Excellence No More
Scores of architects have fed on the government teat for a couple of decades, thanks to the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Design Excellence Program. Established to inject architectural pizzazz into new federal buildings, it has hired the likes of Richard Meier, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Cesar Pelli, and Morphosis to improve the damn guvment’s reputation for architectural design. But horrors! The GSA and the Office of the Chief Architect have become a rudderless barge. When Chief Architect Ed Feiner left in 2005, his replacement was to be Vitruvian architect Thomas Gordon Smith, whose appointment was apparently a concession to the Classical Architects lobby. Smith declined to leave his practice to take the post (a requirement for employment), so GSA journeyman Les Shepherd slipped into the position. (Smith was named the first Federal Architecture Fellow, but his tenure has expired and there’s no sign of a successor.) Now Tom Grooms, who heads the Design Excellence Program as its last original member, is due to retire within the year. Grooms might as well turn off the lights on his way out. The GSA’s Obama-friendly focus on technology and sustainability will likely further marginalize the Chief Architect’s office. Even as you read, the agency is moving toward build-to-lease projects, which rarely make design quality a priority. It’s over.
Preservationist Gets Ponzi’d
Someone with manageable OCD has scanned the 13,567 names on Bernie Madoff’s “You’ve Been Robbed Blind List,” looking for AEC victims. Of course, there’s World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein and scores of other real estate people, but so far only one architecture-related name has surfaced: Andrew Dolkart, the new director of the Historic Preservation program at Columbia University’s GSAPP. If it’s any consolation, you’re in good company, Professor Dolkart: Pedro Almodóvar and Zsa Zsa Gabor are also reported to be among the swindled.
Foster In a Pickle
Feeling redundant? You are, but you’re so not alone. Foster + Partners finds itself suddenly in a financial pickle or, dare we say, gherkin. The firm is closing its Berlin and Istanbul offices. Apparently, the closings came as a shock to employees. Recent chipper public pronouncements from Foster and other principals insisted all was bloody great. Well, why wouldn’t it be? In 2007, the London investment company 3i Group bought a minority stake in the firm. Who ever invests in architecture firms? And yet, between 300 and 400 staffers, or 25 percent of the firm, will be let go. That’s some heavy pruning.
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