Star architect Peter Eisenman turns 90

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Peter Eisenman is best known for his design for the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. But the American shaped generations of architects with his deconstructivist ideas and teachings.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Holocaust Memorial

    Eisenman's Field of Stelae is located in the heart of Berlin, between Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was opened in 2005. “It's a little too aesthetic, it looks a little too good,” said the architect after completion. His project was selected from hundreds of proposals in 1999. Millions of people have now visited it.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Wexner Center for the Visual Arts

    The Wexner Center for the Arts was the first major public building designed by Peter Eisenman as an architect. By 1983, when he won the Ohio University commission competition, he had emerged more as a teacher and theorist. The large white metal framework gives the building an unfinished feel – and testifies to Eisenman's deconstructivist attitude.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    House at Checkpoint Charlie

    The “Haus am Checkpoint Charlie” was originally built for social housing in Berlin and was one of the main works of the International Building Exhibition in 1987. Today the building houses the Wall Museum. In his design, Eisenman referred to the interaction of different square grids. Originally a garden should be built according to his plans.

  • The architecture of Peter Eisenman

    Lion of Honor at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale

    In 2004, Peter Eisenman received the Lion of Honor at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale. There he presented his designs for the cultural city in Santiago de Compostela. The theme of the Biennale was “Metamorph”, a reference to the adaptability of architecture. Eisenman was one of the stars whose work demonstrated this metamorphosis of architectural forms, their materials and their staging.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Cidade da Cultura in Santiago de Compostela

    Near the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on Monte Gaiás stands the huge cultural center designed by Peter Eisenman, a mixture of architecture and land art. Since 2010, it has attracted many art-loving pilgrims to Galicia in north-west Spain. Hidden in the landscape is a library, an archive, an administrative building, two museums and a 1500-seat theater.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Model for the Leipzig Olympic Park

    The dream of the Olympics: In 2003, Leipzig was one of the inner-German candidate cities to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Eisenman's office also threw its hat in the ring. In March 2003, his futuristic-looking model was on display in the exhibition “Olympic visions on the way to reality” (on the right the draft by the Dresden architect Peter Kulka). The application came to nothing.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    University of Phoenix Stadium

    When Berlin's Holocaust memorial was dedicated in 2005, Eisenman said, “To be honest, I don't really care that much about memorials. I think more about sports.” Perhaps he remembered the stadium he built in Phoenix for the Arizona Cardinals NHL football team from 2003 to 2006 and which today bears the University of Phoenix in its name.

    Author: Sabine Peschel


  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Holocaust Memorial

    Eisenman's Field of Stelae is located in the heart of Berlin, between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was opened in 2005. “It's a little too aesthetic, it looks a little too good,” said the architect after completion. His project was selected from hundreds of proposals in 1999. Millions of people have now visited it.

  • The architecture of Peter Eisenman

    Wexner Center for the Visual Arts

    The Wexner Center for the Arts was the first major public building designed by Peter Eisenman as an architect. By 1983, when he won the Ohio University commission competition, he had emerged more as a teacher and theorist. The large white metal framework gives the building an unfinished feel – and testifies to Eisenman's deconstructivist attitude.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    House at Checkpoint Charlie

    The “Haus am Checkpoint Charlie” was originally built for social housing in Berlin and was one of the main works of the International Building Exhibition in 1987. Today the building houses the Wall Museum. In his design, Eisenman referred to the interaction of different square grids. Originally, a garden was to be built according to his plans.

  • Die Architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Lion of Honor at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale

    In 2004, Peter Eisenman received the Lion of Honor at the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale. There he presented his designs for the cultural city in Santiago de Compostela. The theme of the Biennale was “Metamorph”, a reference to the adaptability of architecture. Eisenman was one of the stars whose work demonstrated this metamorphosis of architectural forms, their materials and their staging.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Cidade da Cultura in Santiago de Compostela

    Near the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on Monte Gaiás stands the huge cultural center designed by Peter Eisenman, a mixture of architecture and land art. Since 2010, it has attracted many art-loving pilgrims to Galicia in north-west Spain. Hidden in the landscape is a library, an archive, an administrative building, two museums and a 1500-seat theater.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman

    Model for the Olympic Park Leipzig

    The dream of the Olympics: In 2003, Leipzig was one of the inner-German candidate cities to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Eisenman's office also threw its hat in the ring. In March 2003, his futuristic-looking model was on display in the exhibition “Olympic visions on the way to reality” (on the right the draft by the Dresden architect Peter Kulka). The application came to nothing.

  • The architecture by Peter Eisenman < h2>University of Phoenix Stadium

    When Berlin's Holocaust memorial was dedicated in 2005, Eisenman said, “To be honest, I don't really care that much about memorials. I think more about sports.” Perhaps he remembered the stadium he built in Phoenix for the Arizona Cardinals NHL football team from 2003 to 2006 and which today bears the University of Phoenix in its name.

    Author: Sabine Peschel


Walking between the seemingly endless rows of concrete steles of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial there are endless options. But every decision made – whether to walk straight, turn left or right – seems to lead nowhere. It can be that you suddenly see someone else's head emerging from the concrete – and just as quickly disappearing back into the grey-on-grey. For some, the monument creates a feeling of disorientation, while others feel nothing.

The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe near Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin has been criticized many times: It contains no information about a disastrous chapter in history, according to one accusation. Peter Eisenman, the eloquent architect of the memorial, replied:  “We can't understand what happened. It makes us helpless. And you can learn something about this helplessness in the memorial.” Walking through the steles is about the experience, not about finding a hidden one to decipher meaning. “You get strange physical sensations like undulating, tipping, tilting and you feel confusion, isolation, disorientation; you never know where you are.”

Clearly visible from afar: the waveform of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin

“The ordinary, the banal”

The memorial, opened in 2005, extends over 19,000 square meters on the former garden site of the Reich Chancellery, where the office of the Chancellor of the German Reich was housed from 1878 to 1945.

Eisenmann prevailed over hundreds of competitors in the late 1990s and was awarded the contract for the project. The waves that form the arrangement of the 2711 concrete pillars were randomly generated by the computer. However, Eisenman later said self-critically of the result: “I think it's a bit too aesthetic… I didn't want anything that looked like design. I wanted the ordinary, the mundane.”

Passion for science&nbsp ;

Born on August 11, 1932 in Newark (New Jersey) to Jewish parents, Peter Eisenman studied at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; also at Columbia University in New York City and at Cambridge University in England. With teaching positions at the universities of Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, Ohio State, The Cooper Union (New York)  and at Yale University he took an active part in academic life. 

In 1957 and 1958 Eisenman worked in “The Architects Collaborative”, which was founded by the Berlin architect Walter Gropius, who had emigrated to the USA . After his time as a professor at Princeton, Eisenman founded the “Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies” in 1967 and headed it until 1981.

Aim in life: to educate, not to please

Regarding Eisenman's influence as a creative mind and source of ideas, Mark Wigley, former director of Columbia University, said in 2011: “Peter has always embodied the ability to make big changes. Some say he has shaped by two, three or four generations. His goal in life is not to please but to educate.”

Culture.21 # Series German Pictures (4): The Holocaust Memorial – The Past That Will Not Pass # 01/24/2009

In his buildings, teachings and theoretical writings, Peter Eisenman is associated with Deconstructivism, an architectural movement concerned with freeing buildings from tradition, defying expectations, breaking form and rejecting symmetry.

One looks in vain for a specific handwriting that is reflected in each of his buildings: “When I look at my work on my website, I think to myself, Could someone recognize Peter Eisenman? I'm not sure,” he said himself about his creations and added: That's a good thing, otherwise all buildings would look the same.

If you still want to pigeonhole him, then that's how it is: “I can't mind  do what people say or think. They can say or think whatever they want, as long as they spell my name correctly,” he recently told a trade magazine.

The cultural city in Santiago de Compostela was given the shape of a scallop by Peter Eisenman

Eisenman's penchant for defying norms was also reflected in his personality, the late American architect Charles Gwathmey once said: “It is our conscience. It forces you to deal with the questions you want to avoid, directly confront. I believe his passion and risk-taking attitude have always been a role model for those of us who knew him well – and also for those he intimidated, provoked or inspired.”

Great works – and Controversies

The deconstructivism in Eisenman's work also had specific and costly downsides. The Wexner Center for the Visual Arts in Columbus, Ohio, hailed when it opened in 1989 as the first major public building designed in the Deconstructivist style, has a disturbing effect on visitors due to the sloping surfaces inside. Some reported feeling nauseous walking through. Errors in the foundation also required complex and costly renovations.

The architect, who doesn't like to be categorized, once said: “I don't want good or bad, right or wrong, left or right be. I'm not a modernist either.” In an interview with the magazine “Architect” in 2004 he said: “If there were only deconstructivist buildings in the world, I would go crazy.”

Significance to the Architectural Scene

Eisenman's work includes major urban projects, including the Koizumi Sangyo building in Tokyo, a stadium at the University of Phoenix in Arizona, and the six-building Ciudad de la Cultura de Galicia” (Galician City of Culture) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He wrote several books and was honored with numerous international prizes, including first prize at the 1985 Venice Architecture Biennale.

The architect Rafael Viñoly summarized Eisenman's importance in the historical context in 2011 as follows: “I think he left a knowledge in the whole subject that is much greater today than it was before him. He is the greatest polemicist in the world and an incredibly gifted man. He is fun to spend time with and he is fair. His type is rarely represented in our guild these days.”

This is the updated version of an article from 08/10/2017.