Robert A.M. Stern, A Conservative in Manhattan

At the Yale School of Architecture, where you’re the dean, do students enter dreaming real estate dreams? Talking about Trump more than Le Corbusier?

I wouldn’t say they’re talking more about Trump than Le Corbusier, but they’re talking about real estate and architecture. … Edward Bass—the Bass family, Yale donors—he gave us an endowment to bring developers into the advance studios, and that’s proven to be incredibly successful.

You’ve written five books on the city’s architectural history, up to New York 2000. What would the sixth look like?

It would be an amazing story, because for the first time in a long time, but not the first time ever, we would have great stuff to show, as opposed to some parts of New York 1960 or New York 2000 [that] are visually dreary.

You’re working for Related in its bid to develop the Hudson rail yards. Would you be designing the News Corporation headquarters that Related wants to build?

We’re working on residential parts. … Oh, my God, it’s an amazing project, it’s a defining project. Since Battery Park City there’s been nothing at this scale, and this scale vastly exceeds Battery Park City.

You’re also designing George W. Bush’s presidential library at Southern Methodist University. What was your meeting at the Crawford ranch like?

I’m very flattered to have been asked; it’s one of those defining jobs in an architect’s life, without question. George W. Bush is the twice-elected president of the United States of America—I’m not going to get to work for one of those again. We had a lovely lunch, and we chatted, and it was informal, and I’d met the president a couple times before … and he’s an amazing guy.

Does he have aesthetic taste and an appreciation for style and design?

I think he’s intensely interested in design, and Mrs. Bush very definitely has excellent taste, and in any case they have a fantastic house.

Do you think of yourself as conservative architecturally?

Yeah. I am a conservative. In that sense I suppose I’m an appropriate architect for W. Bush’s library. Forgetting politics, I do believe that architecture is a conversation across time. While every young architect and every young generation of architects thinks they have to break the mold, you cannot really create coherent cities, or campuses for that matter like Yale, if every building is the representative of its own unique moment and its own self-invented set of principles and language.

I notice you’re wearing suede loafers, which I find funny, because when you became the dean of Yale’s architecture school, the editor of Architecture Magazine called you …

‘Gucci-loafered party dean!’

No, it was ‘the suede-loafered sultan of suburban retrotecture.’ So you’re suburban, too rooted in the past and too conservative?

All those things, I am what I am, and I am what I do.

Do you wish you were 17 again and a badass revolutionary?

No, no! I was very revolutionary as a student, in the sense that I was a leading proponent of what’s called postmodernism. … Modernists thought they had triumphed above style, beyond style, and they had killed off the past forever, and that it was a closed door. My revolution was that the door was not closed.