short period really, 1965 to 1968, but the student
movement was very important to me. Banham seems not to have been touched
by that experience; he evaded that question. Also, as you suggest, I’d never
seen production and consumption on such a scale before coming to the
States—gasoline, electrical energy, the whole lot. That made me very aware of
the stakes, which could somehow be concealed in Europe then, at least to
someone as naive as myself. Another factor is that I became more and more
interested in the Russians. It’s interesting that, in Theory and Design in the First
Machine Age, the Russians are left out. Banham virtually neglects the entire
Soviet avant-garde just as Giedion and other received modern histories
had done.
Foster: How did you come to the Russians?
Frampton: Aesthetically, to begin with.
Foster: Through the Camilla Gray book, The Great Experiment: Russian Art 1863–1922
of 1962?
Frampton: Yes. I knew Camilla Gray personally. Through her and German filmmaker
Lutz Becker I met Berthold Lubetkin, a Russian émigré and founder of the
architectural firm Tecton. We were all involved with Norbert Lynton’s British
Arts Council exhibition Art and Revolution at the Hayward Gallery in 1971.
It’s not that Gray was so political herself; it’s that her book made me aware of
the enormous energy of the Russian revolution from a cultural as well as a
political point of view.
Foster: Tangentially perhaps, were you aware of the interest, among some of your
artistic contemporaries, in this same Russian material? The Gray book was
also important to Minimalists like Carl Andre and Dan Flavin. Was that work
in your field of vision then?

Frampton: No, it wasn’t. But something else was. In England I was influenced by
Anthony Hill, who is exactly my age. He is a British Constructionist—as
opposed to Constructivist—artist who contributed to this Anglo-Dutch
magazine Structure edited by Joost Bajlieu. Other members of this circle were
Stephen Gilbert, an English Neo-Constructivist sculptor living in Paris; John
Ernest, an American émigré in London; and Kenneth and Mary Martin.
Along with Victor Pasmore they were all inspired by Charles Biederman’s Art
as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge (1948), which is an all-but-mythic book,
astonishing in its way, but somehow virtually lost. These people made me
aware of Russian formalism and Theo van Doesburg’s Art Concret at about the
same time that the Gray book appeared.
Foster: Artists, then, more than architects: they are one source of your fascination
with the tectonic—not only in Russian Constructivism, but also through
Anglo-Dutch Constructionism . . .
Allen: I wanted to ask about the example of Stirling. His engineering building at
Leicester University is designed in 1959, and some of its elements have been
compared to Konstantin Melnikov’s Rusakov Workers’ Club in Moscow
(1927–28)—the form of its cantilevered auditorium in particular. If you think
about Stirling’s trajectory—from, say, his flats for Ham Common (1955–58),
which is a weighty, brick architecture, wedded to the earth and influenced by
Le Corbusier’s Maisons Jaoul, to the Leicester building, which is by contrast a
lightweight, predominantly glass-and-steel architecture, an assembly of almost
found pieces, very dynamically composed—it is almost a demonstration case
of the positive influence of the Constructivist example. I don’t know how con-
scious it was on his part.

James Stirling and James Gowan.

Engineering facility, Leicester
University, England (axonometric).
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 41

Frampton: You’re right to recall Melnikov, but Aalto is present too in the way the
interiors of Stirling’s cantilevered auditoriums are furnished, as well as in
some of the plasticity at the level of the podium. There’s also a six-story, brick-
faced laboratory building, a bustle at the back of the tower, with clipped
corners along with isolated staircases and elevators, which owes something to
Louis Kahn. So there’s a play between these influences and the more overt use
of ferrovitreous construction, which has its roots not only in Constructivism,
but also in the British nineteenth-century engineering tradition.
Allen: So Stirling did not have to get it by way of Russian Constructivism.
Frampton: He didn’t really, and he wouldn’t have made that reference anyway.
Foster: When you come to this country, you confront consumer society more
directly than in England; you’re also affected by political developments, the
student movement in particular; and you’ve rediscovered radical Soviet art
and architecture as well. What’s the situation at Princeton when you arrive in
1965? I assume that’s before Michael Graves is there.
Frampton: No, Graves was there, and Peter Eisenman—in fact Eisenman invited me.
Foster: And there was Tómas Maldonado from the neo-Bauhausian Hochschule für
Gestaltung in Ulm.
Frampton: Yes. He was amazing, and brought there by Robert Geddes, Dean of
Architecture at the time, and not by Graves and Eisenman. An important con-
nection here was a Princeton student of mine, Emilio Ambasz, of Argentine
origin, who was an ex-pupil of Amancio Williams, designer of the famous
concrete-bridge home in Mar del Plata (1943–45). Emilio was a wunderkind:
upon graduating, he immediately became a teacher at Princeton. I’m sure it
was Emilio who persuaded Geddes to invite the Argentine Maldonado as a
visiting professor. Maldonado had a strong influence on my politicization. I
came upon Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization through him; as it happens,
I also heard Marcuse lecture at Princeton. Colquhoun was also switched on to
this line of thinking at the time. We still see some evidence of this in
Colquhoun’s book Modern Architecture (2002): for whatever else it is, it is surely
a Marxist history. And though he might not admit it, I think Colquhoun was
also politicized by the United States. He wasn’t a Marxist on his arrival,
though he was substantially influenced by Manfredo Tafuri later on. But
Maldonado was the key for me. He was an aphoristic teacher in the sense that
just a sentence or two would sustain one . . .
Foster: Didn’t Maldonado also represent, in part, the failure of the Ulm project to
regain control of the forces of production, that is, the recuperation of
modernist design by capitalist rationalization? Unlike some of your peers,
the recognition of that failure did not lead you to any postmodern position;
it made you recommit to another kind of modernism.
Frampton: Alexander Kluge was also involved with Ulm in the early days in the
department of communications, which was the first section to be closed. The
radical discourse developed by Maldonado, Claude Schnaidt, and Guy

Bonsiepe inside Ulm before its dissolution in 1968 was important to me. I
forget exactly when Maldonado came to Princeton—it must have been
around 1967, just before the closure of Ulm.
Allen: The Ulm project would have faced an uphill battle in the context of 1960s
American consumer culture. On the other hand, there were designers in the
States working with industry—for example, in the industrial design department
at Cranbrook. Was there any engagement between those European figures
and American figures like Charles and Ray Eames or Harry Bertoia?
Frampton: I don’t think so.
Foster: So some parts of the modernist project seemed completely appropriated,
while other parts were newly rediscovered; there was the enormous problem
of a rampant consumer culture, which repositioned architecture dramatically;
and you also undergo a powerful politicization. How did you mediate these
different forces as you moved from Princeton to Columbia and the Institute
of Architecture and Urban Studies? What positions began to be articulated
at that point?
Frampton: That moment is difficult for me to characterize. It was centered on the
strange displaced family that Eisenman, through his charisma, gathered
around himself: Mario Gandelsonas, Diana Agrest, myself, Tony Vidler, and,
somewhat later, Kurt Forster. While we’re not all Europeans, we’re certainly
not Americans. Eisenman made this kind of international coterie, which in a
sense had always been his intention. When I first went to Princeton, he orga-
nized a group called CASE, Committee of Architects for the Study of the
Environment. It was a rather inclusive group that held a number of hot,
fairly confused weekend seminars. Eisenman was disappointed in me
because I wouldn’t become, as he put it, “the Siegfried Giedion of the
group”—one naiveté laid on top of another there. Later we repaired our
split, and in 1972 I became involved with the Institute for Architecture and
Urban Studies in New York. We started the journal Oppositions out of this
strange amalgam of Agrest and Gandelsonas’s Francophile semiotics, Vidler’s
emerging Tafurianism, Eisenman’s formalist predilections, and my own
born-again socialism. In the first issue I published the essay “Industrialization
and the Crisis of Architecture” (1973), which was a somewhat naive attempt
to adopt a Benjaminian approach to historical phenomena, which I then
pursued in Modern Architecture.
Somehow we’ve reached this point in our conversation without mention-
ing Hannah Arendt, who was also a key influence in politicizing me. The
Human Condition (1958) was and still is an important reference for my work.
It’s not a Marxist thesis, but certainly a political one.
Foster: When did you encounter the book?
Frampton: In London there was a fertile figure named Thomas (Sam) Stevens, who
had taught at the Liverpool School of Architecture, a leading training
ground in the postwar period (it produced Colin Rowe, among others). At
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 43

the AA he was a talking head par excellence with a B.A. in art history from
the Courtauld and a photographic memory. Stevens was the kind of person
who stimulates young students better than most academics. He put me on to
the book, and by coincidence I read it when I first came here. It seemed to
me a key to the States, to the condition of advanced capitalist production
and consumption, which I had never really understood before. My first essay
in Oppositions is patently influenced by Arendt: it opens with the Cartesian
split between appearance and being as a basis of the scientific method—but
also as the precursor of a great cultural predicament.
Allen: It seems useful here to differentiate your thinking from Tafuri’s. You’re
working from some of the same sources, such as Benjamin and Adorno, but
there are important differences. The reference to Arendt is one thing that
distinguishes you.
Frampton: There are also overlaps, such as the young Italian Massimo Cacciari and
his manifest interest in an existential, phenomenological approach. That
comes to be inserted into Tafuri’s discourse. But my interest in Arendt does
distinguish us, and with Arendt begins my susceptibility to Heidegger, Arendt
having been his pupil. Here there is a split in my position, which has always
irritated some people, such as Tony Vidler, who surely views my combining of
Heideggerian and Marxist critiques as a scandal. This was already evident in
the early years of Oppositions as a kind of tension between us.
Foster: What were the other forces in play? If Agrest and Gandelsonas were interested
in French semiotics, and you were drawn to Frankfurt School critique with an
Arendtian twist, what were the other important discourses?
Frampton: At the time Eisenman was interested in Noam Chomsky and his
grammatical notion of deep structure. At some point he shifted his ground
from Chomsky to Derrida. I can’t recall exactly when, but he made that
move almost overnight: the grammatical approach of Chomsky was carried
over into a deconstructive register through Derrida. Foucault was never a
reference for Peter—for good reason, I suppose—and he was never that
interested in Chomsky’s politics.
Allen: Eisenman found Chomsky on his own, and that interest in linguistics led
him to invite Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, who had studied with
Roland Barthes in Paris, to the Institute. So Peter was introduced to
French structuralism through Diana and Mario, but it didn’t have a strong
influence on him. However, it was necessary background for his later
fascination with Derrida.
Foster: Many architects and artists use theory on the basis of analogy: it’s more a
source of models to be adapted than a genealogy of concepts to be developed.
This speaks to the porosity to theory in architecture and art circles over the
last three decades. Of course, critics are hardly exempt here—often they
have led the way—and in some ways it has been a very productive exchange.
But frequently too it has seemed a hit-and-run relationship.

Frampton: It’s almost a rationalization. The reference produces the thematic—in

the sense of an ideological as well as an operational thematic.
Allen: In this context it’s important to recall that October was published out of the
Institute at that time. I recall seeing Rosalind Krauss deliver “Notes on the
Index” as a lecture there—that would have been around 1977. Eisenman con-
tinues to refer to the notion of the index, and he also felt there was an affinity
between his work and Conceptual art, Sol LeWitt in particular. A sense of com-
mitment to a critical, experimental project characterized the Institute then.
Foster: Did you circle your different wagons against the common enemy of an
emergent postmodern architecture? Did that opposition help to produce a
kind of group identity?
Frampton: Yes. One thing we had in common was an almost total distance from the
work of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.
Allen: Yet the Venturis didn’t seem to enter directly into the debates at the
Institute; the real protagonist was Robert Stern or perhaps Vincent Scully.
Frampton: This split goes back in part to the Committee for the Study of the
Environment. In those days we were all jammed together, the so-called Yale-
Philadelphia axis of Scully and the Venturis, and the Princeton-Columbia
axis of Eisenman, Graves, and the so-called Five Architects, with a small
affiliated circle attached to Columbia grouped around Jack Robertson.
Things were polarized when Scully became aligned with Stern and the
Venturis through his book The Shingle Style Revisited. Then these factions
broke into three groups (all of this is slightly mythical, of course): the so-
called Grays, who represented the Yale-Philadelphia scene; the Whites, who
were the New York Five (Eisenman, Graves, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk,
and Richard Meier); and the Silvers, who were on the West Coast.
Foster: What about the later provocation of the young Rem Koolhaas? He writes
Delirious New York (1978) at the Institute. On the one hand, he too was
opposed to the postmodernism of the Grays. On the other hand, his book
recovered a modernism distinct from that of the Whites, a Surrealist one in
part, and it also proposed a very different sort of urbanism: clearly he
intended his “learning from New York” to trump the Venturis’ Learning from
Las Vegas (1972) in that regard. What did his emergence do to those debates?
Allen: Despite your critical stance toward Koolhaas now, I always thought you had a
lot in common with him in those early days. For starters, you overlapped at
Douglas Stephen and Partners with Elia Zenghelis, Koolhaas’s teacher at the
AA, who was a founding member of Office for Metropolitan Architecture
(OMA) with him in 1975. And you wrote an article for Architectural Design
called “Two or Three Things I Know about Them” (1977) at a time when
you, Rem, and Elia had a common interest in reclaiming something of the
progressive social and aesthetic potential of Russian Constructivism.
Frampton: I designed the Craven Hill Gardens apartment office building for the
Douglas Stephen office in the early 1960s, and that is already a kind of Neo-
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 45

Constructivist building. So already by then I was involved in Constructivism

from an architectural standpoint, and Zenghelis was partially influenced by
that work. Intimate history is an intricate business. When Alvin Boyarsky
became director of the AA in 1971, I was the rival candidate, sponsored by
Zenghelis and Koolhaas—but I didn’t prevail.
Allen: How different this history might have been. At some point Koolhaas and
Gerrit Oorthuys made a celebrated trip to Moscow and brought back drawings
by Ivan Leonidov . . .
Frampton: Exactly. As it happens, I first met Rem in Delft at an exhibition of Russian
Constructivism curated by Oorthuys and Max Risselada in late 1969. I worked
on a version of that exhibition staged at the Institute in summer 1971 (my
connection with the Oorthuys and Risselada continued for a long time).
Koolhaas came to the Institute via Cornell, where he had studied briefly with
Colin Rowe (a strange combination) and with O. M. Ungers. Bernard Tschumi
also came to the Institute around this time, having taught at the AA as well.
And, as you say, Rem wrote Delirious New York at the Institute. It was a lateral
move not aligned with the Institute’s attempt to reconstitute a rigorous modern
architectural position. It was also considered a more aggressive and vital
response to the kind of populist critique launched by the Venturis.
Foster: This moment of the Institute occurred when New York City was bankrupt,
the economy in deep recession, and advanced architecture was largely
divorced from actual building. Hence the rise of “paper architecture”?
Frampton: Yes, although it was the Museum of Modern Art that developed that
rubric. As far as the Institute was concerned, a gunshot marriage was
arranged with the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) through Arthur
Drexler, curator of design at MoMA, and Ed Logue, director of the UDC, and
a low-rise housing development was built in Brooklyn as a result. This was in
the period of 1972–76, so the Institute was paradoxically productive then. But
in general you’re right about the lack of building. That was the last moment
of the UDC as far as housing goes: the federal government cut the 221D3
Program, and that more or less put an end to such housing.
Allen: The UDC is sometimes overlooked today, yet there were significant buildings
constructed by architects such as Richard Meier and Giovanni Pasanella, and
their work was published and debated in Oppositions. The Europeans were
fascinated by these projects, but it also turned out to be the final episode, at
least in this country, of the modernist dream of combining progressive
architectural form with progressive social programs.
The Wallace Harrison exhibition in 1979 was an important moment at
the Institute. It typified Koolhaas’s enthusiastic embrace of everything that
both high-modern and neo-avant-garde positions rejected. At least the sky-
scrapers in Delirious New York had the patina of history. The Harrison
material was too close, and hence more uncomfortable, especially for an
older generation practicing at that time. It almost seemed like a parody of

modernism. There is an important tension in Koolhaas between a fascina-

tion with the progressive aspects of the modernist project—Constructivism,
for example—and an embrace of popular culture and bad taste. The
Harrison exhibition seemed to signal a shift toward a different version of
mass culture.
Frampton: It was a counterthesis to neo-Miesianism and the whole high-modern
line held by MoMA, to the formalist line of the White Architects as well.
But it was also a counterthesis to the Venturi-Stern position. It was a step-
ping aside from all these positions.
Foster: From a distance (which was mine at the time) all of these positions
seemed provocative: the recovery of a Corbusierian modernism with the
Whites, the return of Beaux-Arts practices and Enlightenment typologies
with the postmoderns, the semi-Surrealist designs of the early OMA, the
conceptual daring of paper architecture, and so on. But they also seemed
rhetorical, often extremely so, and this rhetorical extremity seemed to
exist in inverse proportion to actual building, as if the former compen-
sated somewhat for the latter. In a funny way—and this is to jump
ahead—some of these fantasies about architecture have come true. As
Freud says of the artist in Introductory Lectures, “He has thus achieved
through his fantasy what originally he had achieved only in his fantasy—
honor, power, and the love of women” (underline “he”). Form follows
fantasy, or in dreams begin big projects.
Frampton: Rem’s sense of publicity is very strong. Perhaps in the last analysis this
derives from Peter Cook and Archigram, who paved the way in the mediatic
stakes. Important elements in the early Koolhaas/Zenghelis OMA publicity
machine were the beautifully illustrated renderings of their early projects
made in both instances by their wives, Madelon Vriesendorp and Zoe
Allen: Beyond publicity, there was also an atmosphere of experimentation at the
Institute, a laboratory-like feel that was very productive. Because nothing was
getting built, there was an intense exploration of forms, sources, and
means of representation. That was the positive side of the period, and it
was very much incubated at the Institute.
Foster: It was in this climate that you wrote Modern Architecture: A Critical History.
How did that come about?
Frampton: I was commissioned to write that book in 1970; it took me ten years to
finish. The person who commissioned it was Robin Middleton, who was
then an acquisit ions editor at Thames and Hudson. As it happens,
Middleton had succeeded me as technical editor of Architectural Design.
The book was much longer than what the publisher wanted, so there was a
constant struggle to write as economically and laconically as possible—
that perhaps explains part of its density.
Foster: You’ve talked about its relation to Banham’s Theory and Design in the First
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 47

Machine Age. What other points of reference existed for you, especially in
terms of how you developed your canon of twentieth-century architecture?
How calculated was the book in its recoveries and revisions?
Frampton: Certainly Leonardo Benevolo was an influence, first his Origins of
Modern Town Planning (1963; translated 1967) and then his History of
Modern Architecture (1960; translated 1971). Tony Vidler was also an important
influence, in particular in the chapter “Tony Garnier and the Industrial
City,” which was informed by many conversations with him.
Foster: But did you feel, as Banham did in 1960, that Pevsner, Giedion, and
Bruno Zevi had somehow got the history wrong?
Frampton: I never found Pevsner’s book, Pioneers of the Modern Movement (1936),
particularly interesting. I still find Giedion stimulating, when returning
casually to the pages of Space, Time, and Architecture (1941). But Banham’s
book was my model.
Foster: But did you, like Banham, feel that there was another kind of modern
architecture to foreground, another story to tell? That’s my question.
Frampton: Mainly it’s a question of the architecture of the Left. Banham omitted
the Left architects of the Weimar Republic almost completely: Hannes
Meyer is absent, along with Otto Haesler, whereas both are featured in my
book. Unlike Banham, I realized that New Deal architecture had to be
acknowledged. The same goes for the New Monumentality as formulated
by José Luis Sert, Fernand Léger, and Sigfried Giedion in 1943. This was a
very important development, especially in relation to Soviet Realism and
the Indian architecture of British imperialism. Indeed, for the entire
interwar period, that aspect of modern building culture that wasn’t tied to
radical social projects had to be treated: hence the passages on Italian
Rationalism, Nordic Doricism, Lutyen’s New Delhi, the American Art
Deco movement , Rockefeller Center— they each find their place in
Modern Architecture: A Critical History, in part under the rubric of New
Monumentality. (I was indirectly influenced here by Clement Greenberg’s
“Avant-Garde and Kitsch” of 1939.) Then too Banham didn’t deal with
Aalto really, or the whole Scandinavian movement for that matter, and
these are also discussed in my book.
Allen: Does the last interest go back to your experience of British architecture
in the 1950s and its closeness to the Scandinavian model?
Frampton: That came a bit later. The Leslie Martin office, which I mentioned
earlier, was closely related to Aalto’s position. And Martin was also an
important patron of New Brutalism. The Leicester engineering building
was given to Stirling by Martin through the University Grants Commission
where Martin was indirectly responsible for giving out faculty buildings to
various architects all over the country. The History Faculty Building at
Cambridge also came to Stirling via Martin. Patrick Hodgkinson assumed
an Aalto position as well, and he designed the brick-faced dormitory at

Caius College, Cambridge, in this manner for Martin. The work of the
Martin office was always in brick and somewhat organic: it was an effort to
create a kind of normative modern brick tradition for the English situation.
Foster: Your work differs in other ways from how prior historians have presented
modern architecture. Whereas Pevsner looked back to the socialist reform
movements of the nineteenth century for the origin of his story, and Emil
Kaufmann turned to the typological forms of the Enlightenment for his
beginning, and Giedion was focused, perhaps more transhistorically, on
questions of space, you have followed two lines of inquiry fairly consis-
tently: an attention to the tectonic, which has become more and more
foregrounded in your work, and an emphasis, developed through Arendt,
Aalto, and others, on place creation. Can you talk about how those two
concerns emerged, and what the relationship is between them? Some
might assume that a stress on structure might interfere with a sensitivity
to place. . . .
Frampton: My preoccupations arise out of the direct experience of making
buildings, at the societal as well as the professional level. Even though it’s
not explicitly elaborated, I tend to approach historical material through
the eye of an architect: I ask myself what is the predicament faced by the
architect in making a particular work in a physical setting at a given historical
moment. That attention binds my two concerns together—place on the
one hand and structural expressivity on the other. Both preoccupations
have to do with finding some basis on which architects can ground their
practice in what Heidegger refers to as a destitute time.
On my first visit to the States in 1965 I was accompanied by James
Gowan (the ex-partner of Stirling), who remarked of the New Jersey suburbs:
“It looks as though it could all be blown away tomorrow.” That sense of
placelessness was more evident perhaps to a European forty years ago
than it would be today. Hence there followed the task of trying to estab-
lish places as sites of resistance. As for the stress on the tectonic, well,
while it might have derived from my interest in Constructivism, it became
more conscious as a result of my desire to resist the tendency to reduce
architecture to images.
Foster: So in part it was developed in resistance to the emergence of a postmodern
discourse of scenographic architecture.
Frampton: Yes. If you want to split the two, the concern with place was articulated
in relation to the reality of the megalopolis, and the emphasis on structure
to the postmodern reduction of things to images.
Allen: Princeton in the 1970s and ’80s became identified with postmodernism
in architecture, especially the formalism of Graves. I wonder if that was
incipient in the earlier period. Tony Vidler, for example, developed a differ-
ent genealog y of modernism, going back to t he eighteent h
century—hence his interest in Ledoux, and his account of typology as a
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 49

symbolic, primarily representational construction—as opposed to your

idea of history, which looks more to the example of Pevsner, or a social
program that responds to the new means of industrial production. Besides
providing a common catalog of formal sources, Tony’s move could be seen
to underwrite the postmodern operation—Graves in particular and the
emphasis on representation in general. This seems to be a deep fault line,
which you articulate as the distinction between the scenographic and the
Frampton: I think that’s right: I believe his position was more in the postmodern
Foster: Could we focus on the tectonic for a minute? On the one hand, you claim
structural expressivity, or tectonic integrity, as a value in all architecture. On
the other hand, you also identify, as a primal scene of architecture in the West,
as a traumatic moment that changes it forever, the institutional separation of
architecture from engineering—it’s almost a foundation myth of modern
architecture for you (in fact you give it a date, 1747, when the École des Ponts
et Chaussées is founded). Two questions. First, do you stress the tectonic in
architecture in part as a way to recoup this division, this “dissociation of sensi-
bility” between architecture and engineering? Sometimes it is as if modern
architecture at its best for you takes over the structural principle from engi-
neering, makes its own, and then advances it as a means of rapprochement
with engineering. Second, can you reflect on your own habit of thinking here?
How much do lapsarian stories of before-and-after determine your writing—
narratives of unities in the distant past (of integrated architecture and
engineering, of an active polis adept at place creation and public appearance,
and so on) versus divisions in the interminable present?
Frampton: The division of labor is one of the basic predicaments that underlies
modern life altogether. And, looking back, one can identify particular
moments when that division was not so virulent in its effects. Until there
was a precise science of statics, for example, structural engineering couldn’t
be separated from architecture, and learning through doing, as an empiri-
cal way of achieving structures, predominated. It was a pre-professional,
guild-based practice wherein the secrets of building were passed on from
master to apprentice—that is, the knowledge was contained in the actual
procedures of making things. Thus no division existed between the person
who drew the scheme and the person who executed it. For lay people the
existence of these two different figures, the builder on the one hand and
the architect on the other, has always been confusing. Even Renzo Piano’s
father, an established builder, is supposed to have said to him when he
declared his aspirations to be an architect, “Why go to architecture school?
That’s ridiculous. We know how to build.”
Perhaps I have sidestepped your question a little, and shifted it away
from engineering to building, but the two are connected. My primary

concern is with a poetics of construction rather than engineering as such,

although the one can flow into the other. After all, structural engineers
also have to be concerned with the process of making, of detailing, and
this is the point at which a poetics of construction is combined with statics
to determine the way a joint is bolted or welded. Formal considerations
that are potentially poetic come into play. All of this is an attempt to resist
those forces that impinge upon the realization of the environment in negative
ways because of the division of labor—as with, for example, the new discipline
of the project manager whose function is to prevent the architect from
talking to the client.
Allen: Even worse is the emergence of “value engineering.”
Frampton: These are sub-professions that have their own narrow goals. And they
tend to prevent a more integrated cultural form from coming into existence.
Allen: We have moved now from Modern Architecture to Studies in Tectonic Culture.
Your earlier statement about your Heideggerian and Marxist sides being
at war is interesting: a simplistic way of putting it would be that the
Marxist is in the forefront in Modern Architecture and the Heideggerian in
Studies in Tectonic Culture. But it’s more complicated. For example, you say
that the division of labor is one of the basic predicaments that underlies
modern life, and in Tectonic Culture you look for those privileged moments
in which certain figures—architects like Jørn Utzon, Carlo Scarpa, Renzo
Piano, or Alvaro Siza—are still able to perform an integration, but under
the now much more difficult conditions of modernity where the division
of labor is a fact of life.
Frampton: There are interest ing issues here. I have a fr iend named Paulo
Martins Barata, who wrote a doctoral thesis on Siza’s work from a tectonic
standpoint. Even though I’m committed to the consistent and remarkable
evolution of Siza’s architecture over a long period of time, there’s not

Alvaro Siza. Architectural School, Porto,

Portugal (perspective). 1988.
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 51

much that can be considered overtly tectonic in it. There are small-scale
elements—window and door frames, perhaps, certain spanning components
here and there—but in the main, Siza’s work is not tectonic in its character, as
opposed to, say, Utzon’s. This brings up the difficult question of the limits of
sculpture versus architecture: where does structural expressivity lie between
sculpture on the one hand and architecture on the other? How can one
demonstrate this difference by example, or, more precisely, how can one
demonstrate the limits of the sculptural versus the tectonic within architec-
ture? For me this is a point at which one may discriminate between Frank
Gehry and Enric Miralles, say. In almost all of Miralles’s work the tectonic ele-
ment is closely integrated with the sculptural. In Gehry’s case, apart from his
very early work, there’s no interest whatsoever in the tectonic. He’s only
interested in plast icit y, and whatever makes it st and up will do —he
couldn’t care less. That’s very evident in Bilbao.
Foster: Isn’t there a distinction too between an autonomy that the sculptural
seems to assume and a sitedness that the tectonic aspires to achieve?
Frampton: Perhaps, but if you take the model of Gottfried Semper and discriminate
in a simplistic way between light and heavy structures, you get a different
reading. By its very nature, the heavy gravitates toward the earth, and so is
telluric in character, while the light tends to reach for the sky because it is
usually framed, skeletal, and aerial. If you think about building in these
very generic terms, the sculptural then tends to emerge more naturally out
of the earth and out of the plastic character of the earthwork.
Foster: So the terms can be reversed.
Allen: It has to do with the way the structure is realized. The assembled charac-
ter of light st ructures is almost self- ev ident , and t he v iewer can
reconstruct the process of construction. The sculptural unity of Gehry’s
work is by definition scenographic inasmuch as the plastic, “carved” char-
acter of his shapes is at odds with their necessarily part-by-part realization.
In Miralles’s work, on the other hand, it is possible to understand how the
pieces are put together to create his forms, however elaborate and sculp-
tural they may be.
Frampton: It’s also clear how they relate to the ground. In my view a more elaborate
theorization of all these relationships still remains to be done. I was recently
reading Merleau-Ponty, and there are very interesting passages in The
Phenomenology of Perception that point to the potential of the body to experi-
ence at a microlevel the space made available in architectural form. From this
point of view the elaboration of the program should avoid any formalistic
short-circuiting of what one might call the ontological potential.
Foster: This last reference also speaks to your affinities, conscious or not, with
your generation of Minimalist and site-specific artists who are concerned
with an idea of the sculptural as sited, indeed as phenomenological, in
resistance to other kinds of forms and experiences that you call sceno-

Above: Enric Miralles and

Carme Pinós. Olympic archery
ranges, Barcelona. 1992. Right:
Jørn Utzon. Bagsvaerd Church,
near Copenhagen, Denmark.
1976. Below: Utzon. Bagsvaerd
Church (section). 1976.
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 53

graphic. But even in the early 1960s, these effects were present not only in
Pop art but in image culture at large, to the degree that they encouraged
a kind of disembodiment of the viewer and a dissolut ion of place.
Ironically, there are also some convergences between these Minimalist and
Pop trajectories.
Allen: In this regard I was interested to read your critique, in Labour, Work and
Architecture, of Swiss German Minimalism (Peter Zumtor, Herzog and de
Meuron, and others). It speaks to Hal’s point, and there’s an interesting
overlap with his essay “The Crux of Minimalism”: the project to recover
phenomenological depth in the experience of the work of art can also
open up onto an unanchored kind of subject-effect. The same Minimalism
that can support the kind of place-making and recovery of perception that
you advocate can also lead to a play of sheer surfaces and a rendering
indifferent of perception that you scorn.
Frampton: Certain aspects of early Minimalism in art were very place-oriented,
and they could generate, out of very few elements, a very strong symbolic
presence, however esoteric—an arresting physical presence and not an
imagistic one. That kind of position is difficult for architects due to the
very complexity of building—the way it has to respond to the life-world
and also be integrated within it to some extent. That is a burden that
might drive the architect to displace the significant effects exclusively to
the surface.
Foster: At the same time you also insist that architecture is privileged, not just
distinguished, by its engagement not only with the life-world, but also with
earth in a Heideggerian sense. There’s a primordialism in your thought, a
commitment to Semperian materialism, even anthropology, and for some
people this insistence on origins and earth makes your work . . .
Frampton: Conservative. . . .
Foster: But for you this dimension touches on an essence of architecture: that
architecture is, in the first instance, about marking the earth (you invoke
Vittorio Gregrotti on this point) before it is about constructing space or
even making shelter, and certainly before expressing symbols or typologiz-
ing forms. This marking is not just a heuristic or historical fiction for you;
it is an essential part of architecture that subsists, or that should, for you.
As Stan says, you value architects who are able to articulate this marking,
to pronounce it, even or especially under adverse conditions, in a desti-
tute time.
Allen: Here, too, the reference to Minimalism is important, for example in the
case of Tado Ando. And here we come full circle: in the art world the
Minimalists were trying to build on the unframed experience of architec-
ture as opposed to the framed experience of the traditional art work . . .
Frampton: Escaping the gallery by moving into architecture and beyond . . .
Allen: Exactly. And now some of that opening out gets cycled back into the

architecture of Ando and others. Can it maintain that sense of unframed

experience, or is it recontextualized in a new institutional frame?
Frampton: This raises many questions. There’s a peculiar confrontation, or perhaps
convergence, between phenomenological and ontological proclivities in
architecture and the critique of instrumental reason deriving from Jurgen
Habermas, for example. This is one place where architecture should position
itself, in part at least, because surely one of the great challenges in the world
today is that technoscience continues its relentless modernization of the
world without redress. One problem that faces society is how to deal with
this dynamic—with a rate of change that is so rapid that the species can
barely assimilate it. The unbalanced development of technoscience so
destroys references that other kinds of cultural mediation can hardly take
place. Architecture is confronted head-on with these value crises or aporia in
a way that other cultural fields are not.
Allen: So what is specific to architecture as a discipline—its relative slowness,
durability, and being wedded to place—can be seen as progressive rather
than nostalgic, at least to the degree that the dominant forces today tend
in the opposite direction—toward speed, replaceability, and movement.
Frampton: Right, as long as architecture doesn’t exclude appropriate technology,
because such technology can be progressive too—for example, servomech-
anisms that control the temperature of a room more precisely. This
technology can still be situated, as it were, in an earthwork, that is to say, in a
cultural domain. The two things can be brought together rather than set in
a false opposition.
Foster: It seems, though, as if you treat architecture here in part as a stand-in for
other forces or actions. If the architect as culture hero is a compensatory
figure for an artistic avant-garde that no longer exists elsewhere (a popular
avant-garde no less, or so the New York Times Magazine has recently claimed),
then the architect as resistance fighter is also a compensatory figure for a
kind of political agency that seems difficult to achieve in other terms. In
some of your recent work you allude to this intractable problem—that none
of this architectural resistance can be truly effective without real transforma-
tions in building codes, urban zonings, environmental laws . . .
Frampton: I can hardly deny it. But there’s a counterthesis to be made here, which I
mention at the beginning of Labour, Work and Architecture. When you look
through the best professional magazines—which are primarily Spanish and
Italian, above all Architecturra Viva edited out of Madrid by Luis Fernandez
Galiano—and you look at architecture worldwide, the quality of current archi-
tecture at its best is quite remarkable in terms of how it’s conceived, built, and
equipped at the technical level. What is curious about publications like the New
York Times is how narrow-minded they are. It represents some kind of negatively
provincial idea of what is chic on the local landscape. It has no comprehensive
optic, no apparent understanding of what is happening elsewhere.
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 55

Foster: This is a dialectical moment in your thought—as opposed to your tendency to

lapsarian narratives. For the most part the image and the media are on
the side of the forces of evil for you, but here there is an instance in which
images of progressive architecture are mediated around the world to positive
effects. Do you also have a similarly dialectical account of the effects of
the computer on architectural practice and pedagogy?
Frampton: In Labour, Work and Architecture I cite the engineer Peter Rice to the
effect that the computer can restore the t act ile qualit y of building.
Perhaps it’s romantic, even nostalgic, but he argues that computer tech-
nology can be used to achieve very refined structural forms that would be
as self-evident and engaging as the pioneering ferrovitreous forms of the
nineteenth century, and would thus move ordinary people to wish to
touch them. It’s a populist idea, having to do with accessibility again, the
notion that there shouldn’t be a gulf between ordinary people and the built
environment. Rice evokes the computer as a tool that would permit this
kind of contact (I assume he’s referring to his experience working with
Piano on the Centre Pompidou). Yes, I do see a dialectical dynamic there.
And, as you say, I see it in the media too: on the one hand everything is
driven by images, reduced to a cycle of stimulus and response, of production
and consumption, driven by the novelty of fashion; on the other hand there
is the positive side whereby we become aware of architectural production of
great quality throughout the world. This last makes one even more skeptical
of the star system and of the way certain figures are overvalued as a result.
Allen: The computer can be subsumed by the media, in which case its capacity
to produce and reproduce images endlessly is foregrounded. But the computer
also allows for rapid prototyping, milling, and computer-aided manufac-
turing in a way that permits a partial recovery of the means of production
for architects. It puts them in closer contact with the material, as opposed
to the building industry’s tendency to hold them at arm’s length from the
process of construction. You talked earlier of the separation of the archi-
tect from the client and from the builder; there’s now the hope that
computer design and fabrication might allow the architect a greater
degree of control.
Frampton: Provided it doesn’t become in itself a form of fetishization. I was thinking
of a rather unexpected example of such a positive use: Ove Arup and
Partners’ recovery of reinforced stone arches, which wouldn’t be possible
without computer calculation and the precision cutting of stone because of
the precise interfaces required in the arch between each voussoir. Here the
digital is oriented not toward the future but toward a revitalization of the
past—it’s a stone arch, for God’s sake. And yet, I suppose, it might be
fetishizing to use a stone arch at all. This raises interesting questions about
fetishization in relation to program, for example, or to landscape. There’s a
risk that the production of a certain component will be fetishized in a way

that unbalances the work as a whole. We often tend to overvalue a demonstra-

tion of “the new way” for its own sake.
Allen: You’re quite critical of some British high-tech architecture for precisely
that reason.
Frampton: Yes. One is sometimes caught between admiration for the manifestation
of sheer technical skill in a building—its luminosity as a technical object—
and the suspicion that fetishized construction is the only important feature
of the work. It would be very hard to make the worlds of Siza and Piano
meet, for example, and Piano is a more complicated and mediated high-
tech architect than Richard Rodgers or Norman Foster.
Allen: Before we end, I want to ask about your relation to a younger generation
of critics. Your essay “Utilitarian versus Humanist Ideals” (1969) in Labour,
Work and Architecture, concerning Hannes Meyer’s and Le Corbusier’s
schemes for the League of Nations building, was an important point of
reference for Michael Hays. Hays accepts your identification of Meyer
with the utilitarian and Le Corbusier with the humanist ideal, but he gives
those values a different interpretation. He has constructed a defense of
Meyer’s functionalist position as radically post-humanist—that his indiffer-
ence to composition, say, has a progressive force in itself. And for Hays
the humanism of Le Corbusier is a form of compromise with bourgeois
aesthetics. How productive do you think this version of Frankfurt School
Marxism might be in the architectural context? How do you see your work
in relation to his? I mention Hays because he is a critic and historian of
my generation with whom you might expect a strong dialogue. . . .
Frampton: Your question makes me think again of the limits of any particular
historical moment. Is it unfair to suggest that the critical rigor upheld by
Hays and possibly by Tafuri, in their defense of the anticompositional and
the antihumanist, is still a form of waiting, as it were, for the revolution-
ar y moment when a radical transformat ion might occur and a new
condition come into being? In all of my thinking there is a revisionist
acceptance of the fact that this is hardly likely to happen, that this option
might not be available anymore. Then the question arises: which is the
more realist of the two positions? It’s not that I’m against what Hannes
Meyer represented, but on a broader historical front, I have to ask which
position is the more operatively critical.
Allen: You’ve implied that Meyer’s functionalism might be adapted to underwrite
the technocrat ic architecture of post war Amer ica, as opposed to Le
Corbusier’s humanism, which still might hold out some possibility of resistance.
You point out that Meyer, for example, devotes the entire ground place of
the League of Nations scheme to the car, and provides six times the amount
of parking required by the brief.
Foster: For you personally, though, the possibility of the Meyer position seemed
lost by the time you came to the States; it was lost somewhere between
A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton 57

your encounter with your AA teacher, the student of Hilberseimer, in the

mid 1950s and your encounter with Maldonado at Princeton in the late
’60s. Already in the early ’30s that position was under enormous strain.
Most intellectuals who had adopted a Left-Fordist position, for example,
had given it up, or were about to.
Frampton: The Spanish Civil War has always seemed to me the watershed in this
Allen: Yet you have remained engaged with contemporary architecture in a way
that Hays is not and Tafuri was not. Even if it means accepting some of
the contradictions of your own position, since, as you’ve suggested, it’s
very hard to reconcile Piano, Ando, and Siza—to pick only three figures
that you’ve supported.
Foster: Have those contemporary engagements changed your historical thinking at
all? Have they opened up other figures in the past for you? That can be one
effect of continued engagement as a critic—to stay enlivened as a historian.
Frampton: Yes. For example, they have made me want to reread German
Expressionism; I’ve never paid sufficient attention to Erich Mendelsohn in
this regard, and his position is very interesting. But this prompts another
kind of reflection: when we look at a body of work, we often have the delusion
that it should all be of a piece, but humans are not like that in the end,
and history isn’t either. So there are moments where things are achieved
and have a resolution, to be followed by moments when they can’t be
attained any longer, either because of history or because the subject has
changed. Perhaps it’s important in both critical and historical work to
identify not careers as entities but specific works within an overall body of
Allen: On that score, the two books that we’ve focused on are very different.
Modern Architecture is a book that, in a sense, had to be written, and it’s
comprehensive in its treatment of different figures. For me Studies in Tectonic
Culture is more original and more complex. It’s also more personal, a book
in which you look in depth at a number of key figures, and through that
operation construct a historical genealogy for critical work that follows. In
that respect it speaks to the present in a way that Modern Architecture does not.
Put another way, if we pay attention to the subtitles, we have the passage
from “A Critical History” to “The Poetics of Construction.”
Frampton: Part of the challenge, whether one is on the side of making work or
of criticizing it, is developing a strategy of sidestepping—sidestepping a tendency
toward closure that seems to constrain the living present in such a way
that you sometimes feel you can’t do anything. The value I’m placing on
world production these days is just such an attempt to come out of my
own closure by identifying value in a wide variety of work. This closure
exists inside architecture schools as well, where the discourse often becomes
fixated on one scene, and hence we get an unbearable level of repetition at

school exhibitions, a proliferation of forms with nowhere to go. One almost

suffocates from their elaboration. So it’s time, without disowning past attach-
ments, to approach the architectural world differently. This move also has
political implications at a time when we are faced with the near-complete
closure of the Right over environmental development in the United States and
elsewhere as well.

—New York City, May 29, 2003