I find Leach in the old flash of a colorless light-filled studio sitting next to his laptop with a drafting table perpendicular to it. Sitting for quite a while talking in the intimate slot of his workspace our points still travel some distance to reach each other from practice to academia. Hesitant practitioners and unabashed visionaries (those who see through things) struggle to keep their efforts unshackled by insistent reconciliation of the practical concerns of assimilation, applicability, and communicability with the mute trait of transcendence that makes a building live alone in our memories. That quality whose mechanisms are the unnecessary, the intransigent, the wet paint of thought, can only arise when the erosive force of the other concerns is used to grind the passion smooth, back into the paper. Rise and fall are particular to the pursuit of built work. But the schism, or immediately, my inability to communicate with Leach, is not out of differing pursuits but of differing exposures. Necessarily the attitudes are different. Leach’s mode of thought is not a reaction against the stultification of his milieu. His lifespan is the semester. He coaxes unknowables into a shadowy image cast by successive puffs of smoke. Practitioners often scorn that ephemerality or uselessness. The intersection of these sets, the foggy bodies of this constellation, perhaps against its immediate scorn, has in fact inflected practice, at least categorically, by organizing trends into cultural milieus that could be operated upon in an evolutionary process by practitioners ultimately via the lever of capitalistic assimilation. Conversely, the bitter dismissal of superficial infiltrations of the academy’s au courant seeds into built vocabulary stand as the only reasonable tests of their efficacy. This all blooms in the anguished idealism that there is the action and the thought, the built and the unbuildable, the considered and the experienced. Reducing ourselves to caricatures of these nation-states, the real schism between Leach and I was language, especially at the level of jargon and connotation. The language of practice and thought are divergent or they circle one another like prize fighters. The language of practice is active, it looks to quantify the known systems of money, construction, time, spatial requirements, or even the quantifiable notion of concept gauged for its value to client or culture, in order to best communicate about their effective application. Discursive thought is communicated in terms that never become real, about which the question of language itself in representations perches the object on a cocked trigger, ready to go off, in language that is pointing, rather than structural, necessarily immersive as a surrogate to the built experience, and absolute. Having sat in a holding pattern for so many years on my job I didn’t have such a severed relationship with the inherent commitment to deferral I sensed in Leach’s language, his referentiality. I didn’t think these jots were useless. I envied them, in fact. Although structurally similar to my efforts, the search that connoted his interests and pursuits diverged in their aspirations to a plateau upon which I didn’t have the language to engage them. The clouds were thin to me.
In the academy it is hard to bank on subtleties. Complexity of form and factor becomes a cipher for labor and thought. The tools we have in the academy, or more precisely, the misconceptions we have about those tools withhold those more sensitive investigations to a parallel realm of analogy or substitution. The sensitive subjugation of a conceptual framework to approach tactile and experimental facets of a project is a fairly scaled analogy to the parsing or triage of contributions into a constructed solution. However the vault towards those resolutions must lack the sieve of the construction process and play out as more of an athletic exploitation of representable knowns. These tools train the better students to be cognizant of the further reaches of experience via the emergence of particular effects in products and production by and with those tools. But the crux is that these tools communicate data of those eventualities of architecture, or often more accurately, the data of the framework that allows for those eventualities, but they do not awaken them or execute them. Like most tools, ours are generally good for one thing at a time. Orthographic drawings value true proportional relationships and arithmetical clarity but lack any tactile gateways beyond their notation; renderings approach qualitative aspects such as light and material cartooning but evade quantitative comprehension and fall short of the more rich qualitative registrations of the body like spatial memory and odor; narrative texts admit the evocative language that other vehicles bar yet suffer the rhetorical fate of fiction in which no shared picture emerges; animations and videos introduce temporality and the additional sensory data of sound yet fail to become unstuck from the antiquated control of narrative. This is not the limitation of the student but of the academy. Students liberated of convention see representations as more than the sum of their parts, more than representations of buildings; they seem them as buildings.
Leach and I begin moving back down toward the gallery, from the potage of light into the cool lugubriousness of stone, terrazzo, and a small north window, the stair that smells like wood veneer and dust and sun, like a heartland Mies building with aged ventilation, the treads smoothed and sagging like those down into a hidden Venice rio. I envision in this passage a project presentation by a student that is a sort of collage (Greenaway text). The student leads their jury through a spatial and affective assemblage cobbled from vantages, spots, spaces, passages, and types in their city which represent or approach the aspirations and compositions of their proposal if not precisely in form then in composition of experience or facilitation of use, the manner in which people gather in a plaza during an event, autumn light through Gingko trees with a month’s loss of yellow leaves onto a brick embankment, the dusty cedar odor of a dry attic, the feeling and sound of a particular scale and shape of gravel underfoot, cats’ paws on a translucent roof, stitched together into a blur of new memories. Nobody doubts the ability of most students to compose the functional machine that will execute a building’s will to usefulness. This is something the tools corral quite nicely in quantitative stillness. But the aspects of architecture that rely on reference funneled back into the hidden quantitative documents of our minds need other mechanisms for education and characterization than analogical or representational aids. The grasp of space and form must first be internalized before it can hop out into a line or a scaleless volume. The Grand Tour was an, albeit foppish, vehicle to harness and internalize quantitative realities such as volume, and proportion, but also such resultants as light and surface, scent, narrative effect and sequencing, and most neglected, Speer and Leatherbarrow’s effects of time, decay, weather, neglect. The things can’t be drawn. But they must be drawn… by drawing around them.
I am introduced to a couple of hardworkers as we negotiate the long ambulatory past the gallery aglow.
In a silent hush that only comes in single rooms which you cannot see the whole of from any vantage point, the lights sing like insects. That funereal overtone that had arisen when I had first scurried past in the hallway is recharged. The room is populated with freestanding white walls like the Standing Stones, in ranks like the Terra Cotta Army in Xi’an just unearthed. The walls stop at an eight foot datum well below the ceiling in a loosely defined space low in the room that is tangibly distinct, in a mindset, separate from the gallery itself. I stall out a bit from Leach at the first few drawings in from the door. The David’s Island drawings are there. These old messes were the first image of Perry I had. Seeing him again here is like catching up with an old friend at the haunt where you first met, not so much by turning back the clock but by resurfacing those youthful faces in that context with the worn (or grizzled) faces of today, both maintaining the freshness of a first conversation with the long worn fitness of a flannel shirt.
The inclination with Perry’s drawings is to approach them. The level of detail is microscopic and burned into the mylar with such precision that each mark, each dash in a ship’s curved hidden arabesque seems as though it might be a text inscribed on a grain of rice. These are laden objects, weighted objects. It is at that scale that some secret and skew specificity and quantitative intensity are established. Moving out, ever so slightly where marks begin to group, two things are visible: form (or shape) is marshaled as a communicative vehicle, using scales of characterizing elements like a riot of Hejduk icons, yet an idea or arena does not emerge, only tones or poses; a skin spreads out beneath the marks, somewhat translucent in its inconsistency such that it floats over the mylar and beneath the marks. The skin is in small part the schmutz of triangles and tools and in large part the fog of his construction marks. Even moreso than the quantitative intricacy, proof enough of hunched hours, this rind, which Perry punningly alluded to in a previous exhibition, this ‘calculus’, as both the division of complex forms into discrete packets which can be understood or the lithic accretion of minerals in the body, is an index of investment, of life. The function of drawing as a surrogate for experience, or at the very least a record of passing time, is worn into it like depressions on marble stair treads, the dirt from a cat’s oily flank built up on a door jamb, or the acute stone corner of Pei’s National Gallery building polished by fascinated hands. This dirt is the patina of time and action in the real lives of real things.
The calculus insinuates a second life lived by the information next to the architecture of which it might be the progenitor. This bilocation of the drawing’s consciousness is strong in comparison to the transparency of Meier’s antiseptic “go wash your hands and try again” architectural representations and analogically honest about its duration in comparison to Eisenman’s simulated temporal constructions. It insinuates something that is not forward, not the instructional logic that turns mind into matter, but the physicality of the mind itself pressing against the outskirts of its own body, of the first architecture, that of our flesh, to imprint on the leaf of mylar film. It is trodden in, lived onto, architecture beaten out of life like the passing time of Scarpa’s hyperactive point-of-view. In fact, PK, in his drawing courses, often characterized the expectations of what of labor commitment might lay behind a drawing in hours. “This will be at the very least a one-hundred hour drawing, I expect, no less,” he would say.
It is upon stepping out of the drawings’ shades to a distance equal to their mounting height that both their voice and intent, their invocation, approach something transcendent. The drawings coalesce into a painterly organization of form. They are not organized in a way that would initially bespeak productivity. However, if I can consume them in a detached enough fashion, as if intent on ‘crossing over,’ the messes of calculus and form idle gaseously over a more Cartesian absolute borrowed from their format and allusions to latent spatial indices. By letting its obscure content cling to a system whose function is to transpose information outside of its boundaries the whole of the drawing is less focused on its own making and its sense of hermetic fascination. Struggling to make that transposition my efforts are frustrated by the mess itself which, once established against the connective order of the page, corrupts it with the virus of doubt, as if even the dependability of reference points that could transpose its phantasms into our world through analogy of scale or measure is at risk. However, even in its specific obscurity the vocabulary urges me to strain the content out of the drawing into my world. I miss my old friend. In my old friend I can engage the insistence of his passion. I can see the imprint of his life. A life of passion recorded imbues its documents with meaning.
I lag behind Leach, who had already been in the gallery and had possibly helped PK hang the show or at the very least conversed with him a bit. I want to have my own conversation. I move toward and away from individual drawings as if tethered. I move slow, possibly intentionally shuffling my loafers and shrinking inside myself to create the daze I feel having just donated whole blood, my most lucid frame of mind, somewhat outside my body and far below the tree line of din that the clattering world screeches above. The drawings are my only vista from the compressed luminance of the lower half of the room. No other students came into the gallery. I sense nobody in the building.