Most things I read by architects feel like empty provocation or some form of self-promotional spin—even this, even that. Nowadays I simply prefer buildings and drawings, looking at images and things; calculated vagueness and beauty over clarity and argumentation. I prefer the mundane habits of an architecture office over the hyperbolic narratives of press releases. I like sitting in the office looking at other buildings in books, sketching, and making lists (lists are more making than writing). I constantly make lists. They are practical: to remind me. They need not follow writerly etiquette or rules of grammar. Lists are not composed as a narrative; they are never complete, but also never incomplete. They are cut and pasted, personal yet authorless.
When making lists, I tend toward a single long list over multiple small lists. They are written, deleted, and rewritten constantly. To-do lists, mostly, but also lists of stuff, groceries, events, deadlines, books to read, pdfs to collect, random things to remember, old buildings to look at more closely, new buildings to see, funny expressions that sound interesting at the time, potential titles for something unknown, images. . . .
Presented unedited—lists are always better left unedited—a snapshot of a list made sometime in March 2018, before visiting the CCA to browse the John Hejduk fonds:
Other Possible Titles: “CollectedSelectedEdited,” “Relative Relations,” “What-ever,” “Object, Exhaust,” “Various Things of Different Sizes” . . .
Drano, Strap Wrench, 10’ Ladder
Return McMaster order, duplicates
Kahn, Shapiro House (1st proposal), Plan
Gehry, Wagner Residence
Siza, Fundação Iberê Camargo
Order 1/8 metal drill bit for install
Eggs, Raspberries, Basil, Tea,
Finalize House Proposal, Present next week
Read There There
Complexity and Contradiction and Mom
Sell Old Monitors, Craigslist. $80/ea, 4 left
Samsung beeper for Alice
Helskini_render5_reject.jpeg, maybe okay.
Watch Alone in the Wilderness (YouTube)
Trash No.1 $3.00? 99¢?
Review Ep. 5 River Monsters, TV Guide
Architecture Camp snack bags and emergency blanket
“Aesthetics of Indifference,” email pdf to Stan
LED finger lights
Reserve Pet Lodge
4 days Montréal, Hejduk (CCA archive), Write 1,500ish words
For those who haven’t been, CCA’s archives (aka “the vaults”) are part fantasy, part bureaucracy; a warehouse that shelves and catalogues architects’ ideas, everything neatly filed away in grey boxes and manila folders. It could have been written by Borges and filmed by Kubrick. It’s a perfect space for John Hejduk’s work, which is a sort of pre-archive archive, a list of things, a collection of characters, a grid of ideas, a thinking about identity, language, and structure. Projects are meticulously itemized and catalogued, pages filled with words repeated and rearranged. Throughout the many folders of drawings and sketches there is a consistently repetitive, rhythmic, and rhyming quality to the work.
Excerpts of my CCA notes, out of order:
I’ve never seen this before . . .
A. A collection of shapes. . . . 1 large square. Inside the large square there is another square, a circle, and a diamond (respectively, a kitchen, fireplace, and bath/toilet). All the shapes are the same size, and all are coupled with either a vent or a flu. The shapes of the vents and flu match the shapes of the objects they’re attached to.
C. DeStijlish or Reitveldish. Only not in planes, but volumes. The bathroom is the same size as the fireplace, the same size as the kitchen. Nothing touches, or barely touches.
D. The plan shows a thick square, where three sides are black and one is gray (the front). Frames a Red Diamond (Hearth[CR3] ), Yellow Square (Kitchen), Blue Circle (Bathroom). Across from each element is an opening in the surrounding wall. Outside the square frame is a White Box (Entry) which looks like a door turned horizontally. . . . Playing with volume and orthographic projection.
E. The game is compositional elements are simultaneously pulling away and gathered together
F. The drawings feels old, antique. They have a sepia quality—perhaps from 1920, perhaps an early modernist forgery.
G. 15 Arrows. (The entry arrow is different, hollow.)
H. Everything is annotated.
I. “That is That”
I’ve spent too much time looking at Hejduk in the somber blacks, whites, and grays of Mask of Medusa. The primary colors are striking, luminous, and feel strangely contemporary. . .
A. The shapes (and colors) are the same as Element House: square, circle, diamond . . . red, blue, yellow, gray, black, white.
B. Again the game is compositional. Elements are slightly off-center, near-symmetrical.
C. Columns and walls are both literal structure and compositional device.
D. Squares can be found everywhere, at different scales, if you look for them.
These are the beginning of Hejduk’s work as I know it, where the architecture displays a sort of self-consciousness. His work before the Texas houses looks like the standard production of Harvard GSD graduates of the time: somewhere between Gropius and Breuer . . . and surprisingly professional.
A. There is a ghostly quality to the drawings—gridded compositions on a scaffolding of faded lines.
B. The games are played out in plan.
C. Beautiful working drawings that are a combination of drafting and hand-drawn.
D. Drawn on vellum. (Probably can’t buy this anymore; check Amazon.)
E. No. 5 (Favorite). Best living spaces, subtle.
F. Better in plan than elevation, probably will upset someone by saying that.
G. Notes like “Explosion” on sketches, “Mondrian,” “Composition,” “Mozart,” “Perfect/Symmetry-Asymmetry, Center Lines, Expanding Diagonal Square, 5 Squares,” “breakthru- Mies (illegible)” He writes breakthru from time to time on his drawings, which seems a little odd to me, maybe written after the fact.
H. Color and Material seem interchangeable in a way.
I. Texas House 5 the furniture are integrated and in a way become the critical elements of architectural composition.
J. Beautiful collection of pen ink smudges on some of the drawings.
I usually see these floating around the Internet. . . It’s amazing to see them in person, on faded presentation boards.
A. A good number of the drawings are on art boards, as if made for exhibition and not construction. (These were not drawn to be built.)
B. Most of the boards are square. Not portrait and not landscape, but a frame.
C. Convinced that Hejduk was always aware of how his work was formatted.
D. The structure and partitions and furniture are both autonomous and integrated with each other.
E. The shapes definitely feel Corbusian, like Purist painting.
F. Composition in these houses is even more plan-based than the Texas series, the effects of rotation more direct and exaggerated.
G. No attempt at a facade. Plans stack, one on top of another, to produce a sort of brise-soleil, reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center.
H. Hejduk’s work is always in the process of becoming self-conscious.
I love these houses for their childish sophistication. A mix of drawings, fragments.
A. The work and the gamesmanship somehow become more dumb and more sophisticated at the same time.
B. One is reminded of Georges Perec writing a novel without using the letter E. ¾ House, ½ House, ¼ House . . . all using only geometric fragments, fractions of platonic shapes.
C. The sequence becomes more attenuated, with more ramps. . . .
D. Everything is pulled further apart, there is no more square frame for the compositions holding the elements together.
E. An assembly of volumes.
These have always been my favorite Hejduk projects, even as a student. . . A friend who worked for Hejduk told me that he would tell those in his office to take a detail from Mies or Corb or whomever and lightly draw it. Then Hejduk would draw over this redrawing, change it.
A. Plans become elevations and sections; the square frame of the plan becomes a wall.
B. There is something a little tragic about these houses. All the rooms and shapes feel more isolated, more removed than in the earlier houses.
C. The colors shift away from primaries. Now there are pinks, grays, browns, greens. . . .
D. Rooms and shapes are just placed there, as items on a physical list—one thing after another, a still life of rooms and architectural elements.
E. “Break Thru—Fresh, Very Fresh” “Total Condition”
A good title for a house. Only two sketches, from what I can tell.
A. The drawing seems like a landscape, a kind of miniature golf course, picturesque.
B. Things seem to change for Hejduk. Here, formal techniques become more ambiguous.
C. The red circle is still there—a hearth, perhaps—but elements are less defined, and are not set against other parts to produce a composition.
D. It looks like different things linked together, Miesian and Corbusian elements melded to produce more of a single plastic surface, inhabited like a long corridor or straw.
E. If the early work are compositions framed, painterly abstraction, then many of the later houses move away from that, becoming objects, volumes assembled floating in space without their frame.
F. Part of what makes the experience of an archive so intimate are the thoughts/fragments scatter on pages, like “The reality of architecture will always have to be less than its image or its representation the question is how to bring it as close to its representation as possible. The problem with photographing architecture is one of bringing it back to its image or representation,” “Cinemagraphic,” “Film deals with the reality of space and movement, also light, color, sound, smell nowhere architecture how.” “how to make architecture like cinema can it be done.” “Now I understand the concept of layering,” “The problem of a zoom lens for architecture relative to a pan.” “Destroy reality of architecutre- needs put into a real figurative state which one rejects.” “What is figurative architecture” “Composing with found objects in architecture”
The experience of an archive—someone’s life, carefully filed away—is both dull and elegiac. Surrounded by Hejduk’s work I became obsessed with lists. Hejduk made pages and pages of lists. They structured his body of work into phases, cataloguing individual elements. In the Five Architects book from 1975, Hejduk describes his work with a list of single words:
House 10, 1966
Bio-Morphic - Bio-Technic
One-half House, 1966
One half a square
One half a circle
One half a diamond
List are almost nothing, like a child’s writing. Neither completely poetry nor completely prose, neither art nor life but somehow both—a collection of parts, clear and ambiguous, interesting and banal. There exists a sort of objective indifference in their technique and, perversely, something deeply human and personal. This can be seen throughout Hejduk’s work and its description. Take, for example, his Statement from 1980, hilarious and brilliant and unexpected all at the same time:
John Hejduk Exhibition
January 22–February 16, 1980
Statement, John Hejduk
In the Fall of 1954 I conceived a plan to make ten house projects over a period of ten years. The study was to be an investigation. An investigation into the generators of architectural form. The heart of the matter was precision and detail. By 1963 the investigation of the nine squares terminated; five houses completed, two houses in process. It had to do with a development of a methodology and of a construction.
The structures were columns and beams. Also piers, and walls, and slabs.
The materials were steel, glass, concrete and wood; masonry and plaster, too.
The projects were drawn on Albanene vellum #197, or was it #194?? The pencils were of 6H to H lead encased in wood. An eraser was used, soap type, but rarely.
The temperatures of the air ranged from 110 degrees Fahrenheit to approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
The work was simply carried out in a disinterested atmosphere that was very dry.
After spending days with folders upon folders, what seems urgent about his work is how you can feel someone within it, within a body of work. Hejduk is the opposite of corporate professionalism, or mechanical rationalism. He is a thinking architect—with false starts, dead-ends, desires, stammerings, stutters, experiments, and brilliant inventions all on display. Nowadays so many aspire toward becoming an entrepreneurial office, toward instant commercial success, or toward being Internet-and-Instagram famous. Hejduk represents the reverse of this. He was looking inward as much as outward. He was more interested in finding something meaningful. And I feel like I know some part of him through his work. I am sure he wanted success, wanted to have important ideas, and wanted to be at the same level of those he admired. But he was an architect, artist, and a poet by being himself—even, or especially, when he was at his most architecturally mannered, disciplinary, and formal. As I became more and more obsessed with lists and list-making, I Googled. I asked friends and historians. I couldn’t find a definitive text on the technique of lists in art or architecture, so I assembled a small bibliography from various recommendations. Lists are part of conceptual art, administration art, seriality, positivism, math art, post-WWII literature and art. Still, the format feels urgent and contemporary. Lists are how we communicate through fragments, how we code, how we schedule things, how we . . . Whenever I see lists in art they are either positivist or absurd . . . or both. They simultaneously collect and disassemble. They treat language as physical matter, a piling up of words. They have a quality of exhaustion.
A short bibliography (compiled quickly):
Robert Smithson and his obsession with language games, heaps of language
Robert Morris’s “MD Rx”
On Kawara’s work
Adorno’s description of parataxis in Holderlin’s poetry
The work of Georges Perec (think: Life: A User Manual or An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris or I Remember) who has since the CCA visit become one of my favorite writers (I will probably never be able to think about Hejduk without Perec)
David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King
Carl Andre’s text pieces
Sol Lewitt’s Instructions
Richard Serra’s Verb List (1967–1968)
Lawrence Weiner’s Statements (more instructions)
Lynne Tillman’s “The Last Words Are Andy Warhol”
Event Scores by George Brecht, Yoko Ono, La Monte Young (from Liz Kotz, also see this PDF)
Specifically, George Brecht’s Three Chair Events
Dan Graham (so much) Homes for America, Schema (March 1966), March 31, 1966
Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin’s Types of Quasi Intention
Liz Kotz’s book on language, Words to Be Looked At
Eventually, it is time to leave the CCA. It is impossible to know where you will end up once you start looking at things, and one thing we found in the vaults was an old cassette tape with unknown contents labelled “Hejduk”. Out of curiosity I asked the CCA to digitize it, and a few weeks later I received a link. It turned out to be a strange and brilliant conversation between Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk. I have listened to it a few times, and am listening to it as I write this. Hopefully the CCA put it online. The conversation is amazingly weird, like overhearing a phone call between good friends talking about ideas, fighting, and making fun of each other. The recording stops abruptly after an hour, left incomplete. But while listening, it becomes clear that both architects live within a world of ideas and of culture—one that they are trying to contribute to. For better or worse, this world—their world—is the world of lists: of ideas, of history, of bibliographies, of archives.
Michael Meredith was in residence at CCA in March 2018 as part of Find and Tell, a program that promotes new readings that highlight the intellectual relevance of particular aspects of our collection today.