PITCH BLACK: Hernan Diaz Alonzo

Peter Noever, Hernan Diaz Alonzo
Andreas Kristof, Peter Noever, Lebbeus Woods, Hernan Diaz Alonzo
It is Wednesday, October 10th, and I am in Vienna for another day before returning to New York. The reason I am here is that Peter Noever, director of the MAK (Museum of Applied Art) invited me to make a speech at the opening of the exhibition “Pitch Black: Hernan Diaz Alonzo,” last night. In some parts of Europe, the noble practice of such speeches is still maintained, perhaps now in opposition to Americanization, which means that such an event is uncommenerated by speakers, toasts and the like…it just happens. Peter Noever, avant-gardist though he is, and intent on celebrating young talent, is ‘conservative’ in the very best ways.

The opening event was happening in the MAK Gallery, an underground (in many ways) space in the majestic old museum building. It was very crowded, mostly by younger people, who had to carefully thread their way through the matrix of “spiders,” as Hernan calls them–the delicate objects comprising the installation he and his colleagues have made. It was warm in the space, a bit too warm, but everyone was in good spirits.

Peter Noever, a remarkable looking man with close-cropped gray hair and intense black eyebrows, and who speaks, alternately in German and English, with a sharp, distinct voice, introduced Hernan and then me. Considering the conditions, I made a fairly short speech, only about an hour and a half…..just kidding….about five minutes, if that. Here is the gist of what I said….

I said that in seeing this exhibition we are confronting a leading figure in a younger generation of architects who are using the computer to explore the limits of architecture and create scenarios of where architecture can go, if driven by digital technology. I criticized Peter Noever (to sotto laughter) for mentioning Hernan’s better known colleagues in this quest, as influences or reference points, because I believe Hernan stands on his own legs and should be seen as he is.

I said that as we can see in the exhibition that architecture can go very far by these means, to places we like, or don’t like. Hernan is fearless, in this respect, because he pushes his ideas to their ultimate consequences.

What we see here is an architecture that at first seems sparkling and pretty, almost decorative. But very soon our perception changes and the objects and forms morphing in the videos begin to seem dark, for all their dazzle, threatening, even sinister. It is not the gallery that is “pitch black,” but the work. We are confronted with architecture as an autonomous life-form, reproducing itself in rapid mutations that are beyond human control, beyond, perhaps, human intention. An architecture without people, that does not need people.

But wait!

Does any architecture–any great architecture–need people, except to lounge about and give it scale? Think here of great Modernist architects, for starters. No. Great architecture (and I am not thinking only of big, monumental buildings) is always the embodiment of a great thought, a great idea, one that is bigger than a single building or architect. Great ideas belong to a time, to a culture. Great architecture has no interest in or obligation to the expectations or demands of people. It is people–ourselves–who must learn how to live in it, if we choose, or dare. That is the reality, and has always been. It is moving forward–living–by leaps, not steps.

I said that I believed Hernan aspires to great architecture, to the embodiment of great ideas. And why should he not? The changing times demand it. Whether the ideas of self-organization and algorithm-driven self-reproduction are great ideas is being discussed even now. We shall see. But we do not have to wait for the outcome to be grateful to Hernan for his unflinching explorations in this work that inspires us to get involved in the debate.

I closed by saying that we should make no mistake: we are here at a leading edge of architecture. It cannot be ignored, or passed over lightly.


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