about Louis Kahn

The importance of “glue” in architecture

I had an amazing experience during the AIA National Convention. It wasn’t at the convention itself, where people are running helter- skelter to their CEU sessions, but at a dinner hosted by Gilbert and Suzanne Mathews Friday night at the Folger-Shakespeare Library a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

Gilbert owns Lucifer Lighting, one of the most enlightened (no pun intended) companies I know of, and was made honorary AIA at the convention. To celebrate, Suzanne invited a lot of extraordinary architects and friends to a dinner—among them, Tom Kundig, Larry Scarpa and Angela Brooks, Frank Harmon, Marlon Blackwell, John Grable and Gabriel Durand-Hollis.

The conversation was rich and stimulating, and it made me realize how we architects need each other.  We have to be connected, to talk about how design relates to the world, to inspire each other with our ideas, and to bolster each other to fight for our common cause.

Gilbert is a kind of glue that helps stick architects together.  He and Suzanne are constantly sponsoring talks, hosting this kind of dinner and just creating formats for great conversation about architecture.

It was fantastic having dinner in the Folger Shakespeare Library, one of the very best buildings by Paul Cret.  Being there also made me think about the glue that binds generations of architects.  It was probably not an accident that there’s a lineage between Paul Cret and nearly every architect in that room.  Cret had Louis Kahn as a student, and Kahn worked for him in his office.  Kahn had Charles Moore as a student at Princeton (Charles was his TA), and Charles had dozens of leading architects as his students and partners—from Don Lyndon on the West Coast to Arthur Anderssen in the middle of the country to Billie Tsien in NY.  Almost every architect in the room had been touched by that lineage.  All of us had some kind of indirect tie back to Paul Cret.

Good design comes out of solidarity and connectedness. In a hectic world, we’re sometimes missing those connections.  We forget how crucial they are.  I felt completely inspired—by everyone who was in that great Reading Room for dinner and by the many who there in spirit. These are the kinds of loose ties creative people really need.  Thanks so much to Gilbert and Suzanne for keeping us connected.

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Thinking about Life as an Architect
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Posted May 29, 2012

What does the AIA Twenty-five Year Award say about our values as architects?

Reflecting on the past two winners of the AIA Twenty-five Year Award, I am moved to ask what this award says about our values as architects. This is supposed to be the quintessential award that says a building is cool and has stood the test of time as an embodiment of architectural excellence. The winner must demonstrate excellence “in function, in execution of original program, and in creativity of statement by today’s standards.”

Frank Gehry Residence

If we look at the Frank Gehry Residence, the 2012 award winner, I’d say what we really value as architects is novelty, weirdness, and idiosyncrasy. Gehry’s house is amazing when it comes to these values. But is this the core heart and soul of what we’re about? It is also a single-family home for the architect himself? Is this what is really valuable about architecture—our own self-indulgence? This is not a house that even 1 percent of the populace would relate to or understand.

John Hancock Tower

The John Hancock Tower, the 2011 winner, is a beautiful building. But this is also the building where all the glass fell out. Excavation problems undermined the foundation of neighboring Trinity Church, requiring a huge restoration. The John Hancock Building, in its totality, does not demonstrate excellence. It had some real problems! Furthermore, the resolution was sealed by the courts; as a profession we are left with major questions and bad memories.

I’m a real architecture junkie; I travel a lot to see buildings. I am constantly dismayed by disappointing failures of buildings that the media has hyped. It crushes me–hurts me to the core of my being–to find that what has been called great architecture has feet of clay.

Other buildings I visit and find amazing! They’re supporting a beautiful life, are beloved in their communities, and are making a palpable contribution to the world. I recently talked with a woman who had visited the Kimbell Art Museum with a fellow she had just begun to date. The experience of being at the Kimbell bumped their romance to another level. It illuminated a connection of their souls! This building got the Twenty-five Year Award, and it deserved it.

AIA Twenty-Five Year Award | Texas Architect

I believe submissions to this program need to articulate the contribution the building has made over 25 years. How has it enhanced the community, or become a beloved icon? How has it provoked a redevelopment in its neighborhood? How is it sustainable? We profess these as values and say that the 25-year Award must live up to “today’s standards.” Are these really standards we believe in?

There is a difference between a building that makes a huge contribution and one that’s interesting to the architectural subculture. We, as architects, need to talk about this.

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Thinking about Life as an Architect
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Posted April 24, 2012

Phillips Exeter Academy, Elm Street Dining Hall

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Posted April 4, 2012

Phillips Exeter Academy Library

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Posted April 4, 2012

Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital

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Posted December 19, 2011

National Assembly of Bangladesh Hostel

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Posted December 15, 2011

National Assembly of Bangladesh

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Posted December 15, 2011