Three's a crowd: drawing, building and photography in the recent work of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Christopher Pierce

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This is a short tale of two competing institutions and two of their most celebrated figures. On one side is Cooper Union – that hulking Manhattan brownstone, an island on the intersection of Lafayette Street and the Bowery where Ricardo Scofidio (1935-) silently honed his art of drawing like an angel. On the other is Princeton University, where his partner (and partner), Elizabeth Diller (1954-) is often resident. Princeton sits in the heart of the New Jersey woods, literally and metaphorically, and despite its baronial/coniferous presence, is most notable in architectural circles for its rhetorical, not physical manufacture. Diller + Scofidio’s is a marriage whose vicissitudes are etched all over their work. Their partnership is product of a classic tutor/student liaison and it is also one that the utterly ageless Scofidio – as old as the other great old men of Cooper Union: John Hejduk (1929-2000), Peter Eisenman (1932-), Raimund Abraham (1933-) and Lebbeus Woods (1940-) – dominated in the 80s and 90s. Diller + Scofidio formed their collaborative partnership in 1979 but only built their first building in 2000, when their twosome was on the brink of becoming a threesome (with the promotion, to the level of partner as much as brand, of Charles Renfro). Throughout the 90s architecture aficionados became accustomed to Diller + Scofidio being defined by drawing, now it is photography. They have skipped out that whole beat of building some time in the middle. Since its invention architectural photography has satisfied itself as a source of clarification and hyperrealism. There is no more iconic shot than Julius Shulman’s 1960 photograph of Peter Koenig’s Case Study House #22. It has a dream-like clarity. In resolving this contemporary architectural tale, the young Dutch architectural photographer Iwan Baan is reducing, not heightening the effect. Not only are DS + R interrogating the product of architecture, but Baan is almost accidentally reinventing architectural photography. Amongst all of the conceit and pre-planning that is a part of contemporary architectural practice they have come upon something by accident and that is also just how Baan was first hired. So it is Scofidio again, and his reincarnation in Baan who is behind this, not the boisterous and PR-dominated side of the practice. Where does that leave Renfro? He might have been hired as Scofidio’s successor, but Baan has nicked that role.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-248
Number of pages17
JournalArchitectural Research Quarterly
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Elizabeth Diller
  • Ricardo Scofidio
  • Charles Renfro
  • Iwan Baan
  • Cooper Union


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