Clocks and Clouds: The Architecture of Escher Gunewardena opens at the AD&A Museum at UC Santa Barbara on July 8th. The exhibition, a mid-career survey of the LA firm founded by Frank Escher and Ravi Gunewardena, highlights Escher Gunewardena’s generous and boundary-blurring exploration with art, craft and architecture. The Forum spoke to Frank Escher, a former LA Forum president, about his work, upcoming monograph and exhibition, and the future role of the Forum.
In his famous lecture “Of Clouds and Clocks”, Karl Popper talks about his earlier scientific and philosophical thinking in relation to these opposites: determinism –arising from rational thinking (clocks) – and chance (clouds). Popper argues that most things, systems or phenomena are neither only clocks nor clouds, but fall somewhere in between.
Our book is structured around four interviews that editor Lilian Pfaff conducted with Ravi and me. In the first interview we talk extensively about ‘Clocks and Clouds’. To us it has to do with what in the art of architecture is measurable, and what is not measurable. We have always been interested in developing an internal logic, or a system of constraints to provide us with a precise intellectual structure. It can be as banal as a system of dimensions and proportions, but this internal structure is “measurable”, it has its own logic and can lead to its own conclusions. On the other hand, we have always been interested in the idea of chance, the random and accidental. What we cannot and should not control have always been part of our thinking, such as how a material ages/transforms through human interaction, or through other processes that you cannot control. These two seemingly conflicting ideas, the desire to establish “order” and the acceptance of the “accidental” is something we try to develop in our work.
We do not exist in a cultural vacuum – what surrounds us, influences us. It is difficult to work as an architect in Los Angeles without confronting, in one way or the other, the city’s rich architectural history. In our case, this history has led to us not only working on the restoration of iconic buildings, but we have worked on books and exhibitions, artists’ projects, and with historic archives and collections. We’ve even developed the libretto for a four act opera on Rudolf Schindlers wife, ‘Pauline‘, which was performed in 2013 at the Schindler House.
These two sides of our practice reflect not only Ravi’s and my own interests, they very much reflect the cultural conditions of Los Angeles: the laboratory of twentieth century architecture that is now a global center for contemporary art. We have always been interested in connecting these two worlds, the overlaps and the interstice.
The Forum has the advantage of being nimble: an organization small enough to be well-connected and integrated in the architectural community, in particular with younger practitioners. But one has always also talked about the dis-advantage of not having a larger staff, or a fixed locale that would be known to the Angeleno architectural community, similar to the Architectural League of New York. Over the years there have been different ideas for locales, and despite the important collaborations with the MAK Center/Schindler House, WUHO gallery and now the VDL House, the Forum should eventually have its own space for lectures and exhibitions.
The important role for the Forum is to not simply provide dialogue within the architectural community, but with the city’s larger community. We must remember that the various schools in Los Angeles all have their respective and interesting academic agendas, lectures and exhibition programs. The Forum could be an important connector between the various schools through individual board and advisory members, and by expanding discourse beyond the confines of a particular school. We must further remember that, except for the Getty, none of the local museums have a dedicated architecture program and/or curator. Here the Forum could play an important role in generating content for these institutions: a regular series of panels, discussions or presentations at one of the local museums.