“The assertion of individual experience and its inherent therapeutic possibilities, coupled with the search for a transformative method, are the themes that Michele Saee reiterates in his texts and which are apparent in his work. His passion is to find his own affinities among unlikely influences, to make architecture that is receptive to found forces. He defines this architecture as ‘a container of consciousness’ and he arrives at it through a strategy of living with awareness. Sensation, memory, imagination, and unlearning or unseeing the ordinary symbols of experience all play a role in Saee’s process and reveal his aspiration to an architecture as enigmatic and dense as being itself.
Like e.e. cummings, Saee regards dullness and neutrality as his deepest enemies. Art critic Donald Kuspit discusses the artist’s special authority, integrity, and power as qualities fundamental to the avant-garde: the artist is able to be him or herself in a way that is impossible for other people and experiences without mediation what is fundamental or orignal in the spontaneous experience, so that experience remains unmitigated by convention. Why is spontaneous expression so important to Saee’s aesthetic? Because while all of us have both intellectual and emotional potential, these are realized only to the extent that they are spontaneously expressed. Erich Fromm identified this notion as positive freedom (freedom to versus freedom from), which consists of the spontaneous activity of the ‘total integrated personality.’ Immanuel Kant assigned the aesthetic a special position between sensuousness and reason, which is where I think the adventurousness of Saee’s architectural inventions is found. His is an architecture that challenges the isolation of mind from feeling.
Saee’s optimism should not be confused with the early modernists’ heroic adaptation of Nietzsche’s salvation of art, suggested in his assertion that, as Kuspit notes, what is essential in art is its perfection of existence, its essential affirmation and deification of existence. Saee’s instinct for architecture’s therapeutic value operates at a more personal level; his ambitions are directed toward the individual as opposed to society. Working in the United States, which among industrially developed countries is unusual in terms of its rigid ideological control system, his stance is closer to that of resistance – a resistance that aspires to transform reality and detach it from the service of external power. His hope represents an optimism that, I think, is manifested in work rooted in the provisional idea of emergence; and in Saee’s devotion to a philosophy of becoming and rebirth there is a strong Bergsonian twist. His questions come from comprehending and enjoying the world around him and from an instinctual awareness of emergence. Every project proceeds on a different, indeterminate course, actively engaged with the world interpreted as a potentiality.
To be modern is an act of historical authenticity, a documentation of one’s values. Saee’s desire is to speak a living language, to practice a living architecture – a kind of concretization of living culture that captures and then reveals something new. From the beginning his architecture has been grounded in a dialogue of relationships. His strategies of intervention express the tension between context and container, a tension marked by synthesis and asynchronism. He achieves a momentary equilibrium among all constituent elements of his work without relying on an absolute system of coherence but remaining absorbed in an exploration of laws governing and regulation a method of speaking. Saee’s recent work explores surface as the primary ordering device – a continuous deforming surface that acknowledges programmatic constraints and provides coherence yet no longer relies on conventions of repetition, articulation of volumes, or various geometric ordering strategies. In his system, structural and tactile elements are treated with equal importance.
Saee’s work is a specific reflection on the increasingly powerful and unavoidable external conditions of our environment. He works by identifying certain traces within the chaotic accumulation of built matter, altering, discriminating, and enhancing them. In this sense, his work implies an urban strategy, a tactic of simply improving what already exists. The projects consider context (in the broadest sense) as open possibility. Saee takes enormous pleasure in developing the personality of each new place. This preoccupation with context and his more recent interest in language derived from analogies to nature, subject to the flows of material and energy, result in an architecture with more animate qualities. Michele Saee is the prototype of the contemporary nomad. Born in Persia, he later found his way to Italy to work and study in Florence, and then to Los Angeles where I had the pleasure to meet him in 1983. In his two years at Morphosis, he had the opportunity to rethink and reconfigure his rationalist mullings with SuperStudio and begin a new trajectory more closely oriented to the idiosyncrasies and ephemeralities of Los Angeles, a metropolis opaque to the uninitiated. His work transformed quickly after he started his own practice, resonating with the nuanced social, economic, and political realities of this uncertain context (no one would claim this city as an act of will). Saee possesses tremendous innate facility (you can’t fake a line) that is quite unfashionable today. He is an architect who must build, and he recognizes that reality proves stranger than anything we could possibly imagine. He pursues his intuition for uncensored ideas, celebrating the transformative possibilities, framing the solution within a sensual context to provoke the discovery of what was formerly unimaginable.”
– Thom Mayne, Michele Saee: Buildings + Projects, Introduction. New York 1997