Johnson, Gehry, Meier: High-Rise Whores?

Nicholas and Alexandra.

It was with mixed results that Gabriel Brewer, of Robert A.M. Stern Architects, quoted Philip Johnson: “I am a whore and I am paid very well for high rise buildings,” the line attributed to the late, great Johnson goes.

Brewer, whose firm has had its hand in projects commissioned by Disney, Rice University and Harvard, was speaking at a panel discussion at the Dahesh Museum of Art on Friday on the topic of architecture and patronage; Steven W. Semes, an architect in his own practice since 1999 and author of The Architecture of the Classical Interior, moderated.

The question, as Semes put it, was: “How do you cultivate a good patron?”

But it started to sound as though the question was really, “are today’s patrons cultivated enough to choose good architects?”

The “enlightened patron,” Brewer said, is one who chooses an architect other than Frank Gehry or Richard Meier, who are already marketing points in New York real estate.

In the terms of this discussion, the patron is not the same thing as a client. The patron is committed to a long-term project, and has as much interest in building something that can become an important part of the architect’s body of work as the architect does. You wouldn’t have called the Roman Catholic Church, the King of England or the Czar of Russia a ‘client.’

In New York, though, it’s a fine distinction, since all we have are standard-issue rich people. To separate patrons from clients, think Rockefeller, Astor and Vanderbilt. (In fact, Rockefeller Center is the largest privately owned business complex in the United States, said architectural historian and now-New York Sun columnist Francis Morrone, a panelist.) And today, add Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg.

“It all comes down to where to put the patron’s name,” Brewer said.

In other words, branding is the new patronage.

– Riva Froymovich Johnson, Gehry, Meier: High-Rise Whores?