On the occasion of Jorge Silvetti’s retirement from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Frances Loeb Library’s acquisition of the Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti Collection, Unprecedented Realism presents a series of narratives that reflect the evolution of the Machado and Silvetti architectural practice over the last five decades.
Over 120 pieces of two-dimensional work, 30 models, and 250 pieces of discursive material have been assembled for the exhibition. Taken together, these items stand in for the primary subject in Machado and Silvetti’s life-long accumulation of architectural production—buildings. Whether built or unbuilt, whether a vehicle for theoretical ideas or an autonomous artifact onto itself, the work of Machado and Silvetti is and has always been about buildings.
The primacy of buildings permeates the architects’ Collection, which also serves as a repository of secondary material they compiled for their own explorations into the history of construction. From the earliest documents on Gothic cathedrals traced back to the Middle Ages, to the architectural models dated back to the Renaissance, materials that were initially collected as evidence of construction evolved into primary source material that Machado and Silvetti used in their theoretical training of other architects.
The materials selected from the Rodolfo Machado and Jorge Silvetti Collection encompass the foundational mediums of the paradigmatic historical architectural archive. From representative architectural drawings for exhibitions; speculative drawings for design explorations; working documents for specifying a building project; to models, construction sets, material samples, and mock-ups, the selection of objects and texts on view in this exhibition reflect the entire scope of the design and building processes and complicate our understanding of an individual building and the minds of the architects who designed it.
“Unprecedented realism,” a phrase coined by Rodolfo Machado in 1986 and the title of a book edited by K. Michael Hays in 1997, refers to Machado Silvetti’s mode of operation and the aspirations of their practice. Based on the notion that heterogeneous systems, knowledge, and sensibilities are brought together as an antidote to totalizing systems, the concept of “unprecedented realism” aims to retain a degree of autonomy for architecture while intensifying the sociocultural possibilities within that very autonomy. While Machado and Silvetti seek to be “unprecedented” and unbound by convention in their work, their practice has been, at the same time, grounded in a “realism” that engages habitation and participation—a lasting conviction reflected throughout the Collection.