Lori Beppu, a partner at BMA Architects, will be on the "Gray Matters" post-screening panel.
AIA Peconic, the East End’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects, has partnered with Southampton Arts Center to present a screening on Thursday, March 23, of “Gray Matters,” a documentary about Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray, followed by a discussion with three prominent local female architects, in celebration of Women’s History Month.
The documentary, which debuted on the film festival circuit in 2014, helped to raise Gray’s profile and call attention to the contributions she made to modern architecture. Gray is said to have been rediscovered in the early 1970s, a few years before her death at age 98 in 1976, but acclaim did not come easily to Gray for some time.
Following the screening, the panel discussion will include AIA Peconic President Lori K. Beppu and AIA members Pamela J. Glazer and Viola G. Rouhani.
Beppu, who has been with BMA Architects in Bridgehampton for 10 years and last year became a partner at the firm, said that during her education at City College of New York Spitzer School of Architecture, Gray’s contributions were well addressed, though Gray — someone without formal architectural training, known for her furniture design, and without a large body of built work — doesn’t fit cleanly into the paradigm.
One thing Beppu took away from the documentary was how Gray used materials in novel ways.
“There was a lot in the film about her lacquer and the brick walls, and it’s really striking how some of these pieces, which are now a hundred years old, feel so contemporary.”
Among Gray’s furniture designs still admired today are the 1926 Bibendum armchair, inspired by the Michelin man’s rolls, and the Pirogue daybed, modeled after dugout canoes.
Between Gray’s architecture and furniture design, Beppu doesn’t find one is more important than the other.
“They go hand in hand,” Beppu said. “I think it’s really about how she was creatively rethinking how we live, and that extended beyond just the furniture into the architecture. So wouldn’t privilege one over the other. I think they speak to each other.”
Gray’s most famous work of architecture is E-1027, a waterfront villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, completed in the late 1920s. It was filled with furniture of Gray’s design, and later, architect and artist Le Corbusier painted murals on its white walls, which she did not consent to.
“The film alludes to Le Corbusier’s potential role in her erasure, which no doubt has merit,” Beppu said. “Moreover, the insertion of Le Corbusier’s murals into Gray’s house is a sad violation and a trauma that is hard to grapple with.”
E-1027 is now a French National Cultural Monument and was restored in recent years and opened to the public.
The monument status of E-1027 and the “Gray Matters” documentary are two ways Gray’s work has been given its due in the last decade.
“It’s exciting to see the recognition for someone who really hadn’t had it on a large scale until more recently, and I think there are so many stories like this, of underrecognized or underappreciated practitioners,” Beppu said. “And when you do get the chance to dive in and learn a little more, it’s very eye opening and inspiring.”
This screening event, presented in celebration of Women’s History Month, calls attention to how female architects have not always been credited with their contributions to architecture.
“We’re discovering as we’re diving in deeper that there are a number of people who maybe aren’t considered part of the canon, but were really influential figures in their own time,” Beppu said. “So initiatives like this to promote that work and those individuals are really valuable.”
She added that, as a national organization, the American Institute of Architects has committed to two primary goals: climate action and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession.
“By screening this film for our local membership and the public, it is my hope that AIA Peconic can celebrate and bring recognition to Eileen Gray’s contributions to design,” she said.
For those who aren’t fans of modern architecture in particular or architecture in general, the documentary still has its appeal.
“It’s an interesting film in terms of understanding a little bit more about one individual’s process and design thinking,” Beppu said, “and whether or not you like the work, I think getting that window into how someone is generating really novel ideas is always enlightening.”
Doors will open at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 23, at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton Village. Admission is $20, or $15 for AIA Peconic and Southampton Arts Center members. Register at southamptonartscenter.org.
One fine body…