Review “Between memory and invention”: harsh words from a builder

Robert AM Stern, who appreciates a good sentence, was tickled when Architecture magazine called him “the suede-moccasined sultan of suburban retrospect, Disney partier, and notorious college curmudgeon.” He could barely quibble. The fashionable suburban homes that made him famous in the 1970s – classic abstractions with bow windows and gabled roofs – were indeed retro. He has designed resort hotels for Disney at its theme parks around the world; created a model town in Celebration, Florida; and laid out the plans that transformed New York’s 42nd Street from a municipal gutter into a tourist attraction. As for suede loafers, Mr. Stern has never stopped wearing Gucci since he first wore one in 1965.

He therefore admits in “Between memory and invention: my journey in architecture”, the disarmingly unpretentious look of Mr. Stern on his six-decade career. These decades have been turbulent for architecture. They began with the authority of the modern movement in free fall, followed by a furious war of theories and ideas which ended in the exhausted impasse of today’s “starchitecture” culture, in which fame takes the place of ideas. Through it all, Mr. Stern has shown a knack for being at the center of things. In the form of a memoir, he wrote what is effectively a history capsule of American architecture since 1960.