Interview with Geoffrey Baker

October 1993/March 1997






AP: I don’t know much about Heidegger, but I’ll start with an extrapolation that I’ve used in lectures, relating to a roadcut as a process of discovery in my work from a highway roadcut where the geologic section is revealed through man’s disturbance as a sectional diagram of the earth. In this roadcut, with its strata of rock formations, we sense layers of a historical past. So in Heidegger’s terms, I see any site as gathering a multitude of phenomena, with layers no longer visible that are very important to me. At the bottom of the roadcut in my part of the country, there’s pre-Cambrian granite, the most ancient granite, overlaid by limestone. In geologic time, other sedimentary strata, like sandstones and ocean-bottom fossils begin to turn up – the brachiopods, the crinoid stems, the limestone layers atop the Sandia Mountains that are the overburden above the pre-Cambrian granite. It is then you begin to see cultural artefacts in terms of relative scale, as a fraction of an inch compared to the miles of depth of the geologic datum. Artefacts are, in this part of the country, Anasazi traces (prehistoric traces in any part of the world become visible); and then the successive cultural strata. In the section are later cultures: evidence of the arrival here of the conquistadors, 1930s hub caps, beer cans and whatever you might imagine out there. In my mind, I have a completion of the roadcut that involves the unknown, which is ephemeral, yet almost palpable here in the Southwest, the idea of time beyond. So that whole roadcut is then a diagram, an investigative diagram for thinking about making architecture, but I don’t mean that it is a methodology that is formalised or to be taken literally. If you think about all those strata, there’s a likelihood, there’s a chance at least of the work evoking a timeless aspect rather than having only a topical drift.

The discussion of divinity is a slippery one because it’s totally personal – these intangibles we may all see differently. I see the creative process as one that seeks an unselfconscious response that is the polar opposite to a highly rational methodology.

I can explain this as attempting to retain a certain innocence, the kind of innocence that may be present in one’s signature. It is a gesture that goes back to the body in architecture and I can see that gesture frozen in my clay models. My attempt to connect with ‘the divine’ in your terms makes me want to preserve certain instinctive, intuitive responses and to retain their power as the original ‘driving forces’ in my work.

I think that’s a way of talking about divinity. There’s a chance that a mark that is made, traced on paper, cut in clay, traced with your hand, whatever, could come from a place within that bypasses the mind, but is richly informed by thought about the problem at hand. I don’t think I’m quite talking about the disassociation from authorship that John Cage talked about. His use of the I Ching in the sixties and seventies was one way of sidestepping authorship, and his pieces that had to do with silence also tended that way. I don’t think I’m quite talking about that. I think the innocent mark is much more of an assertion than looking over one’s shoulder for the unexpected inspiration. I know all that’s a little fuzzy sounding, it needs to be worked on, Geoffrey, but I’m trying to characterize some parallel or extrapolation from your Heideggerian relationship of earth, sky and the divine, trying to convert it to the practical way I work. That’s one way of talking about it. I think architecture is a ride, a physical ride, and I mean that literally: a ride like in an amusement park, a fascinating journey towards the unexpected.