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.


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  1. Mike says:

    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.

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  2. gerrrg says:

    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.

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  3. nabukaz says:

    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?

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

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  5. Free says:

    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!

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  6. jonathan says:

    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.

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  7. Matt says:

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

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  8. st says:

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


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