Architects often struggle for recognition in the eye of the public, especially in the sensitive work of restoration and adaptive reuse.
Architects must often feel invisible. Look at news articles about new buildings or real-estate deals and notice how rarely they are cited for their designs. The client or developer is front and center, and maybe the contractor, if the project is enormous. But unless the story is clearly an architecture review—or the architect is an international star—his or her firm may well be left uncredited, even though the architectural work in question is destined to become an indelible part of the built environment.
Even a famous architect can be forgotten in civic discussion of a major design. In Steve Jobs’s last public appearance, before the Cupertino City Council in June 2011, he presented the scheme for Apple’s new headquarters, now nearing completion. Strangely, Jobs never mentioned Pritzker laureate Norman Foster or his firm, Foster + Partners, for the radical donut-shaped structure he was proposing to build.
News reports of public infrastructure are even more likely to neglect the architects or engineers involved (but probably not the politician behind the job). In New York City, two major transportation works have opened in the last 18 months—the Second Avenue Subway and an extension of the No. 7 line (RECORD, March 2016), which serves the vast Hudson Yards complex. Both lines have dramatic new stations—the Second Avenue stops feature public art by Chuck Close, Vik Muniz, and Sarah Sze, among others. But while the artists got full press, you scan most articles in vain to find the names of the designers involved. For the record, the Second Avenue stations were designed by AECOM and Arup, and the new station for the No. 7 line by Dattner Architects with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The same goes for the worthwhile efforts of restoration and adaptive reuse, which account for an increasing amount of work done by architects. Unfortunately, the designers who undertake these deferential projects often do so with little public acknowledgment. The December 2016 press release from the office of New York State governor Andrew M. Cuomo announcing the conversion of Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK International Airport into a hotel failed to include the name of the architects who will restore and adapt the icon—Beyer Blinder Belle and Lubrano Ciavarra Architects—even though the former firm is celebrated for its extraordinary renovation of Grand Central Terminal (RECORD, February 1999). On a smaller scale, more than one article in The New York Times discussed the recent transformation of a striking 1883 Manhattan office tower, Temple Court (by Silliman & Farnsworth), with a skylit atrium, into a high-end hotel without ever naming the architects. (Gerner, Kronick + Valcarcel Architects oversaw the conversion, with interiors by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. RECORD, October 2016.)
Why are architects so often overlooked? Some say it’s because the public doesn’t understand the scope of what they really do. And it is true that the scale and complexity of certain ambitious projects mean a level of collaboration that makes credit hard to apportion, with tangled roles for design architects, executive architects, and consultants of every possible stripe.
In this issue, RECORD explores the unsung heroes and heroines of restoration and adaptive reuse. In some cases, the glaring fame of the original architect obscures the work of the designer who is bringing that star’s building back to its former glory, as we see in the meticulous efforts of the Buffalo-based office of HHL Architects, in conjunction with the structural engineers Robert Silman Associates, with a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, the Darwin D. Martin Estate. In another instance, the somber midcentury Temple Israel of Hollywood, originally designed by Samuel Lunden and S. Charles Lee, is given a new life with thoughtful planning and the lively addition of a chapel by Koning Eizenberg Architecture. One architect who has consistently shown her skill in transforming old buildings for new cultural purposes— from the Neue Galerie in New York to Le Stanze del Vetro in Venice—is Annabelle Selldorf. In the renovation of 19th-century railyard sheds in Arles, France, for an art foundation, she showcases the power and elegance of the industrial steel structure, allowing the history of the architecture to speak for itself. For the subtlety and sensitivity of such work, let’s hope that she and her peers begin to get the credit they are due—and that the public and the press stop treating architects as if they were invisible.