Sunday, February 15, 2009

Genealogy of Influence

Image courtesy of Genealogy of Influence(1). Click to enlarge.

I’ll be fifty years old in April. As my birthday nears, I’ll no doubt take stock of myself, reflect upon what I’ve experienced in my life, be thankful for all that I have learned, and appreciate the good people that it has been my privilege to know.

It is generally regarded as axiomatic that an architect often does not produce his or her best work before the age of fifty -- Louis Kahn is frequently cited as the classic case in point. It wasn’t until the completion of the Yale University Art Gallery in 1953 when Kahn was fifty-two that his highly personal and poetic design philosophy was first fulfilled. I take comfort in this and look forward to the prospect of continued improvement as an architect even though over thirty years of formal education and professional practice in architecture have already passed me by. Architecture is truly a life’s pursuit.

Arriving at this milestone is also an occasion to consider those individuals who were most influential in shaping my core values regarding architecture and urban design. Over the course of the next few months, I'll write about a few of these influences. Some are the usual suspects, the “hero” architects who have also inspired many others both through their work and their force of personality. Others are lesser known, but have equally affected my thinking about architecture. Altogether, the list might seem puzzlingly eclectic(2), but I’ve realized that there is much to be gained from diverse perspectives. Dogmatic thinking has not served our profession well in the past, and I’ve grown wary of anyone who subscribes to a design doctrine that is close-minded(3). It's best to assimilate, to synthesize, and to regard all influences with a grain of salt.

Here is my list:
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Arthur Erickson
  • Le Corbusier
  • Robert Venturi
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Louis Kahn
  • William Kleinsasser
  • Peter Eisenman
  • Christopher Alexander
  • Lawrence Halprin
  • Charles W. Moore
  • Alvar Aalto
  • Christian Norberg-Schulz
  • Antoine Predock
  • Bing Thom
Who are your architectural influences?

(1) This post owes its title to the Genealogy of Influence, which is a web-based project, started in 2005, that documents influences among people through history. It was developed by Mike Love, who is associated with the Institute for the Future, an independent, nonprofit research group whose core work is identifying emerging trends and discontinuities that will transform global society. The people in the influence domain are called Influence Nodes, as they have influenced or been influenced by other Influence Nodes. An influence connection from Person A to Person B indicates Person A significantly influenced Person B in the area of their life work. A peer relationship indicates that two Influence Nodes were peers or collaborators – that they each had influence on each others' work. To some extent, it is a subjective decision whether or not an influence is significant or reciprocal.

(2) Architectural historians or critics would consider the design philosophies held by some of my influences to be diametrically opposed. On the other hand, all of them made their mark in the twentieth century, all are/were male, and all are/were Western-centric in upbringing and outlook – so the list is by no means as diverse as it could and should be. This reflects the bias of my education and who had already made or was making his mark as my explorations in architecture began in the 1970s. I hope to rectify this shortcoming in the years to come.
Note that the absence from my list of some of today's more progressive and talented architects does not mean that I do not include them among those whose work I now admire most. This list is an accounting of the designers and theorists that, for better or worse, were most influential in shaping my view of architecture.

(3) Of course, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Christopher Alexander, with their outsized egos, are not famously known for having been tolerant of views that opposed their own.

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