I never thought about becoming an architect. I’d never survive the math requirements. But Robert A.M. Stern, former Dean at Yale Architecture and former head of Columbia University’s Preservation Program, has tutored me a lot since I joined the Conservancy.
It began with a call one day in 1996. We hadn’t met, but Stern wasted no time in expressing his great disappointment that the Conservancy was not advocating for the designation of modern buildings – many from the 1960s and just becoming eligible to be landmarked. I asked him to give a talk highlighting buildings we should focus on. Paul Goldberger, then the New York Times architecture critic, attended and wrote a piece dubbing the buildings the “Stern 35.” They ranged from Stuyvesant Town to the Brooklyn Public Library to the George Washington Bridge Bus Station. Several on his list were eventually landmarked. Some were lost. But Stern succeeded in expanding the universe of buildings that deserved recognition and preservation.
He’s spoken out on a number of issues since. From advocating to preserve Edward Durrell Stone’s 2 Columbus Circle, to insisting that preservation was important during Midtown East rezoning, to successfully rallying support for designating Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s iconic 550 Madison Avenue.
Stern is recognized internationally, with projects around the globe. But he is, at heart, a hometown boy. I’m preparing to discuss Stern’s New York projects with him in a program for our Trustees. Click here to view the Meeting Recording
He is probably best known now for successful, limestone-clad apartment towers – a rebuff to endless glass facades.
But, early on, Stern was an Urban Designer in the Housing Agency during the administration of Mayor John Lindsay. As a young architect, he boldly entered a state competition for Roosevelt Island Housing and was awarded one of four first prizes. He’s had a major impact on reviving 42nd Street and its theaters, developing architectural and signage guidelines. He still participates in design review meetings as a consultant to the 42nd Street Development Project.
Of all his buildings, I admire the elegant library he designed for Bronx Community College. Full of light and art, he has given students in this economically stressed borough a building worthy of any Ivy League campus.
I’ve done a program like this with Stern before. “You didn’t think you were in charge of this, did you?” he laughed, demanding I return to a slide where he had more to say. I knew it was his show then, and have no illusions of being in charge during our presentation. But I wouldn’t miss the chance to engage with Stern on architecture and issues. It’s always a master class.
You can enjoy him as well… Click here to view our Meeting Recording
Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy