Some architects have had good runs winning P/A design awards. Sometimes these serial winners go on to have long and illustrious careers, with their P/A Awards helping propel them into stardom, but other frequent awardees have been undeservedly forgotten. Clearly, their work appealed to a range of jurors over several years and had qualities that colleagues found compelling at the time. Why, then, do some architects succeed and others, equally talented, recede from view?
Hobart Betts, an architect living in Sag Harbor, N.Y., offers some insight. He won four P/A design awards in a seven-year period, from 1966 through 1972, for a series of compact houses and cottages in New York and Virginia. In each case, the design consisted of geometric forms, asymmetrical windows, and angled clerestories bringing daylight inside. Betts’ minimalist designs distilled high Modernism down to its purest expression, and seen in the context of the late 1960s and early ’70s, with the rise of countercultural and postmodern architecture, his work now seems refreshingly quiet and calm. By the time Postmodernism caught on in the mid 1970s, however, the elegant compositions of Hobart Betts may no longer have seemed progressive enough—progress is, after all, a subjective term—to win P/A Awards.
Nevertheless, some 40 years later, his work deserves to be rediscovered. Faced with the need to reduce the size of single-family houses and to minimize the footprint of buildings on the land, we would do well to emulate Hobart Betts’ example: creating modest, modern structures that meet people’s basic needs, beautifully.