Conversations in Context

Robert A.M. Stern, Henry Urbach + Kazys Varnelis

Conversations in Context invited leaders from creative fields to reflect on the site’s past, present, and future, and to contribute their perspectives on the Glass House and its significance to contemporary debates.

Robert A.M. Stern, practicing architect, teacher, and writer, is Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Stern first visited Philip Johnson’s Glass House as a Yale Architecture student in 1961, and soon began a long and enduring professional friendship with Johnson. After graduating with his Master of Architecture degree in 1965, at Johnson’s suggestion (and with his oversight) Stern began his career developing programs for the Architectural League of New York as the League’s first J. Clawson Mills Fellow. In 1985, Stern recorded a series of interviews with Johnson that were edited and published in 2008 as The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews by Robert A.M. Stern. Johnson was a featured guest in Stern’s “Pride of Place: Building the American Dream,” an eight-part, eight-hour documentary television series that first aired on the Public Broadcasting System in 1986.  Stern was the 2011 Driehaus Prize laureate and in 2008 received the tenth Vincent Scully Prize from the National Building Museum. In 2007, he received both the Athena Award from the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Board of Directors’ Honor from the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America.  Before returning to Yale in 1998, Stern was Professor of Architecture and Director of the Historic Preservation Program at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. He served from 1984 to 1988 as the first director of Columbia’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. Stern has lectured extensively in the United States and abroad on both historical and contemporary topics in architecture. As founder and Senior Partner of the 260-person New York-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Stern directs the design of each of the firm’s projects.

Henry Urbach began his career as a project management associate at Carnegie Hall, during the period of its restoration and renovation, foreshadowing a career dedicated to producing spaces that support creative labor and its power to inspire.  Urbach holds a degree in History and Theory of Architecture from Princeton University, a Master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and a Master of Arts in History and Theory of Architecture from Princeton University. Early in his career, Urbach worked for several architectural firms in New York City, all the while developing his profile as a writer and teacher. He has taught and published extensively in the fields of architecture, art, design, and culture with writings that encompass theory, criticism, and journalism; his first book, “Installation Architecture: A Primer,” is currently in development. Urbach has taught at numerous schools of architecture, including UCLA and Parsons School of Design, as well as the Curatorial Practice program at California College of the Arts and the Master in Public Art Studies program at USC. In 1997, Mr. Urbach launched Henry Urbach Architecture, a unique New York-based gallery committed to joining the worlds of contemporary art and experimental architecture. He ran this business for nearly ten years, achieving international recognition as he built an impressive stable of artists, a first-rate clientele including private, corporate, and institutional collectors, and participated in leading art fairs.  In 2006, Urbach moved to San Francisco to become Curator of Architecture and Design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His exhibitions — known for their provocative and timely ideas, breathtaking installations, and broad appeal — as well as his acquisitions (in architecture, art, graphic design, and product design) were widely lauded; also recognized were his abilities to raise funds, build community support and, in general, stimulate a sense of excitement about architecture and design. From 2006 – 2011, Urbach organized the following exhibitions at SFMOMA: ‘Your tempo: Olafur Eliasson,’ ‘Cut: Revealing the Section,’ ‘246 and Counting: Recent Architecture and Design Acquisitions,’ ‘Double Down: Two Visions of Vegas,’ ‘Patterns of Speculation: J. MAYER H.,’ ‘Austere,’ ‘Otl Aicher,’ ‘Sensate: Bodies and Design,’ ‘ParaDesign,’ ‘Tobias Wong,’ and, in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, ‘How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now.’ Many were extensively reviewed and acclaimed and Urbach became known for a way of making exhibitions that, only partly beholden to objects, were distinctively experiential, spatial, and atmospheric. Urbach was Director of the Glass House between 2012 – 2015.

Kazys Varnelis is the Director of the Network Architecture Lab at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. In addition to directing the Netlab and conducting research, he is on the architecture faculty at Columbia and teaches studios and seminars in history, theory, and research.With Robert Sumrell, he runs the non-profit architectural collective AUDC, which published Blue Monday: Absurd Realities and Natural Histories in 2007 and has exhibited widely in places such as High Desert Test Sites. He is editor of the Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los AngelesNetworked Publics and The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews with Robert A. M. Stern, all published in 2008. Other work related to Philip Johnson includes “‘You Cannot Not Know History:’ Philip Johnson’s Politics and Cynical Survival,” Journal of Architectural Education, November 1995 “Philip Johnson’s Empire,” Emmanuel Petit, editor, Philip Johnson: The Constancy of Change, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009], and participation in “Philip Johnson’s Empire,” Philip Johnson: The Constancy of Change, Symposium, Yale University, February 2006 [other speakers include Beatriz Colomina, Peter Eisenman, Kurt Forster, Sandy Isenstadt, Mark Jarzombek, Charles Jencks, Jeffrey Kipnis, Rem Koolhaas, Reinhold Martin, Detlef Mertins, Joan Ockman, Alan Plattus, Terence Riley, Michael Sorkin, Stanislaus von Moos, and Mark Wigley].  He received his Ph.D. in the history of architecture and urban development from Cornell University in 1994, where he completed his dissertation on the role of the spectacle in the production of form and persona in the architecture of the 1970s. Kazys’s teaching and research focuses on contemporary architecture, late modernism, architecture and capitalism, and the impact of recent changes in telecommunications and demographics on the contemporary city. Most recently, Kazys has been exploring Network Culture, the Network City, and Networked Publics.

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