Book Review: Schlepping Through Ambivalence

Schlepping Through Ambivalence: Essays on American Architectural Condition by Stanley Tigerman, edited by Emmanuel Petit
Yale University Press, 2011
Hardcover, 192 pages

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was a third-year undergraduate architecture student at Kansas State University, our class visited Stanley Tigerman's office on a field trip to Chicago. We were given a tour around the office by a recent graduate of KSU, whom Tigerman later mocked as we uncomfortably (at first) tried to talk to the intimidating figure. The mockery was in reference to a question from one of us about graduate school; Tigerman was pushing our tour guide to attend a reputable grad school in order to, among other things, be able to articulate ideas clearly and develop a philosophical stance. By the end of our informal chat with Tigerman he had warmed up considerably and regaled us with anecdotes and a hefty dose of advice, cutting through any BS one might expect from a practicing architect, well known or not. (Now is especially a time when honesty is in need, as students might not be given the whole truth about the unstable profession they are getting themselves into.) Needless to say, later that day when we visited a corporate office and were given a tour and slideshow by a couple of partners, we were pining for the no-holds-barred attitude of Tigerman.

My slight engagement with Tigerman was extended a couple years later when I was an editor of Oz Volume 18, for which he submitted an essay, "Architectural Meaning in Hebraic Measurement." That essay is one of Tigerman's 25 "mostly unpublished essays written between 1964 and 2010" that is collected here by Emmanuel Petit. The book coincides with the exhibition at Yale School of Architecture last year, "Ceci n’est pas une reverie:  The Architecture of Stanley Tigerman" as well as Designing Bridges to Burn: Architectural Memoirs by Stanley Tigerman, published by ORO Editions. At the age of 81 Tigerman appears to be in the spotlight after decades of practicing, theorizing, and educating, the last at Archeworks, the "alternative design school" he founded in Chicago in 1993 with Eva Maddox.

The 25 essays are separated into four sections: History, Theory, Commentary, Poesis. An excellent foreword by Petit grounds the essays within some background of Tigerman's career and some recognizable strands of focus. The first chapter presents mainly texts where Tigerman deals with Mies van der Rohe and his influence on Chicago; it goes without saying that Tigerman is for an alternative to the influential master architect. Theory deals with Deconstructivism, religion, and other ideas (this is where the Oz article is found). Commentary finds Tigerman setting his sights on other architects, such as Philip Johnson, Robert A. M. Stern, and Louis I. Kahn. The last section includes the shortest pieces, but probably the most accessible ones. It's clear in these one-to-two-page texts that many were never written for publication; combined with his "architoons," they have an honesty that, while sometimes cryptic, is refreshing, reminiscent of my brief meeting with him many years ago.