What sparked your interest in architecture?
I grew up in Southern California, in Orange County. I was so horrified at the general suburban environment that I grew up in. I wen as a summer exchange student to the Netherlands when I was in high school and lived with a family of an architect in a very beautiful, untouched kind of villa-like house, in a small farming village. I had always been interested in architecture and design, but that really crystallized an interest for me.
You’ve described the Architectural League as a cultural, not professional, institution.
We have the privilege of looking at and thinking about architecture as a cultural act and artistic act. While the professional side of architecture is very important, those actually are not the issues we are focused on. We look at how architects think and grow, and how the work that they create communicate to other people. It’s particularly interesting to look at how architecture embodies society, or projects society in periods of change.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the League’s mission—“to nurture excellence in architecture, design, and urbanism”—which has remained the same since its founding in 1881. Why is it so important to uphold that?
Because architecture is a very, very, very, very hard thing to do, and it’s both a creative process and a synthesizing process. It takes a lot of effort and will and creative intelligence and talent to do it well. All of those need to be constantly stimulated and encouraged and supported. For people who are trying to do great things in those areas, it’s really important to have stimulation and encouragement.
In your mind, what’s the line between architecture and art?
Well, architecture is a social art. I’m personally more interested in thinking about architecture in terms of its use and its significance to people in the world. I’m interested in thinking about how architecture serves other human institutions.
Architecture isn’t only about any single individual. It’s made by a team of people, then it’s used by many people, over time. That dimension of time is interesting and important: How do you understand how humans act to create something that can have some continuing use over time?
What defines the types of buildings that withstand the test of time?
I think successful buildings in the cities are able to be adapted—architecture that isn’t so specific for one particular, highly demanding, use. Something that’s a little but more forgiving and looser and flexible and that can be adapted to different uses over time is more important [for] projecting into the future. Which doesn’t mean that it’s without character or without a sense of place, both of which are really important, but things that really can be rethought.
How was the League changed over your 30 years as director?
We’ve grown. The League is still a small organization, but it was much smaller when I came: two and a half employees, including me. Now we’re at 12 to 13. One the other hand, certain things haven’t changed, and we just celebrated with a publication of the book 30 Years of Emerging Voices. In certain ways, the nature of the projects and of the people who are recognized through that program [Emerging Voices] hasn’t changed. There have been some continuing threads through our programming.