Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien on Paul Evans

1/5: Paul Evans (1931–87), Sideboard (Wavy-Front), ca. 1966. Welded and patinated steel, colored pigments, gold leaf, and slate top; 21 x 80 x 20 inches. Signed: “PE.” Collection of Dorsey Reading. Photo by Jason Wierzbicki.
2/5: Paul Evans (1931–87), Cabinet (Skyline Cabinet), ca. 1966. Welded and patinated steel, colored pigments, and brass; 30 1/4 x 75 x 18 5/8 inches. Conn Family Trust. Photo by Jason Wierzbicki.
3/5: Paul Evans (1931–87) and Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919–2008), Bar Cabinet, ca. 1963. Welded and perforated steel, copper, bronze, pewter, colored pigments, 23-karat gold leaf, electrical components, and felt; 81 3/4 x 60 x 23 inches. Cafesjian Museum Foundation Collection. Photo courtesy of Wright.
4/5: Paul Evans (1931–87), Cabinet (Cityscape II, Faceted) (PE 370), 1973. Chrome-plated steel and wood with fiberglass top; 23 x 94 x 24 inches. Collection of Dorsey Reading. Photo by Jason Wierzbicki.
5/5: Paul Evans (1931–87) and Phillip Lloyd Powell (1919-2008), Cabinet, ca. 1962. Welded and patinated steel, colored pigments, wood, 23-karat gold leaf; 32 1/4 x 46 1/8 x 24 1/4 inches. Collection of Merrill Wright. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have distinguished themselves in the field for their attention to materials, surfaces, tactility, and craft. You can see it most clearly in their hand-treated façade for the soon-to-be demolished American Folk Art Museum in New York City, or the interior courtyard of the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

Given the nature of their work, we thought of the pair recently when viewing a Center-funded retrospective of art-furniture designer Paul Evans at the James A. Michener Art Museum. Perhaps—just perhaps—Williams and Tsien are aware of Evans’ work? We asked them, and indeed they are.

What do you think of when you look at Paul Evans’ art-furniture, with its patterned, textured, and often deliberately overwrought surfaces?

To us the work is fascinating because it takes us out of our comfort zone.

Is there an architectural equivalent for this type of surface treatment?

Not really. It seems to fly in the face of architectural protocol—in the face of design as it used to be taught, in fact, and how it still is both taught and practiced. But as our definitions of society and propriety have been challenged, so too has architecture.

No one comes to mind?

Well, it recalls the experimentation and freedom in Paul Rudolph’s later work: from his School of Architecture at Yale to his own home in New York, with its theatrical mirrored mylar and glass. This was work for which he was much admired and roundly criticized. Also Philip Johnson’s follies and much of the work of Bruce Goff; these are architects whose career trajectories, like Evans’, sometimes seemed to veer out of control, without a direction or sense of rigor.

We might also look at the way Philip Guston’s work developed. It moved so dramatically from abstraction to brute forms and cartoon figures of the Ku Klux Klan.

Also very much out of the mainstream are the great window dressers who must come up with bold concepts seemingly overnight and on a shoestring budget. Robert Currie comes to mind. We were always excited to see his windows at the old Henri Bendel store on 57th Street.

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Photo by Jason Smith.

Do you think Evans would have made a good architect?

His interests were so widespread; we think he would have been far happier with interiors and homes. He needed a patron with incredibly strong convictions, who might have supported his eclectic tastes.

Architecture, by contrast, is very much a collaborative profession. And Evans seems to have never cared for context; he wanted to control the entire panorama.

For you, is Evans a proto-postmodernist, a regional modernist, or something else entirely?

We never like to classify designers, though we are sure we have. And Evans, we think, is particularly unclassifiable. In fact, were he alive and classified, he would flee your classifications.

We like the description of him wandering the edge of a volcano. He was neither conscious of the safety of set standards, nor of the danger of being a slave to fashion.

Are there any labels that have been applied to your own work that you have found fitting?

We are also architects who don’t want to be classified. We are attracted to many things and many materials and are always attempting to be connective—bold in our choices but sensitive in our use. We are on a rigorous search for the heart in all we do.

In this excerpt from the publication for Temple Contemporary’s Funeral for a Home, Sue Bell Yank offers a first-person account of the “home going” memorial for the house at 3711 Melon St.

This exhibition and event series will invite contemporary artists to respond to archival materials and poetry relating to the history of white southerners who migrated to northern cities in the 1960s and 70s and organized cross-racial social movements, while addressing historical and contemporary questions of equity, justice, and race relations.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Marian Bantjes is a Canadian graphic artist, designer, typographer, and writer. Her work was included in Word & Image, a Center-funded contemporary exhibition, part of Framing Fraktur at the Free Library of Philadelphia in 2015.

Grants & Grantees

This multidisciplinary chamber opera for mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and string quartet will focus on the experience of childhood and feature a mechanical, electronic sound-generating sculpture that will grow from a small music box into a seven-foot tall object as the performance unfolds, creating a riveting visual and musical experience.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Gilbert Vicario is senior curator and division head for curatorial affairs at the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa.

A tour of the Wharton Esherick Museum and Studio, organized by the James A. Michener Art Museum as part of Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism.

Grants & Grantees

From its beginning in 1815 as the nation’s first major urban water supply system to its role today as an environmental education and outreach center, the Fund for the Water Works has been an innovator in clean water and environmental health.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Jens Hoffmann is the deputy director for exhibitions and public programs at The Jewish Museum in New York City.

A panel discussion organized around Alien She, an exhibition examining the lasting impact of the Riot Grrrl movement, currently on view at Vox Populi.

Grants & Grantees

Named for Doylestown’s most famous son, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James A. Michener, this museum was founded in 1988 with a regional focus, housing a collection of Pennsylvania impressionist paintings.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Kim Whitener is the Producing Director at HERE in New York, where she works in partnership with Artistic Director Kristin Marting to curate and produce HERE’s performance programs and activities. She also served as the Center’s panel chair in theater in 2013 and as a Performance LOI panelist in 2014 and 2015.

Grants & Grantees

Albert C. Barnes founded The Barnes Foundation in 1922 in Merion, Pennsylvania, to house his growing collection of modern art, African sculpture, and metalwork.