Interviewed in New York, April 17th 2007
In the decades when architectural tendencies and trends replace each other with a speed contrary to the natural slowness of the construction medium, Frampton is one of the rare critical authorities you can rely on with confidence. This confidence comes from his way of thinking about architecture that develops in the continuity of the critical attitude and his building on the foundation of a clear idea with the productive values that architectural theory and practice need to represent in a wider social, even civilizational sense. With a clearly progressive political orientation, convinced of the meaning of “tectonic culture”, harsh towards styles he sees as “decadent”, Frampton analyzes architecture in different contexts, from judging construction skills, the existential foundation of architecture, all the way to the significance of architecture in creating a public domain. In doing so, Frampton has never stepped outside the conventional boundaries of the discipline, used trendy theoretical tools or lost sight of the logic of architecture based on meaningful construction or affirmative experiment that is not an end in itself. Frampton prefers to think of himself simply and non-academically as an “architectural writer”, but he is definitely a writer in the classic sense, one you can trust.
ORIS: You’re a leading voice in architectural writing, history and teaching. We’d like to know how your previous experience of being an architect influenced your work. I have had a personal encounter with your architecture because I’ve slept in a building you designed.
Frampton: My formation as an architect is surely evident in my writing. I wrote as much as I drew which may have had something to do with this destiny of mine. The first essay I ever had published was in the British magazine Art News in 1957 and featured the work of the architect-painter Marcel Janko who was then living in Israel, where I also happened to be working in the Tel Aviv office of Karmi, Melzer, Karmi. In 1962 Theo Crosby, who had been technical editor of the British magazine Architectural Design recommended me as his successor, with the result that I became the right hand, as it were, of the editor Monica Pidgeon. Thereafter I divided my time between working in the mornings for the firm of Douglas Stephen and Partners on the building that you spent a night in, and for Architectural Design in the afternoons as technical editor. We produced that magazine with no more than four people. Two of the editorial staff, Monica and myself, worked only half a day each. In addition there was a secretary who worked full time and a full-time editorial assistant. An operation on this scale was possible because the publishers also owned the printing press, so that certain problems that would have arisen if the printing press had been owned by somebody else, such as the cost of altering the text at the last minute, were avoided. I wrote and edited articles for AD given that I was already very interested in theoretical, historical arguments. In London at that time, there was a constant discussion about the modern movement and about its transformation in the years after the Second World War, along with the current state of the modern movement in England versus the production in Europe, etc. All these discussions had a big influence on me. The decisive factor which changed my trajectory definitively was being invited to teach at Princeton by Peter Eisenman who I would meet in London while he was teaching at Cambridge. He invited me to Princeton and I stayed there for a year, partly teaching and partly doing research. Afterwards I went back to London, and soon I was traveling between London and Princeton before being offered a full-time position at Princeton. This was when I began to devote my life exclusively to teaching and writing.