[MUSIC PLAYING] RICHARD MEIER: Peter was constantly the cheerleader during his time at Cornell. And that ability to be a cheerleader and to involve himself with hundreds of people at any one time has remained throughout his life.
SPEAKERS: (CHANTING) Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red! Let's go Red!
PETER EISENMAN: I'm Peter Eisenman, Cornell class of '54, architecture '55.
RICHARD MEIER: Peter loves a telephone. He loves calling his friends, not only in America, but all over the world. But he always finds a way of calling them when they're half asleep, so that he has the upper edge. He has the ability to say, hey, what's happening? And he said, what? Oh, Peter. I haven't thought about what's happening yet. And Peter wants to know and wants you to know that he's in the forefront of whatever is going on.
CHARLES GWATHMEY: Peter is the kind of friend you have to embrace because he's a conscience and he forces you to confront the questions that you try to avoid. And I think his passion and his risk-taking in life has always been a model, actually, for all of us who know him well, who are both intimidated by him, provoked by him, and stimulated by him.
PETER EISENMAN: My dorm counselor in Founders Hall was an architect. I'd never heard of architecture before. I knew nothing about it. And I used to go down and watch him. And when I was growing up in the '40s in New Jersey, a boy never took art. We took auto mechanics and shop. But art and that sort of stuff, nobody ever did then.
I said, and I asked this guy, I said, you mean to say-- Bill Trautman was his name. I said, you mean to say you can come here at a university and draw and make models? And he said, yeah, that's what I do. And I said, oh my god, this is what I want to do. I mean, this is fantastic. I finally realized, like, that's something I really wanted to do.
So I went to see Dean Mackesey, Tom Mackesey. And I said, I want to be an architect. And Tom looked at my record, and I was on probation because I was failing German. And he said, well, you've got to pass everything. And I said, look, I've really got to get into architecture. He said, Oh, I got it. He said, I'll take you, but you've got to pass your courses.
I came back, spring vacation of my freshman year, and I said to my parents-- the day I was leaving, an hour before, I gathered them in the living room, not in the sun parlor because big things happened in the living room in our house. And I said, I need to talk with you. And I said, I have something to tell you. Well, they were just shocked.
And so I said, I want to tell you something. I have an announcement to make. I'm going to be an architect. He said, is this another one of your jokes? And I said, no, I'm very serious about it.
He said, I'll tell you what. He said, you know I don't believe in university education, even though I had one and I have a master's degree. I think people ought to go out and work. He said, I'll give you one more year at Cornell in architecture. If you don't do well, you're out on the street. No Rutgers, no nothing. You go to work.
And that was a gauntlet that he laid down and he was serious. He was a tough guy.
And then one of the great crises came up in my sophomore year. We had been an undefeated freshman swimming team. And I was now in architecture and swimming on the swimming team. And Scotty Little, the coach-- we were going down to Yale and it was a big meet. And I was doing labs in the afternoon. I was coming in at 5 o'clock to do my laps and the coaches were really upset with me.
I was the fastest backstroker at Cornell. And I was supposed to make the trip. Going to Yale was a big deal. Scotty came to me and he said, I'm not taking you to Yale. And I said, why is that? He said, because you've got to make up your mind. You're either going to do architecture or you're going to swim. But you're not going to do both here.
And that was amazing at that time. And I quit swimming in my sophomore year. I stopped swimming. I had been swimming competitively since I had been seven years old, so this was the only identification I ever had in myself, was swimming. We were state champions in high school and I used to live through swimming. And so I gave it up for architecture and I never looked back.
I was in a different group in the architecture school because there were architects who were into architecture, and I was into the university in a certain way. I ended up being reunion chairman in my class. I was vice president of my class when we graduated, of the whole university. I ran the first five-year reunion. I was a cheerleader.
I was the original Zelig. I was Mr. Fit In, right? There's nobody that was more Cornell gung-ho as a cheerleader. You know, I was involved with all of those things at Cornell that made Cornell, other than architecture, what it was. All of the people that ran the place were my friends. And that was important to me.
Werner Seligman was in my class. Werner was the prototypical architect. You know, great Corbu fan, knew all about architecture. Despised Peter Eisenman and my ilk because we were Cornell types, and he was an architect. I got the thesis prize. I won the Charles Goodwin Sands Memorial Medal and Werner got nothing.
And he walked in and he collapsed in the room. Overwhelmed, collapsed and they had to take him to the infirmary. They came with a stretcher and took Werner to the infirmary. Because we had been up for three or four nights, he was-- and he was psychologically so upset. Not only losing, but losing to me. And I didn't think I was going to win anything. You have to understand. I wasn't the type that won architectural things, right? And that was a really sort of crowning moment at Cornell.
I had a fabulous time at Cornell. I loved Cornell.
FRED KOETTER: And relative to his friends and people he has contact with, including myself, he always has a fresh take on things that you wouldn't expect.
RAFAEL VINOLY: Peter really started a true revolution about what architecture should be concerned about. And I think he's promoted and made out of the whole discipline a body of knowledge that is by far larger than it was before he started. He's the greatest polemicist in the world. He's an incredibly talented man, fun to be with, and a fair player. And I think it's very rare nowadays in our trade.
PETER EISENMAN: We graduated in '55 and I was in ROTC, and I volunteered to go to Korea. I went to Fort Sill, and we were in the artillery and went to Korea three days after I graduated. It was no time because we had to get there.
I suddenly became passionately interested in architecture. And I said-- I must have said, because somebody reminded me of this who was with me in Korea at the officers club-- said, I want to be a great architect someday. And that was in '56 or '57. And I had no idea what that meant.
And I came back from Korea. I went to work for Percival Goodman at Columbia. And I went up to Boston to work for Gropius. I came back to Columbia. I did a graduate year. I was with Mike McKinnell, who later won the Boston City Hall. And McKinnell and I were roommates. And Mike said, you know, Peter, you're a terrific designer but you don't know anything about architecture. What you need to do is go to Europe and go to England.
So I went to Cambridge and I met Colin Rowe in Cambridge. We became friendly and I would go over to Colin's place and he would show me books and open things up for me. And really, sort of in a sense, changed my whole life. No. But also I've been spending the rest of my life trying to get out from under this change. Colin and I traveled together in the summer of '61 to Europe, and everybody thought we were gay.
And I got a job after the summer of '62. I went back to Princeton. I got a job at Princeton. I got to Princeton and Michael Graves was there. He'd gotten there the year before. And the two of us were sort of a dynamic duo and a kind of whole new idea of what Princeton could be.
I was denied tenure at Princeton after being there for four years. And I went to see Arthur Drexler at the museum, who was then a buddy. And I said, Arthur, I want to start an institute. I had always had this idea of a halfway house between academia and practice.
And Jack Robertson and I had been buddies from Cambridge. And Jack had just gone to work for Lindsay. Jack gave us some projects. Burnham Kelly, who was dean at Cornell, was one of our trustees and Burnham gave us students and Colin.
ALAN PLATTUS: And I first met Peter Eisenman when I was a sophomore in college. And one of the field trips we took was to New York City, where we were taken to a then very new institution in midtown Manhattan, across the street from Bryant Park, that we all came to know as the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies.
In the midst of it all, of course, as impresario, and circus master, and thorn in one side, was, of course, always Peter. And Peter constantly challenging me, badgering me, chiding me to do more, to do better, to wake up, to stop being so silly. And it's not a unique relationship. I know other people have had that kind of relationship with Peter.
The kind of voice that other people describe-- Peter's mentor, Colin Rowe-- as having been, that even when he's not there, he's somebody that you feel looking over your shoulder, reading what you're writing. And I value that enormously, just as much as I value going to football games with him.
KENNETH FRAMPTON: I was involved in the famous Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, more or less from the beginning. And I was one of the founding editors of the magazine Oppositions, which wouldn't have existed without Peter Eisenman. And nor would the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies existed without Peter Eisenman, so.
He's a provocateur, you know. I think halfway between provocateur and, as he likes to put it, soufflé maker. I would say that ideologically we don't agree about-- well, we disagree almost about everything. But in terms of someone to play with, so to speak, discuss with, you know, to spar with, he remains this incredible stimulating figure.
PETER EISENMAN: In '82, after the 15th anniversary of the Institute, I said, I can't do this anymore. I don't want to do this. And so Jack Robertson and I went into partnership. You know, we won a competition at Checkpoint Charlie. We won the Wechsler Center competition. Jack and I decided we were incompatible as architectural partners and so I started Eisenman Architects. I'm now an architect.
All of the things that happened to me, I believe were good luck. I have an enormous amount of good luck. At the stadium, that was in The Times yesterday, how did I get that? I'll give you this thing. Here. Here you go. Want to see it? There you are. [BIRDCALL] OK? [BIRDCALL] There you go.
Let me tell you how I got it. I mean, it's one of those chance things. A guy calls up. I'm calling because the Arizona Cardinals want to build a new stadium, he said. Are you interested in football? I said, am I interested in football? I said, I've had Giants season tickets since 1957.
He said, you know, it's-- this was in 1997, I guess. 1997. It's the 50th anniversary of the only time the Cardinals ever won the NFL Championship, so you've got to get this. I said, I saw them play. And I'll tell you what I'll do further, just to show you. I'll name the backfield. And I named, for somehow, pulled out of my head, the backfield for the Cardinals of 1947, right?
And this guy said, um, I see. I better get back to you. So the guy calls back within two hours, and he says, can you be in Cincinnati on Sunday? The owners are going to be there because the Cardinals are playing the Bengals. I said, yeah, I give up my giant tickets, but sure, yeah, I can do that. So I sat in the box with the owners and they said, done. Like just like that.
The fact that they got the money, $355 million, that they're going to build this thing just like this, is, to me, off the charts. I mean, you know, here is this crazy New York architect, you know, who's a football monkey. And from that, we've gotten-- I mean, I'm doing a soccer stadium in Spain. We're doing the Olympic stadium in Leipzig for the 2012 German bid.
So these are things that just-- crazy things that happen. And how they happen, I couldn't tell you. I've never gone and solicited a job. We've always gotten our jobs through winning competitions or, you know, nobody refers anybody. We don't just get jobs, right? Nobody says, here, Peter, we want you to do this.
A lot of people that are feeling that is, and I'm still moving up. And so I-- knock on wood-- I'm as fast and as moving and as committed to my work as I've ever been.
STANLEY TIGERMAN: Peter is an amazing, persuasive, gifted builder, teacher, and actually liar, which is what I consider a compliment. I mean, he invents stories that can keep one fascinated endlessly.
RICHARD MEIER: Well, one of the things that I think that makes Peter a great teacher is his enthusiasm and the way in which this sort of cheerleading aspect of things is in his blood. He gets great pleasure out of inciting the students to do something, be active, make something. And I think that his enthusiasm for the art of architecture and the way he transmits that to students is a wonderful thing.
PETER EISENMAN: I want to tell you, just because I happen to be older than you, and-- doesn't mean I'm wiser or more knowledgeable, right? In fact, I'm probably more limited because it's very difficult to teach an old gorilla new tricks. First of all, when you get to be an old gorilla, you're going to be in the same situation I am, right?
And what's interesting for me is to watch my gorilla friends on the downside, what do they-- how do they behave. And most of them don't know how to deal with the downside of being a gorilla, right? Probably goes for me, too, but I don't see that I'm on a downside yet, so--
--that's why I love teaching this class.
MARK WIGLEY: From my generation of an architect, and of a teacher, and as a writer, Peter somehow symbolized the capacity to change the game. That at some point you could rethink the assumptions, that you could challenge those assumptions. And in this sense, he was, I would say, if I'd say what's the relationship, he's a teacher. A teacher to a generation. Some would say a teacher to maybe two, three four generations. And his mission in life is not to be liked. His mission in life is to educate. And that's very special.
ROBERT A.M. STERN: We were colleagues, we were sparring mates, intellectual sparring mates, all these different things. But now he's my employee. Peter is a wonderful architect and a very provocative brain, but most of all, he's an amazing teacher. I think any student today lucky enough to study with Peter is going to have a life-changing-- in the best possible sense of that phrase-- experience.
So he, at the peak of his fame as an architect, already committed to teaching a studio here, took on a first-year lecture course, and there's no course like this in the world, unless he might be teaching it somewhere else.
[MUSIC - "MY OLD CORNELL"]
(SINGING) Oh, I want to go back to the old days, those good old days on the hill. Back to my Cornell, for that's where they all yell, Cornell. I yell, Cornell. Cornell! Far above Cayuga's waters I hear those chiming bells.
RICHARD MEIER: He's a loving friend.
STANLEY TIGERMAN: I love him.
CHARLES GWATHMEY: I love him.
[MUSIC - "MY OLD CORNELL"]
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A highly personal account of Eisenman's life and work told by alumnus Peter Eisenman'54, created in celebration of his 50th Cornell Reunion.
Vintage pictures from Eisenman's years at and right after Cornell, as well as recent video taken of Professor Eisenman teaching at Yale, overlay the narration by Eisenman.
Brief comments by nine of his well-known colleagues and friends in the architectural field, including Cornell architect and friend Richard Meier '56, are interspersed throughout the riveting story he shares about his Cornell years, the years following Cornell, and his current work as head of his NYC firm, Eisenman Architects.
Produced by Phil ('62, B.Arch. '64) and Maddy ('65) Handler, Fly on the Wall Productions.