Architects and Age

David Galenson, the University of Chicago economist who has cornered the market on quantifying the success of creative artists (he’s appeared on this blog before, discussing auction prices), has a new paper out on architects called “The Greatest Architects of the Twentieth Century: Goals, Methods, and Life Cycles”:

A survey of textbooks reveals that Le Corbusier was the greatest architect of the twentieth century, followed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The same evidence shows that the greatest architects alive today are Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano.

Scholars have long been aware of the differing approaches of architects who have embraced geometry and those who have been inspired by nature, but they have never compared the life cycles of these two groups. The present study demonstrates that, as in other arts, conceptual architects have made their greatest innovations early in their careers, whereas experimental architects have done their most important work late in their lives.

Remarkably, the experimentalists Le Corbusier and Frank Gehry designed their greatest buildings after the age of 60, and Frank Lloyd Wright designed his after 70.

Disgruntled Gehry Resident

Having had the misfortune of working in a Gehry building (, I wonder what people see in his work. It is massively overpriced and ugly, but above and beyond that, it is not functional as a building. I don't care what architectural concepts the building embodies if the roof leaks, the ventilation is poor, and the freakish angles of the building mean your window office gives you a nice view of...the outside of the building.

As mentioned in the article, Gehry is being sued over structural problems with the building--it's too bad he won't be sued for poor aesthetics though.


Can I ask a stupid question here? Can we get definitions of the terms "Conceptual" and "Experimental" as they relate to Architecture?


And according to the Torah, Moses could still "make water" when he was 120, meaning he was still virile. With the net, there has been an obsession with new and young, so maybe we temporarily forget the values of experience coupled with vitality.


I agree with gerrrg, Those guys are the ones you learn about in Arch. 100, and what about Santiago Calatrava(hope I spelled it right, I thought he was great too!


I would be a little more impressed with the objectivity of the study if an architect with little celebrity was named.

Quite apart from that, consider this quote from Kant: "Talking about love is like dancing about architecture." Is it simply ridiculous to measure or express one medium with another which is completely different?

I believe architecture falls into the category of achievement called 'art'. Not only does it resist constraint, but also falls messily within a tradition. Art demonstrates individual expression, but is firmly seated within an existing cultural stream. It is one thing to give an award to a mountain climber, but quite another to congratulate the topmost member of a human pyramid.


the obsession is not to quantify is to find relationships between economy and the rest of the activities of life

painters are not in their prime before school whereas the musicians can be genius very early

i like the optimism of this post to architects that gives incentive to keep working after their 70

i have a question: people who design lodges in the amazon jungle like the ones in, do they enter in this contest?


There's nothing wrong to keep working at 70 as long as concepts are still flowing and experience is a rare factor.


The information presented is NOTHING NEW to people that either went to Architecture school (and paid some attention to History lectures), or have vested time into studying Architecture on their own.


What is this blog's obsession with quantifying everything?! If it's not the "objective value" of pieces of art, it's architecture, wine or film. Why not my favorite color? Or Dubner's love for his kids?

You are bordering on the absurd already. This paper may arrive at a "value" of each architect's respective works, but this value is sure to change in 200 years when experts have different perspectives with which to give their opinions.

It's opinion folks. You can't layer data and analysis on top of opinions and hope to arrive at facts.


(in response to #7)

I'm entering my fourth year of architecture at a very "experimentally" driven school in south Louisiana. in my short experience, "experimentally" driven architects focus on letting somewhat random relationships between objects (and/or spaces) inform their design, as opposed to entering the design process with an idea of how the end result should be. we call it a "gestural process." "Conceptually" driven architects enter the process with a stronger idea as to how the end result should be--as THEY inform the process. I believe that a good way to look at it is to observe the difference between a market economy and a planned economy.

I would also say that "conceptual" architects dominate the market--clients tend to have a good idea as to what they want (usually depending on the local aesthetic), and most architects do not wish to argue for the sake of the usual pressing time constraints.



you mean that is why the internet geek is at his teens, and the good investment banker usually after his 50s?