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Not less than 300 words. Interview with Peter Eisenman: The Last Grand Tourist: Travels with Colin Rowe
Author(s): Peter Eisenman and Colin Rowe
Source: Perspecta, Vol. 41, Grand Tour (2008), pp. 130-139
Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of Perspecta.
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Ail ¡mages courtesy of Peter Eisenman

1 30 The Last Grand Tourist

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Where did you go?


The idea of the grand tour in architecture is an English – if not a Euro-

pean – tradition, in which an older experienced traveler initiates a young

person to the cultural splendors of southern Europe. In the mid-eighteenth

century, Robert Adam established his architectural practice in London

after traveling extensively in Italy with his tutors, and Goethe described

his 1786-87 travels to Italy in his book Italienische Reise, published in
1816-17. While the Grand Tour has come to be seen as an essential part of

an architect’s education, my travels with Colin Rowe were part of an “acci-

dental” education, but they had a profound impact on the manner in which I

would subsequently practice.

In the spring and summer of 1959, I was working for The Architects’ Col-

laborative in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the time it seemed like heaven,

working for Walter Gropius and living in Cambridge. This was supposedly

the summa of an architect’s life, but I soon realized that even Gropius and

his associates had no real ideological or philosophic commitment to what

I thought was architecture. TAC was so unsatisfying that I went to see a

former employer, the architect Percival Goodman. Percy said, “Look Peter,

why work your way up the ladder in an office to become a junior partner or

maybe a partner? Why don’t you come back to graduate school at Colum- ,

bia?” At the time I was twenty-seven years old. I had been in the army for »

two years in Korea, I had done my three years of apprenticeship, and I was

studying for my architectural license. Because I was in Boston, I applied to

MIT as well as Columbia. I was accepted at both, but Goodman wanted me

back at Columbia. He said, “You can graduate in one year rather than two.”
At the time, this was important to me.

But I need to go back to the fall of 1959, when Jim Stirling came to Yale for

his first visit. Stirling came down to New York and I was introduced to him

through my then roommates, John Fowler (who went on to work with Paul

Rudolph) and Michael McKinnell. Jim said, “You know, you ought to go to

England. That’s where things are happening.” New Brutalism was in vogue,

and the Smithsons and Team 1 0 were generating a new energy in England.

In the spring of 1960, I applied for a Kinney traveling fellowship, which was

worth $7,500, which in today’s dollars was a lot of money. At the same

time I also applied for a Fulbright to France. I received both fellowships and

decided to go to France. My brother was living in Paris at the time. I arrived
on the Flandre in Le Havre and took the “boat train” to the Gare du Nord.

When I asked a taxi driver, in French, to take me to Rue Git-Le-Coeur, where

my brother was living, the driver turned to me and, in the most conde-

scending tone possible, suggested that it would be better if I spoke English.

At that moment, I realized that France was not for me. I spent a night with

my brother, then turned around and accepted this other fellowship at Cam-

bridge to be a research assistant. Unwittingly, of course, this decision would
lead me to Colin Rowe.

I remember our first meetings. I would go to Colin’s flat two or three times

a week, and he would pull out books, Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus,

Letarouilly’s Edifices de Rome Moderne, and other books with a series of

fantastic plans from the Renaissance. I was taught how to read these plans

and to see that specific plans showed certain ideas. I was taught how to
understand the nuances of these plans, how they constituted the essence

of what is architectural, of what has become the persistencies of architec-

ture. We were not analyzing their function but rather the architectural rela-

tionships in these plans. This lay the groundwork for the trip. After several

months, Colin suggested that I was the “noble savage” to his Robert Adam,

and proposed that we travel in Europe for the summer.

I was the one who researched the trip. As I was interested in De Stijl and

the Bauhaus, we started off in Holland, against Colin’s better judgment. We

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saw all of Rietveld, Van Tijen and Maaskant, Bijvoet and Duiker at a time

when rarely anybody had gone to see this work. We saw the Van Nelle Fac-

tory, the Oud Siedlung, Bijvoet and Duiker’s Zonnestraal Sanatorium, and of
course the Schroeder House. It was then that I realized how much Colin did

not like modern architecture.

After Holland, we went down the Rhine, stopping in Krefeld to see Mies’s

Lange and Ersters houses, which Colin had never seen. In Stuttgart, we

saw the Weissenhofsiedlung. I did all the driving in my white Volkswagen

Bug while Colin read incessantly to me. Twelve hours, night and day, we did

nothing but look, and I would drive while he read, much of it useless trivia,

like the shields of popes, the number of Piccolomini popes, etc. It was a

total immersion experience. Next came Zurich, where Colin wanted to visit

one of the old Texas Rangers, Bernhard Hoesli, who had worked with Le

Corbusier and had taught at Texas with Rowe.

In Zurich, we had dinner with Hoesli and his wife. Hoesli had taken us

around to see Le Corbusier’s work in Zurich, and then showed us his own

work in his office. Hoesli was a very bright person, but on this occasion, I

became Colin’s attack dog. Bernhard asked me, “Well, what do you think of

my work?” We had seen that his work was a cross between Wright and Le

Corbusier. I immediately said, “Bernhard” – and this is what endeared me to

Colin – “Bernhard, I have never had a more exhilarating day. It was the most

amazing experience looking at Le Corbusier with you. But I cannot under-

stand how a person who knows so much about architecture can do such

bad work.” And there was silence. Boom… it was arj amazing moment.

Leaving Zurich, we proceeded south through Switzerland to Como. Now

we need to go back to Como because that is a major part of my story.

Unlike Goethe, who reveled at the Lago di Garda, Colin said it was to be

avoided at all costs, except for a brief stop in Sirmione at the foot of the
lake, because it was now full of Tedeschis of a somewhat different ilk than

Goethe. Mussolini had ruled from Salo, on Lago di Garda, in 1944-45, just
north of Sirmione. Such was the kind of history that Colin would read as

we traveled. I, this so-called noble savage who did not know anything, even

though I had been reading AD during my year at Columbia and had learned

about Brutalism, and even though I had been meeting regularly with Stirling,

Smithson, Banham, and other members of the English scene in London, I

was still a neophyte.

When Sandy Wilson had come back from Yale, he gave me, as a present

for filling in for him, the Encyclopédie de L’Architecture Nouvelle by Alberto

Sartoris. In that book I saw Giuseppe Terragni ‘s work for the first time –

his Casa del Fascio, the Asilo Infantile, and the Giuliani Frigerio apartment

block. There was also Cesare Cattaneo’s apartment block in Cernobbio just
up the road from Como. This fired my imagination and my desire to see

these buildings. Thus, when we arrived in Como, we immediately went to

the square in front of Casa del Fascio, and, as Colin said, I had a revelation.

After having seen De Stijl, Mies, Corbu, the Weissenhofsiedlung, all of these
monuments of modern architecture, to see the Casa del Fascio in the flesh

was amazing. I was blown away. After Como, we drove to Milano, where we

saw the Terragni apartment buildings which nobody really knew at the time.

They were only in the Sartoris book. We also saw Terragni ‘s two houses in

Seveso and Rebbio on the way.

My mania for collecting architectural magazines from 1918-39 began in

Milano. Much of what was modern prewar architecture had been pub-

lished in Giuseppe Pagano’s magazine Casabella. This was the focus of

my search in used bookstores. I would walk in and say, “Vecchie riviste di

Casabella della prima della guerra?” I looked in every little bookstore from

Milan to Naples and back to Torino. During that time we discovered many

small antiquarian bookstores, some of which I can still visit to this day. But

it was only on our last day in Italy that we hit the jackpot in the galleria in

Torino, but that is another story.

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How were you documenting the buildings?
Were you taking slides or drawing?

After Milan, Colin programmed the rest of the trip with High Renaissance

and Mannerist architecture and painting, but very little Baroque. I was not
allowed to look at Borromini or Bernini. The work we had to see was the

basis of the Cambridge course that Colin was giving, called “From Braman-

te to Vignola,” that is, from 1 520 to 1 570 in northern Italy, both painting
and architecture. Of course, this was all new material for me.

We went east to Bergamo to see the citta alta and the Scamozzi loggia
on the way to the Veneto. We also detoured below the Milano-Venezia

autostrada to Mantova, where we stayed for three days. We were now in

the heart of Colin Rowe country. We saw Giulio Romano’s Palazzo del Te, ,

with the faux rustication and the giant frescoes bursting out of their panels.

We spent an afternoon sipping San Pellegrino Aranciatas in front of Alberti ‘s
facade for San Andrea. We went to see the little-known church of San Bene-

detto Po, with its interior by Giulio Romano and its baptistery covered with

his frescoes. Twenty years later, when I returned, there were no frescoes,

only a restored “original” Romanesque baptistery. The work by Giulio Ro-

mano had fallen victim to the “restoration” impulse. Next came the Veneto
and the Pal lad ¡an villas. At that time none of the villas had been document-

ed or catalogued, but Colin knew their locations from his previous visits.

We would ask for directions in our primitive Italian and we found – and I

still have the slides – ten or twelve Palladian villas that had been previously

undocumented in any books at the time, certainly not in the old Baedeker

and Michelin Guida Rossa guides that were our constant companions.

I was taking slides, but not drawing. Learning to see requires something

other than slides or drawings. My most important lesson in architecture
was the first time I saw a Palladian villa. I cannot remember which one,

somewhere in the Veneto. It was hot, probably ninety-six or ninety-seven

degrees, and humid, and Colin said, “Sit in front of that facade until you can

tell me something that you can’t see. In other words, I don’t want to know

about the rustication, I don’t want to know about the proportion of the

windows, I don’t want to know about the ABA symmetries, or any of those

things that Wittkower talks about. I want you to tell me something that is

implied in the facade.” I remember this moment as if it were yesterday. This

is how Colin began to teach me to see as an architect. Anyone can look

at window-to-wall relationships, but can anyone see edge stress, the fact
that the Venetian windows are moved outboard from the center to create

a blank space – a void between the windows – which acts as a negative
energy? Such ideas are not found in any books. They are found in seeing

In this way I began to understand how to look at Palladio, at a portico in

relationship to the main body of the building, at the flatness of the facade

and its layering. Of course it was very different from looking at Giulio

Romano’s Palazzo del Te, which displayed different kinds of architectural

tropes: a different flatness, a different layering, the implied peeling away

of the stone, and the real stone making stone appear thin. We talked about

frontality, rotation, and the difference between Greek and Roman space. All

of these lessons I learned through looking at the subtleties of the Palladian
villas. In Vicenza we saw the Palazzo Godi, which Scamozzi finished after
Palladio’s death. We saw how much drier Scamozzi was than Palladio. To

be able to see dryness was as important as being able to taste dryness in
a wine.

We then went to Venice. In retrospect, in Venice, interesting differences

between Rowe and Tafuri became clear. Tafuri thought that Sansovino was

important, while Rowe infinitely preferred Scamozzi. We saw two Palladian

churches, San Giorgio and Redentore, and the layering and compression

that occurred on the facades, their frontality. Now I was beginning to see

things. And of course we were still doing twelve hours a day. I said, “Hey

Colin, come on, let’s go to the beach.” But no, we could not go to the

beach. For Colin, it had to be total immersion. This kind of mentoring would

be absolutely impossible today.

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He walked back?

We went into the Veneto, then down to Vicenza, to Verona to see Sanmi-

cheli’s city gates, to Padua to see the cathedral. This is where the story

also gets interesting, as far as Colin is concerned. He said we could not go
to Florence until we had seen Rome, because I needed to understand the

influence of Rome on Florentine and Bolognese painting, what he would

later call Mannerist painting. In other words, we had to see Raphael, Michel-

angelo, and Peruzzi before going to Florence. On the way to Rome, we went
to Urbino to see the cortile of the Ducal Palace and the Piero della Frances-

cas. The next stop was Arezzo, where we ate in the Buca di San Francesco,

across from the Vasari Loggia. We went to Borgo San Sepolcro – another

one of the things that only Colin would know – which is a little town near

Arezzo, with a small church, not yet restored, with frescos done by Piero

della Francesca. Many years later I went back and saw them when they

were completely restored. But who had been to Borgo San Sepolcro? Colin

was meticulous in knowing what to see and where to see it.

Down through Toscana we went. We made an important stop in Gubbio,

which is a tough hill town lacking the saccharine qualities of Assisi and

San Gimignano. From there we went to Todi, where I had my first spaghetti

carbonaro in a restaurant called Da Umbria, with a magnificent view of the

valley. Of course, we made the obligatory stop at Sangallo’s Santa Maria
della Consolazione. From Todi we went to Perugia, Orvieto, and Viterbo, to

the Villa Lante, to, finally, Rome, which was a literal feast for Colin. We saw

the Stanze di Raffaelo, in which I began to understand the three periods of

Raphael’s paintings, and The Fire in the Borgo by èiulio Romano. I began
to understand how this late period led to the painting of Parmigianino,

Pontormo, and Bronzino. Painters were an integral part of understand-

ing the architecture. Piero della Francesca was the first to bring a certain

layered frontality of space that architects like Bramante pick up. Rome is a

chapter by itself. Included in our tour was every Roman wall church of the

sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including Carlo Rainaldi’s Santa Maria

in Campitelli. It was in Rome that I got my first introduction to Luigi Moretti.

We went to the Fencing Academy, which was in pristine condition, then

to Casa Girasole and Casa Astrea. Colin had been impressed by Moretti ‘s

magazine, Spazio.

After a detour to Naples, we started north from Rome. I remember this was

one of the highlights outside of Siena. By this time I was pretty beat, really

exhausted, and particularly tired of being lectured, read to, and told what to

do twelve hours of every day. We were driving along just outside of Siena

when Colin said – and this was the way he would say things – “In 2 kilo-

meters we’re going to take the right bifurcation.” A couple of minutes later

he said, “Now remember, in 1 kilometer we’re going to take the bifurcation

to the right.” And I began to steam. So when we reached the bifurcation, I

went speeding by to the left. I had had it. It was done. And Colin said, “I

said right.” I said, “I heard you.” He said, “I said right,” again. I said, “I

heard you.” He said, “Stop the car.” So I said OK. I stopped the car. And he

got out, closed the door, and I continued on.

No, he hitchhiked to Siena, where we met up at the hotel, both having

cooled off. After Siena we went to Florence, then Bologna. Bologna is

memorable because we looked at Vignola’s Loggia dei Banchi and at the
Carracas and Guido Reni in the Bologna Gallery. Then we went to Lucca

to see the Pontormos. We looked at a lot of painting, but at the same time,

I was trying to collect issues of Casabella. We arrived in Torino on our

last day in Italy. I remember this distinctly. We went to a shop in the glass

galleria in Torino, an old white-haired man with a fascist beard, split in the

middle – clearly an old fascist – was sitting outside the bookstore. We asked

him if he had any old Casabella magazines, and he replied that yes, he

did. And I said, “Could we see them?” So he goes into the store and tells

the assistant to go downstairs to the basement. And he said, “Look, I don’t

want to bring them all up, which ones specifically are you looking for?” And

I said, “Why don’t you just bring up some magazines from 1932?” So he

brings up a complete year, in mint condition. So I asked if there were more,

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What happened when you returned to

How did the trip with Rowe influence your

and he said yes. So I said, “Why don’t you bring them all up?” He brings

up a hundred plus issues. It was amazing. I mean, a trove of mint-condition

magazines from the 1930s. Now, I knew they were worth $10 apiece, that

is, 6,000 lire. But if I bought a hundred magazines, that would be $1,000.
I didn’t have that much. I was making the equivalent of $2,000 a year, and

with my fellowship for $7,500 we had bought a car, traveled, etc. We did

not have much money at that point. So I asked what he wanted for them.

He said, really quickly, 60 lire a piece. Not 600 but 60. I said, “Too much,

I’ll give you 20.” We agreed on 20 lire a copy. He had never sold these

magazines, nobody had ever asked for them. I could have bought the entire
store, which had all of the Futurist and Fascist material one could ever want.

After Torino, we went back up through France, to Chambéry and Nancy – a

city Colin loved. Then we went into Paris and looked at what he considered

to be French neoclassical architecture by the architects Due and Duban,

people who are hardly known. We looked at Le Corbusier, of course. And I

remember, also going to his office at 35, Rue de Sevres. We stood outside

on the doorstep, and I looked at Colin and said, “What the hell am I gonna

say to this guy?” He said, “Ring the doorbell, come on, come on.” And I
said, “No, no, no, I can’t do that, I don’t know what to do.” So we turned

around and walked away.

Leslie Martin, asked me if I would stay on to teach a second year. At the
time I did not want to be a teacher, I wanted to be an architect, so I asked

if I could work as an architect. Martin suggested that since I already had

my license, I would not want to work as a draftsman, and that it would

be difficult to find any other architectural work. Then he said, “I will do

something which is highly irregular. Why don’t you do a Ph.D.? You can do

it in two years instead of three and still teach first year.” Being a teacher

at Cambridge, one was supposed to be sitting at high table in college, but

as a research student, one was supposed to be sitting with lesser mortals.

Martin, with his political acumen, was able to work it out, suggesting I do a

Ph.D. under his guidance.

I had never thought about getting a Ph.D., but I decided to do the thesis.

This was perhaps another example of my accidental education. I also saw

that there would be some problem for me in establishing my distance from

Colin Rowe. Rowe’s last year in Cambridge was from the fall of 1961 to

the spring of 1962. During that time I decided to write about the formal

basis of modern architecture as an analytic work on four distinct architects:

Terragni, Le Corbusier, Aalto, and Wright, much to Rowe’s chagrin. I finished

my Ph.D. in 1963, the year after Colin left.

Without it, I would not be who I am today. There is no question that my

education made it impossible for me to be what I would call an ordinary

practicing architect. The two trips – Colin and I made a second tour in the

summer of 1962 – and the Ph.D. were all part of it. My idea of what it was

to be a practicing architect changed completely. Even today, I am amazed

that I have done major buildings.

Being mentored by one of the three great historians and critics of the latter

part of the twentieth century – those being Banham, Rowe, and Tafuri – was

the most intensive experience I had. The time I spent with Rowe was my

education. In those two years, those two trips, I received an education that

would be impossible to have in any other way. I both carried this education

forward and needed to react against it.

Later, there were other mentors, Tafuri and Jacques Derrida. Percival Good-

man had been my first mentor. I was open to being mentored, and the times

were such that mentoring was possible. This would be impossible today.
With Rowe I learned about much more than architecture, from the Carracas

and Guido Reni in the Bologna gallery to the Vignola loggia in Bologna.

This was the time that Rowe was writing about Le Corbusier’s La Tourette.

He took me to the Cistercian monastery Le Thoronet, which is the formal

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Why did you decide to leave England?

Is this kind of learning still possible? Why
don’t you travel with your advanced studios,

if you are trying to teach your students to

see in the same way that Colin taught you?
Or maybe you’re not trying to do the same


You said earlier that this kind of travel is no

longer possible, that you cannot travel today
the way that you traveled with Colin Rowe

as your “cicerone. ” Is it not desirable, or is it

simply not possible? And if it is not possible,

why is that? What has changed?

underpinning of La Tourette. How many students even know about this,

much less have been there? All of this information was practically imprinted

on my brain, because it was passed to me in a very passionate way. I truly

was a “noble savage,” like a sponge soaking up this material. The thought

of having a Ph.D., the thought of teaching had never ever occurred to me. I

also did not realize that it was going to put me off of the conventional route

to becoming a practicing architect.

First of all, it was too claustrophobic, too homogeneous. I missed a certain

sense of humor that was American. I also missed a certain capacity to be

able to be “me.” I could not live forever as an expatriate. Even though I

could have stayed, I never would have practiced architecture in England. I

knew I wanted someday to build buildings. That was very important. I could
not become a historian like Colin.

The first-year class that I teach at Yale is an attempt to teach students how

to see architecture as architects. It is something that does not come natu-

rally. Yale’s Dean Robert Stern has said there is a disjunction between the

first and third year in the studio. We needed to find a course that mediated

between first year and third year. How does that knowledge move into the

I am trying to set up a series of case studies to show how Rem Koolhaas
moves from Palladio and Schinkel to Le Corbusier to Rem Koolhaas. I am

trying to define the persistencies of architecture. What are those things

that do not change, what things have changed, where aje the fertile areas

for change? How do you take the knowledge of Bramante and Palladio and
use it in a studio with Zaha Hadid? How does Hadid do it? How does Frank

Gehry do it? I want to show examples where masters have been able to

take material from the discipline of architecture and manipulate it so that it

becomes present. How do you produce work that does not rely on graphics

or Photoshop or computers, work that relies on the capacity to integrate

architectural knowledge into the present? In other words, what are the

present situations? Venturi, Moneo, Koolhaas, Porphyrios, Krier, Graves, all

these architects have had very good educations and have integrated that

education into their practice, whether you agree or not with their current

The world was much smaller in those days, and slower. One knew every-

body that there was to know. One does not know everybody in the world

anymore. In those days you either went to college at Harvard, Yale, or

Princeton, or you were out. When I applied to college, for example, I applied

to Harvard and Cornell – that was it. I did not apply to six schools or eight

schools. The world has become more varied and diffuse and the old days

of what it was like at Yale are not same as what it is like today. Peter Eisen-

man, for one, does not have the time or money to take off and travel for two
or three months. And I am married. You have to be an unmarried architec-

tural critic who is willing to spend their time for nothing, for nothing, to do

this. Nobody paid Colin to do it. We each paid our own way. Do I think that

it is a way to learn? Absolutely. Do I think one should be paid to mentor?

Absolutely. But I think the world has changed.

What is interesting is that I married my first wife that summer after Rowe

left. We were on the road going from Florence to Arezzo, repeating, as our

honeymoon, the trip that Rowe and I had taken. We drive off the main road

to a little place, and there is a side road coming in from Cortona. We go by

and I pull up in the parking lot of this restaurant where there are no other

cars, and I look in the rear view mirror and there is a little green MG, which

is what Rowe was driving, and I said to my wife, “Liz, you won’t believe this

but Colin Rowe has just pulled up behind us!” And it was true. Rowe was

with Alvin Boyarsky, who was then the next in line to take this grand tour.

The danger about mentoring is the risk that you never get out from under it.

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Because the mentor is doctrinaire, or be-
cause it is an intellectual shadow?

It seems that architects today are traveling
out of a professional rather than an intel-

lectual interest. For example, many architects

from our generation are building their careers
in European offices. A stop in Rotterdam has

become de rigeur. Do …

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