Power To The People
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.