Bernard Tschumi Architects is a well-known New York architectural firm whose current projects include designing new buildings for Florida International University, a performance hall and exhibition centre in Rouen and an urban glass-house for the 21st century commissioned by Time magazine. But in the early 1980s Tschumi was an architect who had never designed a building. His prominence was based on architectural polemics and he used posters and postcards as radical advertisements to re-envision architectural space. He also produced architectural drawings, not as ideas to be realized ultimately as buildings but as products to enliven the imagination.
In an article entitled 'Erotic Spaces' written in 1980 Tschumi stated that: 'Architecture resembles a masked figure. It cannot be easily unveiled. It is always hiding: behind drawings, behind words, behind precepts, behind habits, behind technical constraints. Yet it is the very difficulty of uncovering architecture that makes it intensely desirable. This unveiling is part of the pleasure of architecture.'
He was merely pointing out a truism, which many people still believe, that architecture is a pragmatic discipline in which rules and regulations have produced functional dogmas and puritanical attitudes at the expense of the artistic, creative imagination. But architecture is a function of both, and if either element is missing, architecture loses something essential.
This general concept seems to be precisely what lies behind a project entitled 'Houses X Artists' ('X' signifies 'by'). The dreamchild of a group of architects in Manhattan who formed the experimental architectural design firm Open Office in 1997, the project calls for the collaboration of artists and architects to produce something fresh and subvert the stereotypical ideas surrounding both disciplines. At the same time the project aims to generate questions about interpreting space, to challenge the conventional relationship between buildings and their inhabitants and to integrate two areas associated with architecture and art: the sensual experience of a real space and the formal appreciation of rational concepts.
The architects of Open Office, Alan Koch and Linda Tealman (along with their two partners, Lyn Rice and Galia Solomonoff), contacted twelve visual artists (including Kevin Appel, Barbara Bloom, Chris Burden, Stan Douglas, Jim Isermann, T. Kelly Mason, Charles Ray, and Jessica Stockholder), who greeted the idea with immediate enthusiasm. Each artist has created works that can function as real physical environments rather than just models or graphic representations. Open Office hope that ultimately they can create partnerships with the building industry and manufacturers willing to participate in constructing the 'ready-to-build' representations produced by these collaborations between artists and architects.