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February 23, 2007
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

“When you ask people to select their favorites… they choose buildings that hold a place in their hearts and minds,” said RK Stewart, FAIA, 2007 AIA President, of the recently released America’s Favorite Architecture list. The public poll compiled 150 “best works of architecture” in celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the AIA’s founding. Many of the buildings are what you might expect — a garden variety of classical icons that speak of patriotism and democracy. Most of the buildings are accessible to the public, whether they are hotels, museums, transportation hubs, or memorials. Indicative of the types of buildings included, the Empire State Building tops the list. The list is generally uninteresting to me (as are most survey results), but the fact that only 21 buildings were constructed in the last 10 years does compel me to question why practicing architects are generally unsuccessful at tugging the heartstrings of the general public.

Perhaps it is a good sign that the largest percentage of those 21 recently constructed buildings are located in NY (six in NYC and one in Long Island). However, three are places where people go to shop: the city’s two Apple stores (#53 and #141) and the Time Warner Center (#105). We are a consumer-oriented society, and we spend more time interacting with retail architecture, maybe more than other types of architecture. So it could be good that people are considering the architectural experience rather than an image. Then again, the Hearst Tower (#71) is inaccessible to the public, and the New York Times Building (#68) is still under construction.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to branding. Name recognition is at the forefront of the public’s and architects’ minds (after all, it was architects that came up with the initial 248 buildings). Currently, corporations are striking a chord more so than the buildings themselves — and that does not bode well for the future of architecture.

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