The architect and educator Giuseppe Zambonini once scrawled a short epigram on the top of a sketch: every thought flies. He had seen it in a park near his home, but it had a broader meaning for him, explained Robert Kirkbride, associate professor of Product Design at Parsons, in a recent talk with the noted architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the Joseph Urban Professor of Design at The New School. “Reason doesn’t limit truth or reality,” said Kirkbride.
Kirkbride adopted that brief bit of text as the title for an exhibition currently on view at the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons, which celebrates the life and legacy of Zambonini, a criminally underappreciated figure in twentieth century architecture, whose archive has just arrived at The New School, and will become an important holding in the university’s Kellen Design Archives.
Among the first of the New York Architecture League’s Emerging Voices (1982), Zambonini merged interior design, architecture, industrial design and theater, emphasizing process exploration through drawing and full-scale making. This emphasis on drawing was born partly of creative impulse, and partly of economic reality. Interest rates in the 1970s, Zambonini’s heyday, were extremely high, and the economy was generally weak. Construction of new buildings was rare, so aspiring architects worked mostly though sketches.
“In those days,” said Goldberger, “you reviewed drawings because no one was building. Just as architects took refuge in drawing, so did architecture critics.”
Drawing became essential to many architects of the period. “By drawing, you are seeing,” said Kirkbride, who has a personal connection to Zambonini—he was one of the last students of the architect, who died an untimely death in 1990.
“How did they know what they were doing until they drew it?” asked Goldberger.
Beyond his own work as an artist and architect, Zambonini is also revered as an educator. He founded his own school, The Open Atelier of Design, in 1977. He described it as “partially school and partially studio.” It produced widely published loft renovations while featuring instructors and lecturers such as Peter Eisenman, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, Steven Holl, Coop Himmelbrau, Frank Gehry, and many more of today’s leading architects and designers.
Kirkbride sees many connections between Zambonini and the OAD’s approach to architecture and design, and the approach at Parsons—integrating the disciplines of architecture, interior design, product design and lighting design and having a strong focus on design-build—which made it a natural that the archive would find its home here.
The exhibition, which runs through November 7, features projects and ephemera from Zambonini and the Open Atelier Design, along with newly digitized recordings of OAD lectures and panels designed by Zambonini for the first U.S. exhibit of work by Italian architect Carlo Scarpa (1983), with whom he completed his thesis at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia.