What Robert Rauschenberg’s “Monogram” Can Tell Us About Architecture

In 1955, Robert Rauschenberg bought a stuffed Angora goat from a secondhand furniture store. Four years and three versions later, he settled on this masterpiece. The goat and its tire reminded Rauschenberg of a monogram’s interweaving letters; hence the title. 


Monogram is a ‘Combine,’ a term Rauschenberg coined to describe his mix of painting, sculpture, and found object. The piece is certainly not your run-of-the-mill corpse-on-a-board. The artist’s color and material sensibility unify the goat with its larger context. The goat stands on its platform like a building rises from the ground. Monogram seems transplanted from the odd pasture that the goat calls home. ‘Oh look, some freaky-faced goat is hanging out in his field. He looks tired.’ 


Museum galleries usually display Rauschenberg’s Monogram in the round and its charisma is like a magnetic field that charges the space, the people, and the other pieces of art around it.

Applying the concept of fields to Monogram allows us to appreciate it more architecturally. Architecture never happens in a vacuum. The landscape—urban, suburban, or rural—plays host, staging the ground for future possibility. Each project is another step; another node in an ever-expanding web of relationships.

Our office is accelerating now in terms of methods and standards, but we’ve been around for a while; over 40 years. Over that time, we’ve grown into, and up with, our communities. That gives us the good fortune of living in a landscape that we helped produce. We get to build upon the lessons we’ve learned in a very literal sense, working frequently with returning clients and connecting properties. We modify environments, assess impact, gather feedback, and proceed. Innovation trumps invention.

One can imagine Rauschenberg slapping on a dab of paint, taking a step back, and perusing the studio for the next item to paste.

Design requires emotional response and hard logic. Architects are constantly switching between empathy and analysis. The two modes are not mutually exclusive. There’s no need to get trapped on one side of the fence or the other. Rather, vacillation—reveling in the slippage between human connection and critical thought—provides the most fertile ground for design.