Object Lesson


Power To The People

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Did the nation's architects flinch in unison upon learning the results of the AIA survey of America's favorite architecture? It turns out that We, the People, and We, the Profession, aren't necessarily on the same page when it comes to defining quality in architecture.

Modernism didn't fare too well. Only one living practitioner made the top 10 (Maya Lin, for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial). Frank Lloyd Wright barely broke the top 30, with Fallingwater. And there, like a slap in the face of the avant-garde, at No. 22—ahead of anything by Wright and Richardson and Sullivan and Jefferson and, yes, Gehry— was the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, designed by the Jerde Partnership with DeRuyter Butler and Atlandia Design. Mies didn't even make the list.

It's OK to cry. But don't dismiss the survey out of hand. Let's try to learn from the experience. Here, on its 150th birthday, the AIA has given its loved ones a gift: hard evidence that architecture isn't just what architects make of it; or, perhaps more accurately, that architecture isn't just what the tastemakers make of it.

The average person looks at architecture more with emotion than with intellect. I'm guessing here, but the Bellagio must owe some of its popularity to the fact that Vegas is a blast and Ocean's 11 (set largely at the Bellagio) was a great movie and a huge success. The Bellagio's also spectacular in its own right, whether or not it follows the modernist canon. Jon Jerde and DeRuyter Butler and the rest of the team deserve sincere kudos—then again, they got a lot of help in the marketing department.

We, the editors of architect, relish the kind of surprises that the AIA survey so richly delivered. The list's contrarian spirit helped inspire this, our first annual Power Issue. We knew we ran the risk of stating the obvious: A celebrity profile of Frank Gehry or Richard Meier? A ranking of the largest firms, starting with HOK or Gensler? There are plenty of self-evident approaches to the subject of power. And we took them all—but, we hope, with an enlightening twist.

The celebrity profile, for instance: Instead of stroking a star—do any of our readers need reminding that Gehry is famous?—we decided to examine the still-powerful figure of Robert Moses (“An Indecisive Democracy”), whose legacy seems especially poignant given the fumbled reconstruction efforts at Ground Zero and in New Orleans. As a bonus, we put the spotlight on 10 less-celebrated, but equally potent, sources of power—players whom architects ought to know, but don't, in far-flung arenas such as construction, finance, and policy (“Profiles in Power”).

We also decided against building a pseudo-scientific list of the nation's largest firms. There are so many of these lists already, we chose to compare existing lists in different categories to see what emerged (“The Meta Rankings”). As contributing editor Edward Keegan observes, there's more than one way to define power. Still, whether the criterion was press coverage, size of staff, or amount of billings, we were amazed at how many of the same names rose to the top. Power may be relative, but it's real.


Comments (3 Total)

  • Posted by: icehockey | Time: 5:07 PM Thursday, August 30, 2007


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  • Posted by: icehockey | Time: 4:52 PM Thursday, August 30, 2007


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  • Posted by: dbalber5 | Time: 10:05 AM Friday, June 29, 2007

    In my mind's eye a lot of what the general public regards as "architecture" is not architecture at all...but merely rentable/buyable square footage that promises to keep the rain out. It seems that as Americans we are missing what the ancients taught us about the potential for magic in architecture...perhaps a building isn't meant to be designed and built within a few years...what ever happened to creating designs that took generations to build? What ever happened to the general public truly getting excited about a building? I think that we, as Americans, tend to require immediate gratification in everything that we pursue...I hope that we can evolve into a more visionary society...one that dreams and has faith in the celestial beauty and magic that architecture can possess if we only allow it to happen.

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About the Blogger

Ned Cramer

thumbnail image Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, and editorial director of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, ECO-STRUCTURE, and METALMAG, published by Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based business media company. Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Cramer served as the first full-time curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), where he organized public programs and exhibitions such as "A Century of Progress: Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair" and "New Federal Architecture: The Face of a Nation." At CAF, projects under Cramer's direction received support from foundations and corporations such as Altria, Boeing, the Driehaus Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the McCormick-Tribune Foundation. He speaks regularly on architecture, design, and related issues. The Avery Architectural Index lists nearly 100 articles with Cramer's byline, many written in his former capacity as executive editor of Architecture magazine. The recipient of an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cramer has held positions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Menil Collection in Houston. Cramer is an alumnus of the Rice University School of Architecture. He was born and raised in St. Louis.