Robert Stern Wins The Driehaus Prize

Author: Philip Langdon

It’s official. Robert A.M. Stern, who has nurtured many of today’s traditional architects and urbanists and at times infuriated them, is the 2011 recipient of the Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture.

Never a shrinking violet, Robert Arthur Morton Stern was among the first notable New York architects to shift toward traditional style, and he has achieved huge success, with his firm, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, producing buildings for campuses, urban developers, and others worldwide. Stern, 71, calls himself a “modern traditionalist architect,” and he played a key role in the planning of Celebration, the largest completed example of New Urbanism in North America.

Able to excel on many fronts, Stern has orchestrated a series of scholarly efforts, ranging from The Anglo-American Suburb (a concise yet illuminating compilation that he produced with John Massengale in 1981, when nothing else of its kind was available) to massive, authoritative books on New York City. Over the past dozen years he has revitalized Yale University’s School of Architecture, which had lost much of its luster in the years immediately prior to his accepting the deanship.

Buildings designed by his 300-person firm include lovely testaments to the Classical instinct, like the main Nashville Public Library (on which Alex Lamis was “project partner”); buildings that play on Gothic and other historic styles; and even mainstream Modern structures. In Philadelphia, Comcast Center is a glass curtain wall office tower with proportions that recall a Classical obelisk.

Stern’s current projects include two new residential colleges for Yale — Gothic-influenced complexes that will draw from the history-imbued work of James Gamble Rogers — and the George W. Bush Presidential Center, to be built at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Stern antagonized many new urbanists, at least briefly, in 2007 when, for a CNU Congress, he gave a keynote address that struck the audience as churlish in its criticism of New Urbanism. His lectures have often contained provocations. Yet he has also managed to reach out to people of many different outlooks — for instance, lining up both the new urbanist leading light Leon Krier and the lifelong avant-gardist Peter Eisenman to teach courses at Yale.

The University of Notre Dame, in announcing the Driehaus Prize, said, “Stern’s work as an architect is rooted in the principles, values and ideals of classicism and traditional architecture. … In his writings and in his long and distinguished teaching career, he has reoopened the discourse between the new and what went before.”

“More than any other practicing architect today, Bob Stern has brought classicism into the public realm and the mainstream of the profession, reinvigorating it for generations to come,” said Michael Lykoudis, dean of Notre Dame’s architecture school and jury chairman for the Driehaus Prize. In addition to Lykoudis, the jury consisted of Richard H. Driehaus, Adele Chatfield-Taylor, Robert Davis, Paul Goldberger, Leon Krier (who received the first Driehaus Prize in 2003), and David M. Schwarz.

The prize comes with $200,000, twice as much as the modernism-oriented Pritzker Architecture Prize. “Quantities count,” Stern was quoted as saying by Architect Magazine. “I intend to give mine to Yale, where it will further the study of classicism.” The award will be formally presented at a ceremony in Chicago March 26, 2011.

Posted by Philip Langdon on 15 Dec 2010