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Robert A.M. Stern: Dissed By Peers, But He Designs Nice Stuff

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New York magazine archicritic Justin Davidson delves into the world's love-hate relationship with Robert A.M. Stern, a "postmodern" architect with two middle initials who apparently draws ire (or eye-rolls) from some of his more avant-garde contemporaries while simultaneously designing buildings that aren't glass boxes and that people actually like. Sure, the 74-year-old works for whales: celeb/tycoon magnet 15 Central Park West; or, at the apartment level, padding a dining room with golden wallpaper.

But the debate around his work seems to center on whether he's designing to advance the field of architecture for its own sake with bold choices and departures from the mean (he's not, some sniff) or simply erecting attractive buildings that postmodern-ly meld into the mish-mash of old New York City and please affluent buyers. If it's the latter, as Davidson points out, is that really so bad?

The best zingers: "A whole article just about Bob Stern? Does he merit that?" and "He has no problem thinking about architecture as a high-end service." The latter refers, in part, to his willingness to work on projects with Walt Disney or deep-pocketed Chinese clients.

Stern, who wears bespoke suits, fires back: "My colleagues feel architecture should reflect the complexity of the world... And it's always a negative complexity. I think you can celebrate a better world." He likes nostalgia, and drawing from historical precedents, and sheer clarity: "You look at buildings now, and you can't tell whether they're residential or offices." Upcoming projects include residential buildings in Hudson Yards, and a High Line condo at 500 West 30th Street.

But despite his rep for kow-towing to the rich ("Most of you probably know me best as the architect of some of the least affordable homes in New York," he said when accepting an award recently), he's also worked on affordable housing projects both in New York and in New Haven, where he's dean of Yale's architecture school. And a library he designed for the Bronx Community ­College takes as its inspiration a grand Parisian research library, because "If you walk into that library, and you think, This is what it's like to be at Yale or at Harvard!, I think I've done something good for people."

Snobby? Maybe. But not giving one whit about the condescension of his peers is a Stern trademark that's probably a good call. Concludes Davidson: "A remarkably democratic attitude runs through his writings and his practice: design that nonexperts appreciate is better than design they hate, and the more they appreciate it the better it is. In the upper reaches of the architectural profession, that is the minority view." The upshot of the analysis is: Bob, haters are gonna hate, so you keep doing what you do.
· Unfashionably Fashionable [NYM]
· All Robert A.M. Stern coverage [Curbed]

15 Central Park West

15 Central Park West, Manhattan, NY 10023