Mayne’s drawings for Sixth Street House invoke architectural conventions only to surpass their limitations. By collapsing plan, elevation, and detail through juxtapositions of scale, oblique angles, projection, and rotation, Mayne challenges the historical view of drawing as a passive medium at the service of architecture. The design involves the insertion of eleven found machinery parts into the shell of a preexisting bungalow. Reworked as functional elements—staircase, fireplace, shower—these innovative elements embody an imagined prehistory or archeology of the site. The complex operations characteristic of this and other early works by Mayne resonate with deconstruction’s philosophical goals, destabilizing normative procedures and producing new interpretations of cultural objects. As Mayne has said, his decontextualization of these different parts affirms “the presence of an artistic intervention” just as it “distorts scale, subverts typological expectations, and asserts functional neologisms.” Ultimately, they create an awareness of architecture’s potential to shift our perception of reality—opening up the possibility for transformation.
Gallery label from 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design, September 12, 2012–March 25, 2013.
Thom Mayne's drawing for the Sixth Street House invokes architectural conventions only to surpass their limitations. By collapsing plan, elevation, and detail through juxtapositions of scale, obliquity, projection, and rotation, Mayne challenges the historical view of drawing as a passive medium at the service of architecture. Mayne's design involves inserting eleven found machinery parts into a shell wrapping a preexisting bungalow (his own). Reworked into functional elements—staircase, fireplace, shower—these parts, Mayne claims, would bring invention to the site and have "the capacity to embody in built form an imagined prehistory of a place, a contemporary archaeology (past and future) and its subsequent transmission across time." This drawing, which layers a 1:24 detail and a 1:16 elevation or section over a 1:16 plan, functions similarly. The steel parts—represented by cutouts of metallic foil—appear as if unearthed, pulled out one by one, rotated, examined, and set aside, leaving behind the gray traces of their impression. Reassembled like cogs in a wheel, they become constructions of reinvented form. Mayne is a founding member of both the Santa Monica architectural firm Morphosis and the Southern California Institute of Architecture. His work recalls the machine aesthetic of the early-twentieth-century avant-garde and the archaeological and genealogical methods of Michel Foucault. Originally conceived as the terminus of his investigation—that is, as architecture—Mayne's drawings mimic the parts (found objects) that he reappropriates—each of them, as Mayne says, something "simultaneously 'a part of' its context . . . while isolated, detached, disquieting, critical, and untrustful of the world 'as it exists.'"
Publication excerpt from an essay by Tina di Carlo, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 238.