Gabriel Guvrekian: The elusive modernist

Hamed Khosravi, Architectural Association School of Architecture, UK

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2021
Category History and Theory

Gabriel Guevrekian among the students at the French Academy of Fine Arts, Saarbrücken School of Arts and Crafts, 1946–48. Courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives at Urbana-Champaign

The Elusive Modernist revisits the history of the modern movement and its pedagogical project through the legacy of one of its protagonists, Gabriel Guevrekian (1900–1970).

Born in Istanbul, Guevrekian grew up in Tehran and then moved to Vienna to study architecture at the Kunstgewerbeschule. He later worked with Strnad, Hoffmann, Loos, Sauvage, and Mallet-Stevens. His famous designs include the Cubist garden for Villa Noailles in France and two houses for the Vienna Werkbund exhibition. Not yet thirty, Guevrekian was recognized as one of the protagonists of the European avant-garde in Paris. Later, after World War II, he assumed teaching responsibilities in Europe and America. All of his various pursuits, and the homes and nationalities he held in Iran, Europe, and the United States, led to a serial adoption of personae.

By dint of his own very tangible engagement, Guevrekian made every discipline meaningful, every city central, and every period epochal. Nevertheless, the project goes beyond a monographic research. It portrays Guevrekian as a contemporary figure whose work not only casts light on the inception of global modern architecture—in both theory and practice—but also offers ways of engaging with the social, political, and cultural strata of our societies today. Ultimately, the research critically reflects on the influence of the architect-educator as a nomadic figure: a practitioner, educator, writer, and curator.

Guevrekian’s legacy is an early contemporary example of how the traditional distinctions between education, practice, research, and curatorial work ceased to exist; a profile, known as academic-freelancer, that has become more common today. The publication is structured around a series of micro-narratives that interpret the legacy of Gabriel Guevrekian through his multiple lives, each of which unfolds as related figures, projects, memories, letters, postcards, and drawings. All together they help capturing an image of such an elusive figure.

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