Story Time with Stanley Tigerman

Marc Teer

June 11, 2012

Story Time with Stanley Tigerman

"Saying no to a client isn't easy- try it sometime.  Say no and still get it built.  That's what good design is."

We had the pleasure of filming a discussion with Stanley Tigerman & the AIA Chicago Education Knowledge Committee- and Stanley didn't disappoint!  He told stories about his 60+ years in the profession that covered diverse topics such as education, design technology, the profession in general, ethics, and aura in architecture.  

You can view the discussion in its entirety, or you can download the audio file here by right clicking and choosing "Save as".

3:42  "God forbid, one of the kids in the office... I'd let them loose in front of a client with a pencil..."


0:44  On considering a new architecture school in Chicago: "Arguably the University of Chicago is the most intellectual university between the mountain ranges."  

2:55 (Advice to High School students) "If you want to be a managing partner at say SOM- you go to Harvard.  If you're interested in the art of architecture- you want to go to Yale.  If you're interested in computers or the most avant-garde stuff you want to go to Columbia or SCI-ARC.  If you're interested in (theory), you want to go to Princeton."



1:23  You should actually do both (teach and practice).  Your obligation is to teach at some point- once you have something to teach.  Architecture is ultimately an ethical pursuit... a part of giving back is to empower others.

5:00 "You have to be able to say no and get something built. It sounds easy- but it's very tough."

6:00 "Architecture has been basically following the money... What do you think Louis Sullivan & P.B. White were?  They were ambulance-chasers- they came here from the east coast because the god-damn place burned down and they needed architects."

7:57  "This is not my time... and I think God in his wisdom made sure that we died at a certain age.  So I don't really want to see where this field is going in another 25 or 50 years, because I fear for it.  Unless there is an ethical basis by which you make judgments."

11:50  "The key to the whole god-damn thing is health.  You have to live long enough that you have time so you can see what it is that you are doing."

12:15  "Letter to Mies, 1978 via the Graham Foundation"



1:45 "So the machine (the computer) turns out these beautiful looking things... But that doesn't mean that the person making the stuff knows what beauty is."

4:20  "So if you don't publish your work, if you don't win awards, if you don't build- what are you doing?  There are methods by which we can measure each other."  

4:53 "So if you learn BIM, does it assure you that it's going to be a terrific building?  I don't think so."



1:11 Mies van der Rohe was innately ethical- he had 20 people his entire career; not 21, not 19- he had 20."  (A great story proceeds about how Mies' office dealt with workload).



0:52 Story about the AIA Code of Ethics and how it has changed in the 50 years Stanley has been an AIA member.

2:12  "You have to have an ethical pursuit within you.  Its not going to be given to you by the government... That's not the profession I signed up to."



00:47  "Archeworks- its in trouble."  Everything is a metaphor of life and death; ultimately it all fails.  But it was a very good idea at the time... which is to say- architecture in the context of Social Cause."

3:23  Story about a student who asked Stanley for advice about starting a firm.



I am working on a book now that Yale Press will publish on, simplistically, the search for what John Hejduk used to refer to as aura, which we all refer to as poetry, which is basically unteachable. In other words, the unutterable in architecture. And that is something normally taught by and talked about and cogitated over by theologians, by philosophers. Margaret McCurry couldn't be here, my wife and partner and I are on the visiting committee of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. A bunch of them came up to see my show at the Graham Foundation, which I guess closes this week, and we went out to dinner. Twelve doctoral candidates, the dean, and a faculty member. It's something they talk about all the time, so I'm writing about that because that's what interests me, the search for what isn't normally discussed in architectural circles. Digitally, obviously I use a word processor for typing.

Actually, it's a cute story. I've been working on a word processor for years, and I had, what is the first one that came out, in 1976? It was getting slower and slower. What was the name of the woman, you had the business, too, the technology woman in architecture in Chicago? What? Whatever. I called her and I said, "I want an absolutely up-to-date computer, and I want you to lobotomize it. I don't care about anything except typing." And she did. She basically got it down to zero, so I have this incredibly fast word processor, which is what I use. I don't know Auto CAD, Margaret McCurry doesn't know Auto CAD, and if I rattle off the names of my contemporaries, including Frank Gehry, and Eisenman and Graves and Stern and all of them, Meier, none of them are on the word processor. But their offices are, and our office is, no question about it. But we all, all of us of my generation still draw. In fact, I'm working on a house right now that I'm drawing. Of course, I will turn it over to a kid who will put it on the computer, and then I'll make changes, do what normal people do. But I don't think the computer is yet at a stage to contend with that subject: aura, or the unspeakable in architecture. I think it may at some point get to that stage, but it certainly isn't there now. Like all architects, we have meetings with clients and I find it difficult to have any paper and pencil in those meetings. God forbid, one of the kids in the office, all of them are technology unbelievably proficient, but none of them can draw. God forbid, I let them loose in front of a client, and they would draw a line like this. So we're in a transition time. You're right to ask the question. At some point the computer may get to a stage that it actually can deal with what I'm actually talking about, but at the moment it can't. What I'm talking about interests me personally, the business of the unutterable in architecture. So maybe not the answer you want to hear, but that's my answer to the question.


Well, it basically hasn't been articulated in architecture schools either. As I say, theologians and philosophers tend to talk about people in religious studies, divinity schools. Actually, it's interesting because at the meeting I had, because I then went to dinner with this group, with the UC Divinity School people, I had been talking to the University of Chicago since we're doing this seminary co-op bookstore, seeing what their interests are in starting an architecture school. The reason I talk about the University of Chicago is it is arguably the most intellectual University between the mountain ranges. A bunch of the Ivy League, and a bunch of the stuff on the West Coast, Stanford and etc., one could argue that the University of Chicago, generally speaking, is as intellectually driven, if not more, than any other institution within spitting distance. I talked about it with the Divinity School. The Dean and the faculty member who was the former Dean, were very interested in actually talking about doing an architecture school in conjunction with the Divinity School. I'm being simplistic here. If you know something about the University of Chicago, you know that faculty tend to also be on committees. These committees are intellectually-driven committees, the Committee on Social Thought, the Committee on Practice, etc., all of the great faculty that you see have been on those committees. In fact, there's a very interesting starting on Friday that you may not know about, run by a fabulous young woman who's in the English department. Her specialty is comics and cartoons. So she says, because I make these funny drawings, she's interested in my drawings. All the great cartoonists are going to be there, Art Spiegelman, R. Crumb, etc. It's a very interesting faculty. Whether an architecture school would transpire vis-à- vis the Divinity School, it would certainly include them and the Department of Philosophy, and Critical Inquiry, particularly Tom Mitchell, WJT Mitchell, who is the editor in Critical Inquiry. I'm very interested in that. I think of the University of Chicago some years ago. I was on the visiting committee of the School of Architecture at Princeton. Often, people like Margaret and I, and others, tend to meet with young kids in high school, and they want to go into architecture, say. And my answer to them is basically, "What do you want to do?" If you're interested in becoming a professional, speaking of the top ranked, top tier schools, you ought to be a general partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, for example. You want to go to Harvard. If you're interested in the art of architecture, you want to go to Yale. If you're interested in computers and the most avant-garde stuff, you want to go to Columbia or SY-Arch. If you're interested in this stuff, you want to go to Princeton. The reason I say that is that Princeton has a doctoral program, which is the way I see the U of C, that's very interesting in architectural history criticism and theory. At any given moment, twelve doctoral candidates will be in residence at the architecture school at Princeton. They're getting a doctoral in architecture, not history of architecture, but architecture. And the presence of those twelve doctoral candidates at any given moment has had an immense impact on the architecture students, the MR-1 students, the people getting a first professional 3-year degree. I thought if you start an architecture school at U of C, you'd start at the doctoral level, working with the departments of Philosophy, the Divinity School, Sociology, Behavioral Issues, etc., and then work your way back down into a three-year masters. More like Princeton's program. There seems to be some real interest there. I realize, this is not slighting IIT's program. IIT has a new Dean. Do we all know who it is? No. Terrific architect. Weil Arets from the Netherlands. Do you know who that is? Anybody else know who that is? He's a fabulous architect, actually. So it's not slighting IIT. Certainly (inaudible 10:02) is doing a spectacular job at UIC. Larry Booth has this little funny program at Northwestern that I think some of you may know about. That's not so interesting because it's more technology driven, and actually, Larry's words, not mine, anti-intellectual. He's not interested in intellectual stuff. So therefore, I have no interest in such a thing. I think that flushing out the entirety of the range of architecture schools in this great city, it would be great to do a program that began with the mind at an institution that is similarly driven.


Architects should for their own purpose, for their own benefit, teach as well as practice. I wrote about it in my autobiography, actually. Practicing architecture tends to give something to yourself. Yes, you're working for a client, there's a program, etc. But ultimately what's on your mind finds its way onto paper and then computer and then built. Teaching is empowering others. Teaching and practice are this sort of dialectical couple that you can't really do one without the other and be successful. For example, people in practice who don't teach badmouth people who do teach, saying that they're not interested in building, they have no mind for building, etc. People in practice who don't teach always look down on practitioners. You should actually do both. I don't think you should teach immediately out of school, but I think your obligation is to teach at some point when you have something to teach. It's also part of giving something back when you empower others, which is about... architecture is ultimately an ethical pursuit, and it's about giving back. Part of giving back is to empower others. You do that generally, simplistically, through the vehicle of teaching. That assumes that you have something to teach. But if you teach to the exclusion of not practicing, that's a problem because you really are out of touch with what's happening. Schools, it turns out, problematically from my point of view, have been too much like practice. Many people in practice feel that a school's primary purpose is to prepare young men and women to practice. That's not true. The primary purpose of education is to endow the young with an ethical sense to be able to answer complex questions when they get out in practice. For example, I personally loathe architects forensically, who testify in court against other architects. We have such a person in the Chicago chapter, of my age precisely, whose name shall be unspoken. I don't really appreciate architects taking a position in court against other architects in court. I have a problem with that. I think the ethical issue is at the root of architectural education. It's not professional practice. It's not design, even. It's really about ethics. You're supposed to learn this stuff from your mommy and your daddy. If you don't, you have to get it from somewhere. And you cannot go into a profession like architecture without that. I use the word profession. In the AI, I have a problem. You'll see Syracuse and DC and Augusta, and conventions in Washington. He's starting to ask some people to write something for their journal, a little 300 word piece to get whatever's on your mind off your chest or whatever. So you'll see what I wrote about that subject. I think that you need to be ethically inclined as a human being, but particularly as an architect. In other words, doing the bidding of a real estate developer who is simplistically, generally speaking, a bottom- feeder only interested in profit. Where is the conscience behind the building with such a client? So thus you have to have an ethical wherewithal. You have to be able, how do I say this cordially, you have to be able to say no and still get something built. It sounds easy, it's very tough. How do you say no and get something built is really the question. I think ethics are a part of education, and frankly, a part of architecture education. It's interesting to me.. my son went to the University of Chicago B-school. They had two courses available on ethics. So why is it that generally, simplistically, architecture schools have no courses on ethics? I think that's a problem, and it shows an interest in this stuff. You all know whether the recession of our time or not, architecture has basically been following the money. Go where the money is. So in OPEC in the 70s, you would find SOM, Bruce Graham, all of them, in Iran and in South Africa, even after the United States came down heavily against the apartheid, architects are still seeking work in South Africa. Then it changed and now it's in various places like China, India, etc. It's a hallowed tradition about following the money. The Chicago fire had begun then in history. What do you think Louis Sullivan and PV White were? They were ambulance chasers. They came here from the east place because the place burned down and they needed architects. That's part of our tradition. At the very same time, we revere the Chicago school, which I do, too, of course. They were out here to do work. I've always had a problem with that kind of thing. I have never focused, and a focus that is marketed, sure, we've published our work, but we've never consciously... if we know of a job I make sure that I avoid trying to contact such a person. But now, major and not-so-major firms all have marketing directors. Now, thanks to Eva Maddox, we have branding as well. So architects are talking about that. What does branding really mean? This is branding. The McDonald's arches, right? This is all the ravings of a very old man. This is not my time, and I understand that. I think God in his wisdom made sure we die at a certain age. I don't want to see where this field is going in another 25 or 50 years, because I fear for it. Unless there is an ethical basis by which you make judgments. That's why teaching is really important. You have to make sure that you teach that to the young. But then you have to make sure that it's implicit in your own work and your own life and in your behavior. I believe your comment or question about nature. But you can find it in many places, not just in nature. But I'm not sure that we're at a stage right now that you can find it in the computer. I was just on the same Frank Gehry's jury at Yale, and Greg Lynn, who is the other side of the coin, his jury as well. The work was not so great. It was all computer-driven, of course. Not all, but mostly. Occasionally, a kid would show a huge amount of work of drawing. I thought that was fabulous. Actually, as a sign of the times, of the problem of the times, the show that I have at the Graham Foundation began at Yale virtually a year ago, ten months ago. When it opened at the Graham, several young people in school came up and were wowed by the all the drawings that I had. That's a tragedy. Of course I draw. I was trained to draw, so I draw. I can put myself, whatever there is inside, into my work through the vehicle of drawing. I don't see that with the computer, if you want the honest to God truth. There just is no soul. I hate to talk about abstractions like soul or the ineffable, the unutterable, but we all know what I'm talking about, whether you know how to attain it or not. I think if you really want to get serious, get involved with such things, you do it by thinking, not by rattling stuff off. That's from a person who has been as action-oriented as anybody, but it's actually the time that you have by yourself that you sit and you think while you work, that's really crucial. Now, how to convey these things to a student, to the young, is part of education. I assume that those of you that are on this education committee are interested in such things. Those of you that aren't on the education committee, I think you would be interested in these things anyway. How you get to the source of what makes you design in a certain way. I remember I had a professor at Yale, an Asian chap, who kept saying, "You have to dig down deeply, Stanley," which I didn't understand at the time and was not capable, frankly, of doing, of looking at myself. But with age, if you live long enough, the key to the whole thing is health. You have to live long enough that you have time so that you can see what it is you're doing and think about what you're doing. I hate to be this abstruse with such a committee, but those are what my interests are.


Many years ago, probably in the 80s, Margaret McCurry's father, Paul McCurry, who was an architect, was involved with the NCARB. Basically, he ran and was the governing person for the state examination at that time to become a state-registered architect. He asked me to grade the architecture design part of it at that time in the 80s. I'll tell you that at that time, the stuff I saw was so horrific, virtually all of it. First of all, nobody could draw. Nobody could letter. If you looked at the stuff, you'd think, "Did these guys go through architecture school?" It was shocking. Forget design. Yes, the design was crap. But they couldn't draw, they couldn't letter. So now you have a machine where you input something and out comes a perfect appearing drawing with perfect appearing lettering, right? That doesn't say anything about you at all. Zero. You're inputting information and it comes out perfect. It's fabulous as a tool, make no mistake. I love it. This house I'm working on in two seconds can be given to a kid, he'll put it on the computer and come back and it'll be perfect. I'll make a gazillion changes, two seconds later he'll bring it back, it'll also be perfect. So the machine turns out these beautiful looking things, but that doesn't mean that the person making the stuff knows what beauty is, that's for sure. So obviously, my predilection is toward drawing. It turns out, if you spend what in my case is some 65 years or more of drawing, of course I can draw. I can draw beautifully, I can letter perfectly. That's to be expected, I've been doing it all my life. You wouldn't ask Arnold Palmer to play tennis. It's what I do. My problem with a machine, I know this is a fact, is that if you look at the stuff coming out today, just on juries at Yale, arguably a good school, and the stuff was just okay in terms of design. It all looked perfect in terms of line weight, lettering, and so forth. But the young people working on it had no clue. So I'm not so sure. Now, you can turn out stuff that looks perfect, but is it perfect? It really depends. Obviously with programs like Rhino, you can do anything, you can rotate things. Topologically, it's spectacular, no doubt. Even, for example, in Margaret McCurry's case since her work is simplistically symmetrical. What's on the left is on the right. So the machine is perfect for that. She only has to draw what's on the left, the machine dupes it and it comes out perfectly. She loves it. He asked a question, Mr. Technology over there with the video. Am I going to learn this stuff? No. I do what I do. But if the office turns out fabulous stuff, but the amount of time we have to put in, as we have always had to put in to turn it into what we consider good design. So what is good design? That's why you have things like the AI to permiate it. If you don't publish your work, if you don't win awards, if you don't build, what are you doing? There are methods by which we can measure each other. We give each other awards for what we think, what a jury thinks, is good work. But I'm not sure. The stuff I'm talking about like aura, the unspeakable in architecture, is something that's not so easy to come by. Not so easy as to input stuff into a machine. So if you learn BIM, does it assure you that it's going to be a terrific building? I don't think so.


If Frank Lloyd Wright had access to a computer, the simpler thing is to say if Mies had access to a computer, would the things turn out to be as beautiful as they were? The answer is yes. What about the descendants of Mies? The sycophants, the acolytes, the SOM's and so forth. If you have a person like Helmut Jahn it's going to come out great. If you had a person like Bruce Graham, great. If you have others, should I name the others at Skidmore, that are not so great. They wouldn't have been great without a computer, and they're not great with a computer. This always creeps in. My problem with the profession of architecture is the word profession. Prostitutes do it for money. Okay? Do I make myself clear? The word amateur etymology, the prefix -amet is about love. Do you do it for love or do you do it for money? Mies van der Rohe was innately ethical. He had 20 people his entire career. Not 21, not 19, 20. So I was there in his office, we were working on the project in Montreal at the time, on Nuns' Island. I was talking to his business manager who had a little back room with a chart, long before the computer. The typical bar which chart showed where they were. Mies was being asked by the (inaudible 30:00) works in Germany to do an office building. He came in in his wheelchair, and I stayed to one side with these guys in black suits, and Mies looked at the chart and said, "Yes, I can do the project in three years." He just kept them on, the same 20 guys. Busy, not busy, whatever, the same people worked. If you work in Japan, as I know a couple kids who were in school with me, if you get a job in Fumihiko Maki's office in Tokyo, it's a lifetime job. You may not be aware of that. You don't get laid off. If Maki has less work, you're still there and you still get paid. So ethics is something I think you need to give a little thought to. That and the subject of aura. What is this unstateable thing that makes something actually important to you aesthetically speaking, poetically speaking? So the ethics and poetics is the whole gig, as far as I'm concerned. That's just my view, that's all I care about.


It's actually far beyond that. You see the cane. I've had some problems over the past three or four years. At the rehab institute, the lady I've been working with over time, her husband is an architect and he was fired, and now he's doing physical rehab stuff. But I think there's another issue, and I've had this discussion with Zurich Esposito [sp], the question of ethics. I would urge all of you, as soon as you're done here, to go back to your laptop and break out the AIA code of ethics. Take a look at it. Are you all utterly familiar with it? No. It opens up with what? With the Justice Department thing that says... let me start this another way. I've been an AIA member for 50 years now. When I joined the AIA, believe it or not, said that you couldn't undercut fees. You couldn't displace another architect without advising the architect first. You couldn't advertise. The code of ethics today starts off by saying you can undercut fees. The Justice Department stuff, and I'll tell you why. And you can displace another architect, you don't have to let him know, you can advertise. This came about because the Justice Department had a lawsuit against the AIA nationally, but it was against the Chicago chapter. So it was Margaret, so it was Eva Maddox. You know the whole history. It was the Tom Eyerman story about fixing fees. It's important that you all re-read the constitution. You'll find nothing qualitative in it. It's quantitative. This is a free- based capitalist society. You have to have an ethical pursuit within you. It's not going to be given to you by the government. You have to break the law to get in trouble. That's not the profession I signed up to. It is going in that direction. I'm aware of it. It's just a cry in the wilderness, and I'm aware of that too. But I have nothing against the machine. The machine is great, the computer's great, no question about it. But you still have to spend the time. It doesn't really reduce the time everybody thinks it does from a profit point of view, but it doesn't reduce the time that it takes to turn out really good design. That still takes time, whether or not you can draw. I'm interested in drawing, but I grant you that most aren't because they never learned it, and now they don't need to learn it.

Question 7 from the Audience:

"Following the precedent of the Integrated School of Building, what are your thoughts on Architecural Education working ot become more integrated with other disciplines?

Well, let me first talk a little bit about IIT. I was on a jury down there probably at the end of the year and the guy teaching the jury was a friend of mine who will remain unnamed. He'd given a big project to the kids of a tall building. He sat there the whole time on this thing. He was text messaging for his work in China or whatever. I found that shocking. He didn't even care about the student to even talk to the student about their project. That's a problem. The integrative stuff is great. That sounds like a great thing. That's what we try to do at ArchiWorks. ArchiWorks is probably going down. It's in trouble. But it was a good idea. Everything lasts for a time. Nothing is forever. Everything is a metaphor of life and death. Ultimately it all fails. But it was a very good idea at the time, and it was needed, which is to say architecture in the context of social cause. Does that mean that you didn't get low cost housing projects and schools? Not at all. University of Illinois-Champagne-Urbana was wonderful at giving those kind of projects all the time. But did the innovative stuff find its way into practice? Not really. It took Sam Mockbee and a variety of others, and ArchiWorks, to bring attention to such a thing. I grant you we're practicing in a free based capitalist society, but I also have to pay rent, and I also have to pay employees, etc. That's of no interest to me. We pay employees, we pay rent, but that's a bi-product of what we do. That's not the reason for what we do. I'm not getting work to keep a payroll up. Yes, we're down. We were always, forever it seems, ten people. We're now seven. I didn't lay those people off. People atrit. They leave for other reasons. But in this tough time I never replaced them. We were always ten. Sure we have to be prepared, but I've never, it's been now, thank god, 40 years since I had to borrow money. Everything I tell you is the way I run my practice and my life. I'm not saying you should do it. But I do think you ought to teach. And if you teach, you need to think about an ethical pursuit in the vehicle of your work. How do you come to such things? And that'll bring you back to who you are, and when you dig down deep inside who you really are, when you look in the mirror in the morning, who are you really? Only you know who you are. When you left Gensler there to open up your own practice, that was great. I remember many, many years ago, almost 50 years ago, I had a kid in the office who had gone to UIC. He left and he was working for some other firm. And he called me up and asked if he could sit down with me. I said sure. He came to the office. Students and teachers are like parents and children. I knew pretty well what he was going to say. He basically said, "What are the chances?" I knew what he meant. What are the chances he would survive if he opened up his own practice? I told him if he's willing to work 18 hours a day, do whatever is needed, five percent. He left and opened up his own practice, and he's still in practice today. In other words, it took a certain amount of courage. This is a field, and this is another thing that's not talked about very often, it's about bravery. Saying no to a client isn't easy. Try it sometime. Say no and still get it built. That's what good design is, saying no and still getting it built. So it takes a certain amount of courage. So I admire you doing it, for sure.

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