Interview with Geoffrey Baker

October 1993/March 1997







GHB: As you move in through the gateway, you turn right, and you’ve collected together a series of symbols. There’s the arch as you enter, there’s the cone-shaped hat that you’ve just talked about, then there’s the tower. There seemed to be evocations of Italian hill towns or whatever, where objects of this kind are brought together. Recently, I was in Prague, and there are so many views there where a lot of things crash together: sculptural shapes, gateways and towers collide. You’ve compacted these kinds of forms. Then, as you come through the vault, you start to use the other V-shaped device, which points ultimately out towards the mountains. The vault and the planes come together at entry. The plane of the V-shape slices through the vault. You can move to the right or left, but there is a point when everything comes together. The space is then expanding around you and it seemed to me to be very interesting because although the wedge shape is pointing to the north, you can turn round and it leads you off into other directions behind you, one of which is the main courtyard. This is serene, and I think elegant. The other direction is the corridor that leads towards the little hat, where there is another courtyard. So there are two different experiences of the courtyard, somehow controlled by the wedge that you introduce. I think that’s a powerful spatial and volumetric conjunction that you presumably were well aware of when you did it.

AP: I think you may be more aware of it than I was. All of these are by-products, experiential or spatial, of the idea of crossroads and the confluence of trails. The idea of a crossroads site is in the thinking, and when you make a crossroad that involves acute angles, then you have some really interesting possibilities – there’s a reorientation to what a crossroad can do compared to an orthogonal crossroad, and the spatial by-products that you describe are one set. There are others too – there’s the yearning towards; the direction that one feels. It’s almost confusion because there’s that principal direction, but over the shoulder there are these other ones going back the other way, in the direction from which you’ve come. I think that kind of mild disorientation is good. I think it’s OK in some instances. To have to seek out the front door. It places an obligation on the viewer.

GHB: I think one of the things I was very conscious of in relation to what you’ve said, is that this is a very simple L-shaped plan, dramatised by this directional thrust; and I’m also reminded as you’re talking, of the way the two main parts are connected to each other by the vault that contains and celebrates the children’s library. The wedge shape surges through the middle but the vault nails everything down, in a way that enhances the ensemble.

I was thinking how this becomes a theme, that doesn’t have to be socked to us all the time, but is there in a gentle way so that as you move through the building the theme recurs. The wedge shape recurs when you come out at roof level and you see the pointed thrust going out into the landscape; and in the Children’s Library obliques intervene within the vault in the suspended light fittings. All this is done in a rather gentle way, but we know that the theme itself has to be strong enough in its origins, and this is what you were alluding to by mentioning the intersection of routes and so on. This has to do with content and the way you see the programme. If this response is superficial we’ll know that very quickly. If, on the contrary, the meanings intended have deeper implications, we’ll understand this subliminally. I felt, for example, that the courtyards in the building are very important both symbolically and as a means of articulating the parts. They’re the spaces between, but they help the parts to be themselves so that the wedge idea can be sustained. So I dare say you are always conscious that you need a strong theme, which you have in the library, and then you work around that. Is that the case?

AP: Yes, I have to agree with that, but I don’t think in my process I would characterise it as a ‘theme’, but there may be an instinctive tendency towards that. You are picking it out in various buildings and I agree that it’s there. Another thought about that building: it’s almost as though you have an orthogonal building and you drove a wedge through it and it fractures. That’s a way you could characterise it. It simply was fractured by this wedge and the wedge kept going and became a ‘theme’.

GHB: Martin Heidegger, referring to our twentieth-century view of life, described our situation as one of ‘ontological blindness’. He attributed this to the way modernity induces a scientific and technological conditioning that prevents us from seeing our true position in relation to the world. One can link this to the way Peter Eisenman’s architecture, as he’s put it, ‘is merely the record of our times, and records for history what we’ve been about’. In doing this Eisenman rejects our former architecture of sacred order and he severs his work from such past associations. As you were just saying, life is interesting enough today anyway, and we have so much happening that we don’t necessarily need to be associated with things that have long gone. How do you respond to these differing views of our position in and perception of the world?