Robert A.M. Stern on Starchitects, Limestone, and Life without a Computer

Front-page headlines such as “All about survival” and “High-end stores suffer” are the order of the day at The Real Deal, New York’s real estate bible, but the June issue ends on an up note, thanks to the charming Robert A.M. Stern. Interviewed by Candace Taylor for the magazine’s back page, “The Closing” (get it?), the superenergized architect, teacher, writer, and dean of the Yale School of Architecture opines on everything from his inspirations (which include Paul Rudolph and Robert Venturi) and his love of limestone (“It takes the light very beautifully”) to his favorite travel spots (London, Paris, Rome, and this summer, he’s off to Vienna, which is “kind of on [his] B-list”) and his thoughts on the Best Buy that occupies the ground floor of his buzzed-about 15 Central Park West. “I’ve never been in a Best Buy,” notes Stern. “It looks nice to me. Every shop in New York cannot be Tiffany’s.” So, what does he think of the term “starchitect”? Read on!

That architects have been given some kind of star status is nice. On the other hand, I don’t think architects should be celebrated like movie stars. We’re much more interesting than movie stars and much more important, and what we do is much more enduring. If you don’t like the movie you’re watching, you can turn it off or walk out of the theater or fall asleep. I do all of those things. But if it’s a building and it’s across the street from your window and it’s an abomination, what are you going to do about it? Not much.

When it comes to communicating, Stern’s preferred method is “a very refined shout,” made possible by his firm’s open plan and doorless offices. His office also lacks a computer, which explains the inexperience with Best Buy (and why he never e-mails us). “I don’t even know how to turn a computer on and I don’t want to,” he says. “I use pen and paper, tracing paper, make sketches. That’s the way I work.”