Archis 2007 #3

Conversation with Vincent Gallo, Benjamin Bratton and Jeffrey Inaba. A Screenplay

— by

J E F F R E Y: Vincent, you know the first time we met was around 2001, at Benedikt Taschen’s Lautner house. I showed you a book of the addition that OMA was going to do to the house.

V I N C E N T : That was you?
J E F F R E Y : You knew all of Rem’s work well and really liked the book I showed you. And then suddenly three very pretty women came over and were like, ‘Oh!
What a great book. Vincent did you do this? Vincent, Vincent, Vincent, Vincent, Vincent.’ They were all over you. I’ve never seen anything like it.
V I N C E N T : It was a fluke. One of them must have
thought I had a lot of money or something and spread it to the other ones.
J E F F R E Y : Everywhere you stood that night there was a crowd of women around you.
V I N C E N T : Then the ‘Vincent Gallo is rich’ rumor must have spread like wildfire.
J E F F R E Y : I don’t know, most of the women there were rich themselves. Anyway, I remember you liked a lot the idea Rem had for the addition. It was like a 90-foot cantilevered I beam out of the side of the mountain that had a swimming pool on top. And Benedikt’s only thing was, ‘Yeah you know we have daughters, so can you put a handrail on it?’ That was his only sort of criticism. Like you know they might fall off.
V I N C E N T : I forgot Rem was going to work for those people. Are you still friendly with Rem?
J E F F R E Y : Yeah, yeah. I remember a couple years ago he said that the two of you were working together.
V I N C E N T : We were working together. Hopefully one day we can really work together.
J E F F R E Y : You guys were working on an apartment that had a secret floor or something like that. It seemed really interesting.
V I N C E N T : I asked him to work on a space that was a two level condominium. It was once owned by the TV actor Jack Ward and later by the great David Geffen. It’s now owned by Cher. In between Geffen and Cher I owned the place.
B E N J A M I N : So you’re halfway between David Geffen and Cher.
J E F F R E Y : What a great description.
V I N C E N T : That place was incredible. The view was so beautiful. While I owned it, I was open to collaborating or commissioning or working with someone in some way to help me develop the space architecturally. I wanted to do something extremely progressive, conceptual, and very thought out. Modernism is not things that look like sleek designs from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Something truly modern and progressive is far away from the thinking and lifestyle of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Amateurs like Marmol Radziner are considered by the weak to be modern architects simply because they create things that look like what we got used to as contemporary architecture. But their retro work and the work of the real architects from the ‘50s and ‘60s does not relate to contemporary life or the real state of things. My understanding of a home of today, the way that I would interact with that home, sleep, entertain, have sex and perform my work functions in that home, are all quite contrary to what even the most modern architects were thinking in the past. Even an eccentric architect like Albert Frey whose Palm Springs work looks space aged – really, though, his work is a dressed up version of the Beaver Cleaver house. I have owned three houses by John Lautner, one of the better residential architects of the 20th century. When the houses were for sale, I could not resist purchasing them as I was so drawn to the aesthetics and sensibility of those homes. However, soon after moving in, I would feel that the lifestyle and mood required to live in those homes was far from my own and stuck in the past. Even with all of Lautner’s creativity, intelligence, and problem solving abilities, he was still creating architecture for an old way of living. Though I asked Rem Koolhaas to work on the project with me, I felt a part of his work is stuck in or reacting to old thinking. I remember when I sent Rem’s office an email asking them to work on my project, not thinking they would respond or accept. But his office responded quickly with something like, ‘Rem knows who you are and is a fan of your work and that’s one of his favorite buildings in Los Angeles.’ I was very surprised. Shocked. And before I know it, Rem shows up in LA and I meet with him at the space. And I like him immediately. Even the way he looks. During that meeting Rem kept noticing the 4 feet of space between the ceiling and the upstairs floor, space that is typically used for heating and cooling devices. Rem wanted to utilize the space for another purpose and his concept was built around that idea. My concerns were of sound-proofing, air and water filtering, ways of self-cleaning, and the wish for the creation of a living space with no obvious signs of human life.
J E F F R E Y : What a great, great fascination.
V I N C E N T : We should not see a toothbrush, a garbage can, a bed, a refrigerator. Nothing should be out in the open. No brand names or advertisements.
No schmutz or products. No appliances or TV’s. No furniture. And free of debris. Especially debris from humans. Like a loose hair. I’m not repulsed by humans.
I’ll put my tongue up the asshole of a strange girl within 10 seconds if she’s good looking. No, not because I’m repulsed by humans. Instead because I’m repulsed by the distortion of aesthetics. No matter how fully realized a design claims to be, architects don’t fully protect those designs from the inhabitants. People move in, bring in their tchotchkes, set up their zones, spread out their products and ruin everything. I also insisted that Rem consider the design to be fully functional for the work that I do and we discussed this at length.
B E N J A M I N : It’s a factory. I mean, it’s industrial architecture.
V I N C E N T : Absolutely.
J E F F R E Y : It’s like a high-end factory.
V I N C E N T : Yes, which is what a contemporary residential home should be, instead of pretending everywhere to be something else.
B E N J A M I N : Especially when it’s wrapped in the veneer of a faux 50’s Modern aesthetic where in fact function is overwhelmed.
J E F F R E Y : Have you gone to old factories? Do you visit factories? You say you go around the world and see architecture. What do you mean by architecture?
V I N C E N T : In the middle of the desert, heading homeward towards LA, I’ll often sacrifice the experience of a National Park to instead pass by a nuclear power plant or a factory. Anonymous architecture.
B E N J A M I N : It’s all anonymous architecture for the most part. It’s nameless and collaborative and egoless.
V I N C E N T : Egoless, yes, which is most important. Ego leads to self-glorification, which leads to compromised function. It prevents the work from being better than the people who make it. The Shakers of the North-east because of their religion and the philosophical ideas surrounding their religion moved towards a more egoless life to find peace and harmony. They were high level builders and craftsmen, but they frowned upon ornamentation or self-glorification in everything that they built.
B E N J A M I N : Or self-expression.
V I N C E N T : Well, when you look at the work, it is the most pristine and beautiful of its time, maybe of any time. When I first looked in books and noticed this work, I was blown away. More than blown away. For the first time in my life designs made absolutely perfect sense to me. I felt this work was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. When I think about collaborating with architects or designers the biggest hurdle for me is to keep them away from their own self-glorification and egos. For example, if the problem is to light a room, rather than study the luminance and reflection patterns and research technologies, they would usually begin with a gesture of self-glorification and self-expression. A design based on nothing but design itself. And then hope to find a way to make it work, of course with many compromises.
J E F F R E Y : I think what’s interesting – and this is what we are trying to address in this issue of Volume – is that for young architects now who are going to school there is an implied understanding that becoming a celebrity is just part of what you do and that’s not always been the case. But I think now it’s to the point where they understand it as a thing that they have to do in addition to being talented. And so our goal is: can we propose alternative ambitions for architects? Can it be a thing where their ambitions will be different? And it’s not to say that somehow there’s a model where you just tinker away at what you do and people will recognize it. We’re not trying to propose that. But rather to use the interest in architecture now – the cultural interest – to be, for example, a new kind of public intellectual or to be a person who uses the spotlight of interest on architecture in some other way. So that’s sort of the goal of it, of saying what are alternatives, what are possibilities?
V I N C E N T : Cinema and art schools suffer the same dilemma. The movie industry was a very straight profession, though technical and creative. Selfglorification was not dominant. However in the 60’s and 70’s some filmmakers within this large establishment were set free in their creativity if they would do so with extremely modest budgets. Those filmmakers were still connected to that past tradition in which self-glorification was not dominant. So these early experimenters were going down roads and taking paths that were new to everyone. Many of them were pushed out of the profession and only a few became glorified. Young filmmakers buy into this glorification and want to be like those select few. Even though the environment is different, the conditions are different, the industry is different, and the audience is different. They can’t help themselves but begin their work with the idea of being glorified like others were glorified in the past. And they’ll do anything to become glorified, not just successful. Successful and glorified. Rich, famous, and cool. Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Quentin Tarantino are not breaking out of confinement in any way. Instead, they are having the kind of mainstream successes that very mainstream filmmakers had in the past, yet they pantomime the role of a renegade as if they are bursting out