“I am trying to represent design through drawing. I have always drawn things to a high degree of detail. That is not an ideological position I hold on drawing but is rather an expression of my desire to design and by extension to build. This has often been mistaken as a fetish I have for drawing: of drawing for drawing’s sake, for the love of drawing. Never. Never. Yes, I love making a beautiful, well-crafted drawing, but I love it only because of the amount of information a precise drawing provides.”
Neil Denari was born in 1957 in Fort Worth, Texas. He received his undergraduate education at the University of Houston and pursued his Master’s degree at Harvard University. While at Harvard Denari was influenced by Paul Rotterdam who was serving as a lecturer in visual studies. Denari claims Rotterdam to be one of his most influential teachers at Harvard. After graduating from Harvard in 1982, Denari traveled to Paris and worked as a technical intern with Aerospatiale Helicoptres for five months. During his time in Europe, Denari took time to study Le Corbusier’s work. In 1983 he moved back to the United States and worked as a senior designer at James Polshek and Partners, and it was during his time there that Denari grew a presence at Columbia University. Polshek was serving as dean at Columbia at the time and would invite Denari to sit on reviews, and after three years of working with Polshek Denari was offered a studio.
At 29 Denari was the youngest member of the “40 Architects under 40” list. Two years later, in 1988, he moved to Los Angeles and began teaching at Sci-Arc, where he served as director from 1997 to 2002. A pivotal point in Denari’s career was in 1990 when he accepted a position to teach in Tokyo at Shibaura Institute of Technology. Denari speaks of cultural influences during his time in Japan: “I just let the Japanese obsession with the new and the technological wash over me and chance what I was thinking. The influence was not theoretical but more cultural.” Denari then moved back to Los Angeles and continued teaching and working at his practice, Cor-Tex Architecture (later Neil M. Denari Architects), which he established in Los Angeles in 1988. Since his time in Japan, Denari has published two works: Interrupted Projections, 1996, and Gyroscopic Horizons, 1999. Denari continues the work at his practice in Los Angeles while serving as a tenured professor in the Architecture and Urban Design Department at UCLA.
Early in his career Denari entered many competitions and thus produced a large body of highly theoretical work relating to the topic of “machine architecture.” During this time he designed such objects as entropy machines and “Floating Illuminators.” Denari’s interests later “shifted from the narrowly focused machine reference to the broad and open possibilities of cultural conditions not yet coded with an architectural symbol.”
With this change in ideology Neil Denari became principally concerned with issues of the dynamic relationship between architecture and technology, which has been made manifest in a variety of ways as technology is constantly and rapidly changing. These changes are all part of the larger phenomena – globalization. The relationship naturally brings up the discourse of representation in architecture and how it is affected by the development of technology.
The confluence of these two topics – the relationship of architecture to technology and “machine architecture” – brings up the issue of representation. For Denari drawing was merely a means to an end. His drawings were the two dimensional representations of his fully real and three dimensional designs. The drawings were in no way meant to be a piece of art or beauty; rather, they only served the purpose to convey the precision and detail necessary to speak to an architectural – that is three dimensional – conception of space.
At first glance Denari’s work seems to move towards a more tectonic language from his early to his later work. An analysis of his signature fillet reveals a distinct association of this curvature with specific moments in his drawings and, thus, designs. His use of the fillet is highly intentional. In his design for Details Design Studio in 1993 it is clear that it is the spatial envelope that is articulated with this signature fillet, while the structural elements remain rigid and orthogonal. Moving to a later work Umetnostna Galerija, 2010, it becomes clear that the articulation of the building envelope is articulated with this fillet. In his section the fillet is most prominent at moments where light is being cut into the space, and moments of structural reveal show a highly orthogonal and rigid system. In his first ground up project, HL23, Neil Denari seems to shift from filleting the building envelope to filleting the structural system, but upon closer inspection, one realizes that in fact the conception of the fillet as envelope articulation comes full circle. Denari’s signature fillet reveals itself in the High Line building as a fritted pattern on the façade glass. Marc Simmons of Front, the consulting firm for the building envelope, noted that, in fact, the structure is rigid and orthogonal. Denari remains true to his signature. For him, the fillet serves as a geometry of enclosure.