Event: Form and Function: The Intersection of Poetry and Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.27.08
Speakers: Latin American Confluenes: Poetry & Architecture at the Mid-Century: A.S. Bessa — Director of Programs, Bronx Museum of the Arts; Carlos Brillembourg, AIA — Principal, Carlos Brillemboug Architects; Rubén Gallo — Writer & Scholar; Mónica de la Torre — Poet & Conceptual Artist; Architexts: Louise Braverman, FAIA — Principal, Louise Braverman, Architect; Annie Finch — Poet; Jill Stoner — Poet & Author; A Conversation with Architect Lebbeus Woods & Poet Susan Stewart: Susan Stewart — Poet & Critic; Lebbeus Woods — Professor, The Cooper Union Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture; Between Forms: A Poetry Reading: A.S. Bessa; Gregg Biglieri — Poet; Brenda Coultas — Poet; Patricia Spears Jones — Poet; Frances Richard — Poet; Marjorie Welish — Poet, Artist, Art Critic
Moderator: Stephen Motika — Program Coordinator, Poets House
Organizers: Poets House; Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Center for Architecture; New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Graham Foundation
Poetry and architecture can be linked in many ways — design inspired by poetry; poetry inspired by design; through the lens of specific artists; and through the lens of history. A full-day symposium sought to highlight the contact between the two art forms.
The discussion, “Latin American Confluences: Poetry & Architecture at Mid-Century,” looked historically at Central and South America where 20th-century political turmoil was ancestor to both literature and design. Writer and editor A.S. Bessa presented Brazilian concrete poetry, a formal practice with a distinctly visual component as words themselves form pictures. Carlos Brillembourg, AIA, discussed poetry and the city, particularly the effect of the 1920s Parisian streetscape on Peruvian surrealists such as César Vallejo, whose poetry has a collage-like quality.
Rubén Gallo and Mónica de la Torre talked about engagé poets and architects emerging in the 1960s. Poets such as Octavio Paz were horrified by the violent suppression of student demonstrations in Mexico City in 1968; Gallo pointed out that the city’s New Brutalist architecture proved useful to the authorities in herding and controlling demonstrators. De la Torre spoke about radical poets following the riots, who took cue from Paz’s call for “reversible monuments” — suggesting both a literature of outsiders against society and a condition of impermanence in contrast to the stolid concrete architecture that was the backdrop for the riots.
Louise Braverman, FAIA, made distinct analogies between poetry and architecture when designing the Poets House headquarters in Battery Park City. Although she did not speak in detail about the project during the “Architexts” panel, she suggested that abstract problems of form, space, and movement are comparable in both disciplines.
During the “Conversation with Architect Lebbeus Woods & Poet Susan Stewart,” Lebbeus Woods, better known as a theorist than a builder, compared his own process-based design strategy to that of poet T.S. Eliot. Susan Stewart, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, was more reluctant to make a parallel between drawing and poetic composition. However, on the topic of historic influence, Stewart accepts the appropriation of poetic forms from any period in literature, while Woods objected to the direct borrowing from past architecture.