Hans Hollein: From a Distance

By Robert Crawford

Hans Hollein (1934–2014), View of Second Mesa, Arizona, 1960. Black ink on wove paper, 329 × 418 mm. DMC 2490.15.

On a page of Hans Hollein’s sketchbook, a cluster of adobe buildings climb slowly and modestly above the horizon, seeming to rise out of the earth. The sketch, produced in 1960 during the Austrian architect’s exploration of the western United States, feels unorthodox for Hollein, whose proclivity for radical, anti-Functionalist design marked him as a devout Postmodernist. The simple houses, rooted in the history and culture of the Hopi people, almost appear to be under attack in Hollein’s 1968 article ‘Everything is Architecture’, which explains Hollein’s beliefs on how architecture must respond to the Information Age. But his insistence on freeing architecture from historical limitations did not prevent Hollein from finding inspiration in the sparsely populated landscapes of western America.

In Hollein’s depiction, the crude shapes of the buildings and the earth below rise up in uneven masses, each line contributing to the impression of movement. It is a sculptural aesthetic which rejects the cold rigidity of Functionalism and Modernism. He captures the perfectly fragmented nature of the village in only a few pen strokes, displaying its irregularities in shape, location, and direction. Hollein applied the same fragmented method of design to the Abteiberg Museum, where a series of unique structures join together to create a small-scale urban environment. Architecture, Hollein professed, is ‘a medium of communication’, and these little houses of Second Mesa, Arizona, joined together into a coherent village, were indicative of that communication. He saw them interacting not only with each other but also with the great expanse of land below and sky above.

To understand this drawing as Hollein did is to examine it all at once, forgetting details and listening to the entire message being communicated. The architecture of this sketch is, as Hollein would say, everything. It is a village rising from the earth, the protrusion of the earth itself, an appreciation of height, a loss of scale, and above, all, an aesthetic experience.

Robert Crawford is a student of Architecture and Sustainability at the University of Notre Dame.

This text was entered into the 2020 Drawing Matter Writing Prize. Click here to read the winning texts and more writing that was particularly enjoyed by the prize judges.