William Steinberg / Architect of the Ruin

Architects, like sculptors, often begin projects with thumbnail sketches and rough scale models to articulate their initial concepts. The late Canadian architect Arthur Erickson often worked on his 3-dimensional models while flying between locations. He described aesthetics as the most important element in his work, but he also prided himself in responding specifically to “givens” by considering function, the topography of the land, and assessing how he could make use of the natural light of the site.

Richard Henriquez works from a more inter-disciplinary position; he is as much a sculptor as he is an architect. He integrates the esoteric with the utilitarian; architecture as sculpture and sculpture as architecture, mutually informing and echoing each field. His Memory Theatre and his numerous sculptural buildings embody the essence of their inhabitants and locations. His works are like reliquaries of 3-dimensional clues engaging the viewer on an interpretive path.

But what if an architect divorced himself from the client relationship to make architectural models with artistic autonomy? What would an architect do with freedom from their clients needs, and would his work still be considered architecture or would it be categorized as art? William Steinberg is such a post-architect architectural sculptor who’s new work functions with all the authority of his earlier avocation, but as a sculptor he is now his own client. For decades Steinberg made drawings and etchings of industrial ruins, working like an architectural anthropologist in dystopian American landscapes, sublimating mysterious vestiges of built environments through his journals. His first welded pieces grew from his renderings of abandoned trestle towers built by early miners in Pennsylvania. He was intrigued by their improvisational pioneering construction, contrasted by the ingenuity of their structures designed to penetrate the subterranean, subconscious space below.

As an architect Steinberg designed for steel and concrete, but he now sculpts it directly; he is his own iron worker and mason. His immersion in the act of making involves a myriad of experiments and reactions that send his pieces in unexpected directions. Working independently eliminates the hierarchical delegation of tasks to specialists who work to their own codes. The typical tension between architect and fabricator and the generic appearance of construction that can result dissolves in Steinberg’s sculpting. He employs the texture and colour of detritus slag as an integral residue of his process, conveying erosion by entropy, shifting values and memory. Beneath his patinas we see structures that function as memorials to ingenuity, or as prophetic shards of future ruins, where the facade of veneer has eroded away leaving only skeletal members exposed, like conceptual lines in space that architects once drew.

The human scale of Steinberg’s pieces, their precarious balance, their eye to eye details and their 2 legged foundations seem to convey an anthropomorphic presence. Their bodies are made of familiar materials, but they stand alone in a dead-tech world. Ptolemy’s spheres rest discarded in the residue of abandoned environments. We appreciate Steinberg’s shift to sculpture where he can freely explore his philosophy and draw from his extensive vernacular of modern and historic architectural experience.

George Rammell

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