Robert A.M. Stern, whose influential designs have revitalized traditional architecture, was awarded the School’s Richard H. Driehaus Prize on March 26 in Chicago. In conjunction, Robert A. Peck, now serving for the second time as the General Service Administration’s Commissioner of Public Buildings, was named the 2011 Henry Hope Reed Award laureate. Both participated in a colloquium moderated by WTTW Chicago Public Television host Geoffrey Baer. WTTW also produced a documentary about Robert A.M. Stern.
In accepting the Driehaus Prize, Stern said it is unlike any other architectural prize: “[The Driehaus Prize] is one that celebrates design achievement measured by a consistent time-honored set of principles. Unlike the winners of other architectural prizes who are celebrated for their unique accomplishments, the Driehaus Prize winners are honored for accomplishments realized in relationship to shared beliefs. This is a celebration of design research into what is possible and what is desirable, into what an architect can discover about the self, the world, and the art of architecture. The process of design confronts architects with the reality which will be true for them always—that the architecture project is never really finished. The better one gets at architecture, the more one wants to get better still. Architecture is a profession, an art, but most of all an obsession. …”
“Architecture is fundamentally a humanistic discipline, as such it must be opened to the cross currents of ideas, welcoming that which is new and challenging while measuring the conflicting claims of the present against standards that have prevailed in the past. In a world of competing ism’s, of combative certainties, architects do not provide answers so much as ask questions. I welcome the potential reach of today’s global practice, though it is much abused by architects and clients alike who take it as an opportunity to throw aesthetic caution to the winds of shameless self promotion. Global practice at its most responsible has the capacity to realize architecture that is neither about a personal signature style nor about abstract, universal and consequently impersonal modes of expression. Global practice challenges us to bring the advantages of modernity’s, material benefits to those who need and want them. While not imposing a singular conception about what architecture is or should be. The more we encounter the global, the more we should value the local. … I am also interested in the humble buildings that shape the circumstances of daily life. Not every building should knock one’s eyes out; there is a value in the second glance. For me a sunlit corner in a court yard or a glimpse of nature in a dense urban setting has within them the ineffable magic of place making that helps lift lives to higher levels of awareness while dignifying the daily routine. …”
“Tradition is deliberate and considered; to value a tradition and to maintain it over time requires a conscious effort and a sense of self. Traditions are very precious, they are talismans, symbols, beliefs. Tradition provides a refuge from the ruthlessness of everyday life but tradition is not fixed, tradition evolves just as culture evolves. Traditions can be imitated but not initiated. One architect cannot a tradition make. Architects should stop worrying about self expression and Zeitgeist which lead to an obsession with saying things differently as opposed to saying them clearly or meaningfully. Obviously each architect dreams of making a contribution but such contributions are best made when within a context. In embracing tradition there is no need to throw out invention. In fact I believe that without tradition there can be no invention.” View Robert A.M. Stern giving his acceptance speech.
In accepting the Henry Hope Reed Award, Robert A. Peck says: “I suppose it was only a matter of time before this award went to someone affiliated with Federal government buildings. It is the government, after all, that has most notably and consistently embraced classical architecture since the nation’s founding. And whether through public buildings, military forts, the Northwest Ordinance, the National Parks or the Interstate highway system, the government has influenced the public realm on a scale that nothing else can approach. …” Noting how federal buildings reflect the aspirations of the American public, he continued “The value of great American public buildings is not in their style per se; it is in their ambition. To paraphrase Jefferson and the capital commissioners of 1791, public buildings should elevate the building arts; they should be elegant and express confidence in the future. It is not about style; to paraphrase Senator Moynihan, public buildings say something about our politics. Politics in the best sense: politics as expressing our shared values."