Robert A.M. Stern: Architecture then and now

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Robert A.M. Stern: Architecture then and now

Robert A.M. Stern: Architecture then and now

The architect on supertall structures, unbalanced buildings and his legacy as dean of the Yale School of Architecture

Architect Robert A.M. Stern always knew he was a controversial choice to lead the Yale School of Architecture, but he didn’t know just how controversial until recently. While doing research for his forthcoming book on the school’s 100th anniversary, Mr. Stern, 76, discovered that his name had been discussed but then passed over twice during previous searches for a new dean. He was eventually appointed in 1998. “I was the Susan Lucci of dean candidates,” he jokes, referring to the daytime TV star who was nominated for an Emmy 19 times before she finally won.

In years past, architecture schools favored everything modern and “people didn’t like the fact that I did things that had traditional aspects to them,” he says. And because his firm designed Disney’s planned community in Celebration, Fla., critics at Yale “feared I would turn the place into Disneyland.”

Nearly two decades later, he’s in his final year as dean at the school. His firm, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, has become one of the country’s biggest, responsible for such buildings as 15 Central Park West in New York and the Comcast Center, Philadelphia’s tallest building.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Stern had just returned from Shanghai. He was dressed in a suit—a jacket and tie are part of the dress code at his 300-person office in midtown Manhattan.

“We’re in a terrific boom period,” he says as he casts his eyes across the panoramic cityscape. “It’s a boom period all over the world.” The profession, he says, has rebounded since 2009, when his company shed about 80 people in the wake of the financial crisis. New York is especially seeing a lot of high-rise construction. “I can’t vouchsafe that these buildings are the most interesting buildings architecturally, but they’re by some of the most interesting architects,” he says with a smile. […]

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