Beyond Buildings


Lauretta Vinciarelli 1943-2011

Submit A Comment | View Comments

Lauretta Vinciarelli, Night #6, 1996; architectural drawing; watercolor and ink on paper. Courtesy: SFMOMA.


I was saddened to hear this weekend of the passing of Lauretta Vinciarelli. Lauretta created images that were elegiac: watercolors she layered in infinitely thin washes to evoke spaces filled with emptiness, grids, water, and light appearing from a source we could not see. She showed us an architecture of the imagination that we know we can never have, but that is perhaps buried in either a mythic past or deep inside buildings we have covered with all those bits and pieces that answer to the exigencies of everyday life. Vinciarelli’s passing deprives us of one of the last few decades’ great visionary architects.


Courtesy: Lebbeus Woods


Vinciarelli was born near Rome, and maintained a house outside of that city for all her life, but she came into her own in New York. It was there that she taught for many years, inspiring generation after generation of designers.  It was there that she also met the artist Donald Judd. She followed him to Marfa, Texas, and in that high desert she started making drawings that at first looked out at the emptiness of the landscape. Her drawings then turned in to reimagine the barracks she was helping Judd to covert as places that became more and more abstract, empty, and luminous. Water entered into the pictures, providing a place for reflections that showed off her technique of applying wash after wash of color, but also making it clear that these were not places to inhabit. They were spaces for the senses, without ground, program, or context.


The latter half of the 20th century saw geometry, color, and composition become not just the bones for the figure of representation, but the thing itself, freed from association and thus a deeper truth made visible. Architecture, as it materialized itself in buildings, sought to dissolve into the perfection of that pure play, and in Vinciarelli’s work came tantalizingly close. What held it back was a sensuality that made you lust to be in those rooms, however eerie they might be. Beyond that, there was also the complexity of the grids and the walls that arose out of them, drawing your attention to a construction that barely made sense. Vinciarelli evoked a place more beautiful than real.


Courtesy: Lebbeus Woods

That other great visionary, Lebbeus Woods, introduced me to Lauretta (and wrote a beautiful obituary on his site). I am sad to say that I had lost touch with Lauretta, and every time I walked by the building where she lived in Soho I thought of just ringing the bell and letting myself be charmed both by her drawings and by her, her Roman accent, her memories and her visions. Now I have only the one drawing she gave me to remember her by, and the hope that the public collections that hold her work will share it often and widely with a public that I trust will be as moved by Lauretta Vinciarelli’s art as I was.



Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:14 PM Sunday, September 11, 2011

    I was a student of Lauretta's in the Spring of 1981 at Columbia College. She was a vibrant, stimulating and passionate woman that introduced me to the world of graphic arts as a Architecture student. I moved on from Architecture but never forgot this wonderful, kind and inspiring woman.

    Report this as offensive

Comment on this Post

Post your comment below. If you wish, enter a username and password though they are not required. Please read our Content Guidelines before posting.


Enter the code shown in the image

Username is optional


Enter a password if you want a username


About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.