‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago

Beguiled by complex mechanisms, Thom Mayne inverts conventional hierarchies by accentuating part over whole.

For his own residence, Mayne proposed to insert eleven found objects incongruously into a generic frame house.

‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago ©Morphosis

The eleven steel machinery parts were to be reworked into functional elements-staircase, fireplace, shower-a characteristic tactic of “dead tech” architecture. Denied financing, Mayne abandoned the project.

‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago ©Morphosis

He worked with architect Andrew Zago to conceive drawings that captured the subtleties of the original concept. How to draw a set of plans, sections, and elevations that would capture the individuality of each object and their curious correlations? A standard set of drawings would dilute the rich complexities.

‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago ©Morphosis

Straining the standards of architectural graphics to the breaking point, Mayne’s and Zago’s ingenious solution employed two graphic innovations. First, all sections and elevations are drawn to a view oblique to a principal axis of the plan.

‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago ©Morphosis

For example, rather than presenting a section of the building cut parallel to a principal facade, the drawing shows the building sliced by a plane oblique to a main facade, presenting internal relationships thus not subordinated to the dominant geometry of the building. Second, on every sheet Zago drew two interrelated treatments on the same page: a 3/4″ = 1′ plan, section, or elevation and a 1/2 ” = 1′ isometric study of an object. Each sheet is conceived as an elevation of the building, with the edge of the paper equated to the edge of the building.

‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago ©Morphosis

This framework locates both the objects and the positions of the diagrams; for example, the centre line of the plan of the loft floor sits on the page where the loft would occur in the building. One object is studied in 1/z” isometric per page, its location also determined by its position in the building; on a particular page, the relative positions of the other objects are indicated by abstract two-dimensional notations. Each object has its own character, and its skewed position within the spatial matrix of the house responds to its function and its relationship with the other objects. Zago ultimately drew just ten of the objects, labeled A through J.

‘Sixth Street House’ by Thom Mayne with Andrew Zago ©Morphosis

The texture of the drawings derives in part from Zago’s fascination with Daniel Libeskind’s Micromegas; he had received one of the prints as a gift just before beginning work on the Sixth Street House drawings. The labyrinthine intricacy of the works caused a sensation, and their intriguing spider-web of lines launched a style of complicated, multiview drawing. Unlike the obtuse graphic hysteria they spawned, however, Mayne’s and Zago’s ten drawings are models of cold precision and efficiency.

Their broad appeal encouraged Mayne to produce a colour serigraph version with printmaker John Nichols. Sales of these prints helped sustain Mayne’s office.


credits | Thom Mayne // LiteraturePerfect Acts of Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, 2001