Robert A. M. Stern
Dean, Yale School of Architecture

Robert A.M. Stern Discusses Art and Architecture

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Robert A.M. Stern describes the artistic nature of public buildings.

Robert A. M. Stern

Robert Stern, the Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, is an American author, architect, and preservationist. Stern's buildings have something of a throwback style, and he draws inspiration from early American to late Deco.

Stern received degrees from both Columbia University and Yale University, where he graduated from the School of Architecture in 1965. After finishing Yale, Stern worked for Richard Meier before founding his own firm, Robert A. M. Stern Architects, in 1977. His firm, now 300 strong, is responsible for projects around the world, including the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the Disney Feature Animation Building, in Burbank, California, and the future George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Stern, who has taught at Yale and Columbia, was appointed Dean of the Yale School of Architecture in 1998.  Among other books, he is the author of New York 1880, New York 1960, and New York 2000, a series that documents the history and evolution of New York City's architecture.


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.