Architects Upset

From a lifetime of reading trade magazines, my memory is filled with plans and photos of many, many buildings and the names of a great many firms. I can connect the famous architects with their buildings, and the famous buildings with their architects, but I also recognize a lot of firm’s names even though I don’t remember exactly what they’ve built.

The names Billie Tsien and Tod Williams were immediately familiar to me, as were Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, from countless in-the-news and featured architect articles, but I couldn’t have named any of their projects from memory. So when I read Building Faces Wrecking Ball. So Does Couples’ Friendship. my reaction was, “Oh yeah, them.”:

Two celebrated architect couples, whose careers took off almost simultaneously in the hothouse of New York City design and who supported each other’s successes, are barely on speaking terms.

One pair, Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, designed the former home of the American Folk Art Museum on West 53rd Street; the other, Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, just recommended demolishing it as part of their plan to expand the Museum of Modern Art next door.

I had forgotten that Tsien and Williams figured at all in the PMA’s appropriation of the Barnes collection but while I had sympathy with opponents of that move, I thought this quote was a bit snippy:

“It’s delicious irony that the architects who needlessly pressed their personalities onto the ‘re-creation’ of the building to house the Barnes Foundation collection now protest the decision to demolish their museum,” said Jay Raymond, a former teacher at the Barnes and a litigant against the move.

My career hasn’t led to design ownership of many projects – I usually take someone else’s design and work out the kinks, making it code-compliant, energy efficient and buildable. But I have designed one or two houses that turned out well, and remember being offended to find one in the portfolio of some former coworkers without any credit to me. I suppose I’d be disappointed if one of my friends redesigned one of those houses. But I wouldn’t be devastated.

In my view any architect that is not inured to having their work reimagined or rejected or value-engineered must have been incredibly fortunate or entitled this far.


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