Recorded: October 15, 1986
As “the preeminent monument of the 20th century city,” the office tower can be “a troubling and sometimes a very sorry monument,” observed Henry Cobb, a founding partner of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. In this short excerpt from a 1986 lecture given to The Architectural League, Cobb offers remarks on his efforts to “humanize the tall building and give it the demeanor of a good citizen.” Cobb has sought the placemaking potential of an often private and banal structure that serves primarily as a “beacon of corporate or entrepreneurial achievement,” endeavoring to leverage this investment to “enrich the space of the city, to animate its public realm.”
The lecture was delivered during the famed Game 6 of the MLB 1986 National League Championship Series, in which the New York Mets defeated the Houston Astros in 16 innings to advance to — and then win — the World Series. In her introduction, architect Frances Halsband remarks that the game, then in its 13th inning, is tied 3-3.
This lecture was originally presented as part of League’s 1986 Current Work series.
Source by The Architectural League
Join us for an evening with Henry N. Cobb, Peter Eisenman, and Rafael Moneo as they investigate the question, “How will architecture be conceived?” Each participant will give a brief presentation, after which, they will engage in an intimate discussion together on stage.
Justice Stephen Breyer and Henry N. Cobb
Recorded: December 18, 2015
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and architect Henry N. Cobb met when Cobb and his firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, were commissioned in 1991 to design a new federal courthouse on Fan Pier, at the edge of Boston Harbor. Justice Breyer, then Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, was lead client for the project and was deeply engaged in the development of the courthouse. The two launched a sustained dialogue about how to achieve three goals set by Breyer that convey profoundly important messages about the role of the judiciary in a democratic society: the project should communicate that the site of the courthouse belongs to the public; that the courthouse itself belongs to the public; and that the courts are equally open to all. The John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, which opened in 1998, won a Presidential Design Award in 2000.
To set the background for their conversation, which took place in The Great Hall of The Cooper Union on December 18, 2015, Cobb discusses the design of the federal courthouse that brought Justice Breyer and Cobb together. He reflects on how Breyer "was the passionately engaged user-client and eloquent advocate in the cause of architecture whose words and actions helped bring that program into being." After Cobb's presentation, Justice Breyer takes the stage with Cobb where the two reflect on the courthouse's design process and the civic importance and symbolic power of architecture for the judiciary.
Henry N. Cobb discusses with Eric Owen Moss his Hypostyle installation, stressing that the array of opaque vertical elements is meant to be very legible and experiential. When Moss wonders if the tabletop city of Loos's Tribune Towers is meant ironically, Cobb distinguishes between the architectural proposition made of 3 by 8 foot doors, from the the Loos urban proposition. Cobb stresses the significance of scale and proportion, and the work's experiential aspect. Cobb and Moss continue their conversation, touching on plan versus section, timelessness, and minimalism.
Henry N. Cobb comments that he will use his lecture to talk about his tower projects, as well as reflect on his career. Recalling Robert Venturi’s idea of the “double-functioning element,” Cobb describes architecture as both dream and function.
Cobb describes a series of early towers, and then focuses on Boston’s John Hancock Building. Cobb talks about the existing site conditions of neighboring Copley Square, as well as the political motivations that shaped the project.
Cobb contrasts the muteness of tower forms with the verbosity of signage. He discusses his intention to manipulate the cube into a form that changes shape as the observer moves around it. Cobb argues that skyscrapers meet the ground, not the sky, and looks for the typology to change from portraying authority to portraying diversity.