Robert A.M. Stern Discusses Art and Architecture

Robert A.M. Stern describes the artistic nature of public buildings.
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Question: Is architecture art?

Stern: Architecture is a . . . is an art, but it is not the same kind of art that painting and sculpture might be.  For example it’s a public art or a social art.  It requires first of all the support of an enormous amount of people to produce buildings both in the architect’s office . . .  After all most buildings are not done __________, Fountainhead style, one lonely architect sitting and drawing away.  It requires many collaborative professionals.  It requires money, which we can sum up as the client.  And it requires the public’s support usually so that buildings can be built within the larger constraints.  And it requires finally that the public in the largest sense support the buildings.  Otherwise why build them?  You can’t just build them for your own personal pleasure.  You can if you’re Philip Johnson.  You build a house out in the country in New Canaan, then you do your own thing.

Question: When does a building become a work of art?

Stern: When does it?  It should almost always be thought of as a work of art, but a social work.  There are all kinds of art as I suggest.  If you just make buildings that solve problems, well that’s not irresponsible.  That’s perfectly responsible.  But I think for myself and for many other architects and people probably in architecture you might be talking to in a series like this, their aspirations are to have their buildings taken more serious . . . to take it seriously on another level.  But I do find that in the current scene, too much emphasis is being placed on artistic expression independent, in my view, often of good urbanism or even functional response . . . or tectonic responsibility.