This summer, two bastions of Los Angeles architecture, The Getty Center and SCI-Arc, have joined together for an initiative celebrating the architects of Southern California. Now Dwell on Design is getting in on the action, bringing to our Design Innovation stage the bright minds behind SCI-Arc exhibition “A Confederacy of Heretics: The Architecture Gallery, Venice, 1979.” In advance of the hourlong panel discussion at DOD on June 22 with architects Frederick Fisher, Craig Hodgetts, Coy Howard, and Eric Owen Moss, we check in with curators Todd Gannon and Ewan Branda to get the scoop behind “A Confederacy of Heretics.”
When did you come up with the idea for the show and how long was it in planning?
Todd Gannon: The show has been in the works for about two years, since SCI-Arc was invited to make a proposal for Pacific Standard Time Presents.
What did you include in the show and why? When planning an architecture exhibition, do you consciously decide what is most effective in terms of drawings/plans/physical models or is it something that happens organically based on what is available?
Gannon: Most, but not all, of the items in the show were exhibited in the architecture gallery in 1979. We included a few more things (for instance, Morphosis drawings on the 6th Street Residence and Eric Owen Moss’s Petal House) in order to trace some of the nascent themes into more mature instantiations that came later.
Ewan Branda: Despite a few well-known works in the show, we tried to exhibit material that was unfamiliar, that hadn't been widely seen. We also selected things we felt would shed light on contemporary architectural debates—student work in particular. (See Todd's discussion of Zago's diagrams below.)
What surprising discoveries did you make when researching the exhibition? What new information is there to glean?
Gannon: In the show, you’ll see unfamiliar projects by familiar architects, as well as work by architects who might not be so recognizable today. We worked hard to avoid prevalent and superficial clichés associated with that period in order to get at the work’s more significant spatial underpinnings, which were outlined by exhibition designer Andrew Zago in a series of diagrams. Rather than focus on individual architects or projects, we chose artifacts (mostly drawings, models, and photographs).
Branda: One surprise was the degree to which these architects worked in isolation. There was little desire on their part to forge a coherent architectural movement. The message to younger architects in this regard is to worry less about where your work stands in the big picture today—globally or regionally—and instead focus on pursuing your own interests with intensity and commitment.
How should a visitor interpret the thesis of “Confederacy of Heretics”?
Gannon: Despite prevailing legends, these architects never crystallized into a regional style or even into a coherent group. The “L.A. School,” as it’s sometimes referred to, is a myth constructed by journalists that missed the determined individualism and wide array of experimental work these architects undertook. Important takeaways would be a better understanding of these historical facts, as well as a sense of the spatial underpinnings which remain relevant today.
This is a remarkably male-heavy exhibition and panel. Do you think that represents the past and current gender ratio at SCI-Arc?
Gannon: The all-male lineup was noticed at the time by Los Angeles Times critic John Dreyfuss, and it does seem strange looking back today. Architecture, both in L.A. and elsewhere, is now far less of a “boys’ club” than it once was. Despite the masculinity of the architecture gallery, SCI-Arc was, I think, ahead of the curve in highlighting the important role played by women in local architecture (as seen by the early panel, convened by the school in the mid-1970s, on women in architecture).
Don’t forget to join curators Todd Gannon and Ewan Branda onstage at Dwell on Design on Saturday, June 22, at 4:30pm.