Skip to content
Who's in the Video
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[…]

The battle between computer and materials.

Question: How is architecture changing

Stern: For one thing new materials, they have of course had a tremendous impact on architecture for the last, let’s say, 150 years since the production of iron and large pieces of glass in architecture.  But today there’s really a proliferation of new materials.  And then the capacity of the computer to imagine new ways of shaping the materials.  The problem is the computer can imagine things – amazing things.  Sometimes the materials can’t perform quite up to the computer’s dreams for them.  And there’s the issues of cost.  And then there’s the old boring issue.  We’ll call it gravity.  And we’ll call it rain.  And we’ll call it wind.  And then another thing that’s on many people’s minds which was never an issue in historic times because buildings were natural in the sense that they were proportioned so you could open a window here, and you could open a window there and the air would blow through in the warm weather.  And in the winter you had curtains, and shutters, etc. to begin to try to close down the elements from the inside . . . from the outside cold.  Then glass and metal had made buildings seem to be that you could just have a thin curtain of closure.  But we now know the price we’re paying, and so people are thinking about sustainable architecture as never before in my lifetime.

Question: What’s the problem with the thin curtain

Stern: It can’t perform in an adequate way, so you begin to thicken the curtain by doubling or tripling the glass, or by putting some kinds of sunshades on it.  Or you . . .  We have much more . . .  We have higher performance glass than we’ve never had before.  We have glass that almost completely . . . or really literally, completely clear where you don’t get that greenish or whatever tint.  That’s a nightmare in some ways.  The sun really beats in, so then you have to put _________, which are kind of ceramic patterns on it.  Or you have to put layers of things on the side.  So the myth of the thin wall, which was the prevailing wall in the 1950s when energy was – in this country, the U.S. – very cheap . . .  So you built the curtain wall building with a single plate glass wall and that was it.  Now these buildings are being restored.  And at Yale we’re really in the midst of it, but the art gallery by Louis Kahn of 1951 to ’53 had virtually no insulation from the outside.  Not only was it cold inside or hot inside depending on the season, but also killing the works of art.  There was condensation and all kinds of problems.  So it costs umpteen millions to restore the building far more than it ever cost to build the building.