By Chitika Vasudeva
In the second installment of the 2018 SoA Spring Lecture Series, architect and educator Margaret Griffin, FAIA shared her forward-thinking approach to space-making in her talk “Towards a New Authenticity.” Griffin, who has roots in Pittsburgh, runs Griffin Enright Architects with her husband and partner John Enright, FAIA. The L.A.-based firm is known for innovative, well-crafted design, and their work is well-decorated with local, state, and national awards.
In striving to develop a new authenticity, Griffin argues that “in a world of the copy of the copy – the mule, a hybrid of the horse and the donkey, cannot be copied.” The argument for hybridization as the key to authenticity manifests in an approach that she describes as transforming “experience and affect through synthesizing new relationships between previously disparate objects.” Griffin places her firm’s work in the “blurry zone between the fox and the hedgehog, [which] is where the mule lives,” explaining that it “explores new affect and typologies to arrive at new authenticities.”
In her lecture, Griffin delved into the firm’s process of exploring hybridity by discussing matter, space, movement, light, and the qualities that enable the generation of “new effects and new identities.” She used the Infonavit Social Housing project to demonstrate this part of the firm’s process. The challenge, sited in Apan, Mexico, entailed designing a 485 square foot home with a budget of $6,000. The project was a collaborative effort with architecture firms Zago Architecture and Mexican studios ZD+A and Iñaki Echeverría. Griffin described the “typological exercise” that led to the creation of three different types of houses with variable roof types. The design for the houses employ elements such as an exaggerated Z-axis, to “get the most bang for your buck” as Griffin put it, and includes a yard to facilitate edible gardening and neighborhood markets.
An interesting takeaway from Griffin’s professional trajectory is the influence of place on her work; that is, not only where it is situated philosophically, but also physically. As discussed by SoA faculty and students at the Back2Front discussion that followed the lecture, a lot of the firm’s work directly responds to their context in Los Angeles. Their installation “Keep Off The Grass!”, for example, addresses the overuse of hydroponic sod in the city, while the Vertical Garden uses the Schindler House as a prototype.
Regardless of geography, a consideration for spatial sequence and for the way space is experienced is central to the firm’s work. When asked how she balances her own voice against the influence of her teachers, Griffin explained that her educational background is steeped in modernism—Griffin studied under Werner Seligmann, a notable “Texas Ranger” at Syracuse University—but Griffin’s own philosophy has continuously evolved towards a technology-centric process of designing and building. The firm’s competition entry for the Guggenheim Helsinki (shortlisted for the 2016 WAN Future Projects Civic Award), with its hybrid Boolean and emergent geometry, is a excellent example of this. While the sculpted form challenges the modernists’ rigid approach to form-making, the spatial configuration of the museum galleries clearly echoes the fundamental architectural principles they promoted. As Griffin noted in her talk, how “to look, to see, to draw, to know” was a central lesson in the teachings she received as a student, and continues to drive the way she interacts with the built world today, demonstrating how one can find their own voice through their education.
Chitika Vasudeva is a third-year Bachelor of Architecture student in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.