Distillation of the Essence of Design

By Samuel, Flora; Dimendberg, Edward | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, February 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

Distillation of the Essence of Design


Samuel, Flora, Dimendberg, Edward, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


An account of an innovative trio's work is longer on praise than on plans or politics, finds Flora Samuel.

Diller Scofidio+Renfro: Architecture after Images

By Edward Dimendberg

University of Chicago Press

248pp, Pounds 42.00

ISBN 9780226151816 and 9780226008721 (e-book)

Published 20 March 2013

In what language could architecture speak? In whose voice?" The New York City-based practice Diller Scofidio+ Renfro, which operates at what Edward Dimendberg calls "the intersection of architecture, art, mass culture and cultural criticism", is notable for being one of those rare practices to have shot to fame and success through the rigorous and single-minded research of their subject and the dedicated pursuit of teaching, which is always a heartening tale. They are perhaps best known for masterminding the High Line elevated park in Manhattan, which opened in 2009.

Ricardo Scofidio, a teacher at the Cooper Union in New York, and Elizabeth Diller, who was then his student, got together in 1979, at the dawn of a decadent period for architecture - Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even being the Dada-esque touchstone for their work at that time. It amused me that the only picture we see in this book of wife and husband (Charles Renfro being a late addition to the team) is of their buttocks morphed together on the cover of their 1994 book Flesh: Architectural Probes. As a female architect, familiar with the kind of corrosively hostile scene through which Diller emerged, I would have liked to hear more about what makes her tick. Of course, that would be a different book.

Dimendberg has worked hard at defining his terms to create "a critical chronological exploration of the status of images (both moving and still) in their architecture and its transformation of modernism". One of the things I really like about this book is its introduction, in which the author (a film, media studies and visual studies academic at the University of California, Irvine) grapples with what it is to be a historian of the recent past and the historiography of architecture in general. He is upfront about his lineage as a film-maker, something that is evident in his analyses of the many art installations that populate Diller Scofidio+Renfro's early career. …

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