A Theory of the Production of Meaning in Architecture, [1980]; Machado, Rodolfo (Buenos Aires, 1942), Silvetti, Jorge (Buenos Aires, 1942), Peter Lofgren; Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Harvard GSD Exhibition Explores the “Unprecedented Realism” of Machado Silvetti

On view at the university’s Druker Design Gallery, Unprecedented Realism: The Architecture of Machado and Silvetti features rare materials from the Boston-based firm’s archive.

At Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Druker Design Gallery, a rich amalgam of some 120 two-dimensional works, 30 models, and 250 pieces of discursive material from architects Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti are on display in Unprecedented Realism: The Architecture of Machado and Silvetti. On view through October 7,  the exhibition shines a light on rare materials from the architect’s personal collection which was recently acquired by the GSD’s Frances Loeb Library. The occasion coincides with Silvetti’s retirement from the university , where he taught since 1975. 

Founding partners Machado and Silvetti began working together in 1974 prior to establishing Machado and Silvetti Associates in 1985 (later updated to MACHADO SILVETTI in 2015.) The internationally renowned firm’s research-based approach situates its practice at the forefront of theory as it intersects design, dismissing preceding schools of thought such as poststructuralism or deconstructivism where theory often operates detached from the act of making. Always maintaining the primacy of buildings, they prefer the construction of venerable spaces that encourage habitation to the vanity of autonomous architectural works posturing for public admiration.

Fountain House, Southern California, (South Facade); Machado, Rodolfo (Buenos Aires, 1942), Silvetti, Jorge (Buenos Aires, 1942); Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Machado and Silvetti seek to be unbound by convention in their work while still grounded in a reality that allows for design’s utilitarian function, an architecture whose theory is tethered to the successful performance of its final structure. The exhibition title echoes the aspiration of its namesakes. A phrase originally coined by Machado in 1986, “unprecedented realism,” encapsulates the self-referential nature of their work. 

Colored by the thinking of the firm, curators Mark Lee, department chair of architecture  at GSD, and graduate student Remi McClain poured over the recently acquired assortment to assemble a narrative that performs beyond a simple retelling of the practice’s evolution. The pieces curated from the original collection include the architectural plans, speculative drawings, working documents, models, construction sets, material samples, and mock-ups. 

The Harvard Graduate School of Design hosts a discussion and celebration to mark Jorge Silvetti’s retirement from the GSD and the opening of the exhibition Unprecedented Realism: Selections from the Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti Collection, featuring voices from the GSD community past and present at Harvard GSD’s Druker Design Gallery, Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, on Thursday, September 22, 2022.

The scope of artifacts, objects, and texts on view are indicative of the design and building practices intrinsic to Machado and Silvetti as well as their shared conviction for the iterative process necessary to move the industry forward in service of society. Visitors are immersed in a physical repository of theoretical explorations as they meander between display cases and pass wall-hanging lithographs, conjectures and the constructed. Selections such as the study “Fountain House” or realized “Country House,” both architectural drawings, are contemplative as much as they are practical studies in construction.

Overall, the show is a testament to MACHADO SILVETTI’s life-long accumulation of production. What emerges is a rigorous practice of preserving and documenting the thought process that drives the discipline, tests theory, and allows the field to evolve while honoring lessons from the past. 

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