America's preeminent traditionalist architect, Robert A.M. Stern was born 74 years ago today. Over the course of his 47-year career as an architect, Stern has drawn up the architecture for some of the country's most coveted real estate, designed contextual new construction for prominent colleges, been named dean of the Yale Architecture School, was awarded the National Building Museum's Vincent Scully Prize in 1998 and the prestigious Dreihaus Prize in 2001. In honor of the master architect's 74th birthday, Curbed has assembled some of the best—and worst—lines ever used to describe the master architect and his work.
Then Architecture editor Reed Kroloff, on the occasion of Stern's 1998 appointment as Yale dean, called him, the "suede-loafered sultan of suburban retrotecture, Disney party boy and notorious academic curmudgeon."
That very same Reed Kroloff, nine years into Stern's tenure at Yale: "Bob Stern may be the best school of architecture dean in the United States."
"There are many faces of Bob," said architect Peter Eisenman, referring to his multifaceted, sometimes contradictory personality.
''Bob Stern has brought classicism into the public realm and the mainstream of the profession, reinvigorating it for generations to come,'' said Michael Lykoudis, Notre Dame's dean for architecture, upon awarding Stern with the 2011 Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture.
Acerbic, energetic and incredibly prolific, said Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who added that Stern's "free-wheeling formal approach has alienated purists across the aesthetic spectrum. Yet even his critics might admit that he's had a powerful impact on contemporary design."
"The Ralph Lauren of architecture," wrote the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller, distilling the view of his critics.
"I knew he was destined for greatness," said architect Philip Johnson, who served as Stern's professor at Yale. Though he added, Stern's work is ''not my dish of tea, architecture, like the house of the Lord, has many mansions.''
The Yale Alumni Magazine summarized the dismay of some with Stern's position on the board of Disney: "For Stern's detractors, his association with Disney...confirmed their assessment of him as less an architect than a scenographer, cynically mining the past for its nostalgia value instead of working to advance the cause of architecture.
"Like every serious architect, I was shocked by the appointment," said a Yale alumnus, who knew Stern as a student. "In my eyes, he's the Martha Stewart of architecture, and represents the commercial takeover of postmodernism. But on second thought, what's clear to me about Bob is that he has succeeded at everything he's ever done. The last thing he'd want to do is fail as dean of Yale."
"With Robert Stern you know what you're getting. He brings out the best in what has been tried and true," Gap Chairman Donald Fisher said, after selecting Stern to design the company's headquarters in San Francisco. "I don't like everything he's done—I didn't want it to be gingerbread and gimmicky—but I happen to like traditional architecture."
Ironically, Marisa Bartolucci of Metropolis magazine said of Stern, in response to the same project, "He's become a gimmick ... there's more to design than going through a catalog of historic styles and choosing which one suits you best."
"He's become to architecture what Ralph Lauren is to design, an impeccable brand name for traditional things that are well-made for people who are not looking to be at the cutting edge, but care very much about quality and also want to feel as if they are of this time," the architecture critic for the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger, said.
The late Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp was quite satisfied with the Disney Feature Animation Building and claimed it "brings back the liberating spirit of play that prevailed in the early years of post-modernism, before the movement congealed into pompous historical poses."
Muschamp called Stern's design for the National Center for the American Revolution at Valley Forge "a lovely surprise," and attempted to explain Stern's break from tradition: "Critics like myself sometimes belittle Mr. Stern as a theme park designer, and the mind reels trying to figure out what he intends this building's theme to be. Jacques Derrida over Fallingwater, perhaps. Radical forms to commemorate a revolutionary past."
"I can't remember when I've heard so many people trash a new piece of architecture," Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell said of Stern's Harvard Law School addition, calling it "a little pompous and a little dull," and adding, "maybe that's the image the law school wants to project."
"The loft is an apt metaphor for his personality," said Yale grad Mark Shafiri of Stern's New Haven pied-a-terre, ''The formal rooms in front are done up just as they should be as the home of a famous New York architect. Then in the back there's this grungy abandoned space that's stripped out and quite mysterious.''
The bloggers at Structure Hub summed up popular sentiment when they called Stern's design for the Bush Presidential Library, "okay, as far as presidential libraries go."
The New York Observer termed Stern a "money-minting godhead" in their reporting on his new design for a building near Manhattan's sprawling Hudson Yards development.
The Observer dubbed 15 Central Park West "The Most Successful Building of All Time." 'Nuff said, considering the place racked up more than $2B in sales for developers Arthur and William Zeckendorf.