This interview with Jorge Otero-Pailos, author of Architecture’s Historical Turn: Phenomenology and the Rise of the Postmodern (Minnesota Press, 2010). The conversation touches upon his education in Cornell and his early encounters with late architectural phenomenology in the 1980s and 1990s before turning to his efforts to historicize architectural phenomenology in his book.

  • “They recommended Genius Loci by Christian Norberg-Schulz to read […] to get you through school. […] And that was my introduction to architectural phenomenology.”

  • “We used to call it the Cornell-esque. Cornell-esque was very much influenced by the type of work that Meier was doing and some of the early work of Peter Eisenman also, this idea, you know, of taking the modernists and sort of chopping them up and reconfiguring them.”

  • “I was always sort of given the sense that there was a type of knowledge that I couldn’t access, you know, that would not be accessible to me simply because of my upbringing […] and it came from reading of critical regionalism…”

  • “Part of what I was trying to do in the book is to really move back, you know, to a  point in time when the divisions that seemed so obvious to us now were not there yet.”

  • “And yet, when you do the research, you see people making those choices, you see people being thrown into situations where they have to make, you know, do with what they have and you see how social relations begin to distort intellectual work.”

  • “So Europe and America are witnessing mass destruction, for different reasons […] of the urban fabric, of buildings. And so the relationship of Modernism to the past becomes complicated because in a way it was like wish fulfillment, you know, the desire to break with the past had happened, and then there was a sense of needing to actually make an effort to reconnect.”

  • “If experience precedes us, it means it is historical. It means that we actually relate to the world in a historical way. We relive the past, we enact it, and the same goes for architecture.”

  • “You’re sitting there drawing and trying to figure out the problem and it’s so complex that it’s impossible to actually pull it all together. And then all of a sudden you come up with an idea of a form that in a way resolved most of the problems.”

  • “He was one of those figures that, for me, was a real discovery. And I got into him through some mentions in Charles Moore’s interviews. He was talking about Laby [Labatut].”

  • “…people didn’t want to associate themselves with Labatut, who was so deeply committed to a very nuanced understanding of the Beaux-Arts.” // “Right, which wouldn’t look anything like what today I would think of as a Beaux-Arts looking studio.”

  • “He was certainly invested in his relationships with philosophers, specifically this figure Jacques Maritain. […] While he did bring in this art psychology aspect to sort of, perhaps, sell it to the university, […] it seems like this relationship […] was critical to his work.”

  • “I don’t have, let’s say, a desire to instrumentalize the history of architectural phenomenology today. Part of what I was trying to do in the book is to give it its due. Not to celebrate it, not to demean it unfairly, […] but […] to allow people to just read it for themselves.”



Hans Tursack

Issue Editor

Hans Tursack

Senior Editor

Joseph Bedford


Trudy Watt


Jorge Otero-Pailos


Hans Tursack


Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation