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The Angel Catcher

©François Lauginie

The Angel Catcher

John Hejduk
  • Architect (1929 - 2000)

John Hejduk was an aloof figure in the history of American and international architecture of the latter half of the 20th century. His essential theoretical work was based largely on drawing, conceived as a constructive act in itself, and a favoured tool for a critical reappraisal of the history of architecture and of the exploration of issues to do with form, autonomy and reciprocity. In the early days of his career, Hejduk was recognized as one of the “five architects”, or, “The New York Five” after the title of the exhibition put on in 1969 at the MoMA, where he featured alongside Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, Richard Meier and Peter Eisenman. At that time, those architects all shared an approach based on a recognition of the modernist legacy and a re-evaluation of its models, among which were the villas of Le Corbusier, and Italian rationalism. It was through drawing, in particular in the series known as the Diamond Houses (1962-1967), that Hejduk sought to draw up an architectural syntax nurtured on the modernist vocabulary, but moving away from it in favour of mathematical gains based on the exploration of geometric figures such as the cube and the grid. From 1979 on, years during which he embarked on his work on the Masques, Hejduk gradually introduced into his projects the possibility of a poetic narrative. He duly evolved towards a praxis with a marked fictional character, at the crossroads of several disciplines (medicine, literature and painting) capable of giving rise to a potential architecture. Hejduk’s research, which was more abstract and more intimate, then seemed to touch on what it had always been trying to achieve: the idea of a truly architectural condition. Some of the machines and the architectural systems devised by Hejduk were produced by students, architects, and mere amateurs, based on his drawings, such as Security (1989), a moveable security building featuring in the project Berlin Masque/Victims, designed to celebrate, in Berlin, the memory of the victims of the Gestapo, and made in Oslo by students at the School of Architecture. Hejduk was also recognized for his role as a teacher which he enjoyed uninterruptedly for almost 50 years and which put him at the hub of American architectural and critical activity. From his beginnings at the University of Texas, where he was associated with the “Texas Rangers” (a group of influential professors which also included Colin Rowe and Werner Seligmann), to the Cooper Union in New York, he trained several generations of architects, including Daniel Libeskind and Elizabeth Diller. He renovated the teaching of architecture in particular by introducing into it exercises involving abstract composition, at the crossroads of various architectural and literary disciplines. 

John Hejduk (born in New York) was an architect and teacher. He studied at the Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture, at the University of Cincinnati, and at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, from which he graduated in 1953. He worked in well-known agencies such as I. M. Pei and Partners, and A. M. Kinney and Associates, before embarking on a lengthy career in teaching. He first taught at the University of Texas before returning to the Cooper Union in 1964. Appointed dean in 1975, he would hold that position until his death, leaving a profound mark on the school by transforming it both in its form—he rebuilt the premises in 1975—and in its content. John Hejduk did not build very much himself, so his publications form the core of his oeuvre, such as Mask of Medusa: Works 1947-1983) (1985) and Bovisa (with Rafael Moneo, 1988). He constructed one or two buildings, such as the garden apartments and the Kreuzberg Tower in Berlin (1988), as well as temporary installations deriving from his drawings, one such being The House of the Suicide (1991), presented in Prague at the request of Vaclav Havel.

Emmanuelle Chiappone-Piriou