by Anna Gibertini
On 06.16.17, the Center for Architecture gathered two of the industry’s beloved veterans and a good-sized crowd for another installment of “Cocktails and Conversation.” The hosts were distinguished architect Bartholomew Voorsanger, FAIA, of Voorsanger Architects and renowned journalist Alastair Gordon. The two recently collaborated on a biography of Voorsanger’s poignant and fascinating life and his artistic process. The book is titled Unfolded: How Architecture Saved My Life and is available now through Gordon’s own “Gordon de Vries Studio” imprint.
Before the lecture got started, William Singer, AIA, LEED AP, posed Voorsanger with a question about what the architect had learned in over 50 years of practicing that he could pass on to young architects today. That question yielded very astute and humble advice from Voorsanger: “When you’re young, your work is going to be derivative and that’s ok. But as you get older, your ego takes over. Do you acknowledge it or do you suppress it? My worst creative moments came when I suppressed my ego and abandoned my individualization. The moment you stop trying to please people is when you actually do please people. Also, you have to find brilliant people to work with—nobody can do it all by themselves.”
Gordon then introduced the book and the friendship he forged Voorsanger as a result of their creative collaboration.
“I initially thought it would be a monograph, but nobody wants to publish those anymore,” Gordon said. “Instead, it transformed into an intimate portrayal of Bart’s life and his artistic process. He’s a very artistic and emotional man. One layer of the book is a straight description of his life and work, and the other is an investigation into how his art was a reflection of how he was dealing with all of the messy ups and downs of his fascinating life.”
Voorsanger indeed has had an unusual life, one marked by profound personal loss and inimitable creativity. He spent his early childhood with his twin brother Neil in New York City’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum before being adopted by the Voorsangers, a prominent family of San Francisco. He grew up surrounded by artists and poets, including his mother who was a talented water color painter. He even once helped carry Ansel Adams’ camera on a hike in Northern California. While his upbringing gave him an appreciation for art, it was Bernard Maybeck’s First Church of Christ in Berkeley, CA that inspired him to become an architect. He went to Princeton University for undergrad, where Gordon’s father was Dean at the time, and continued his studies at Harvard. He began his career working for famed urban designer Vincent Ponté and then I.M. Pei. In 1978, he opened a firm with Ed Mills. Twelve years later, Mills left and Voorsanger’s fame took off.
Today Voorsanger is known for his inventive and elegant style that permeates all of his buildings, from large institutions to secluded residences. Gordon discussed the full breadth of Voorsanger’s most famous projects, including the Tahari Warehouse in Milburn, NJ; the now-demolished Morgan Library addition in Manhattan; private residences Wildcat Ridge in Aspen, CO and Blue Ridge in Virginia; and his current work on the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
Gordon read two passages from Unfolded: one detailing Voorsanger’s work with collecting and curating objects found at Ground Zero, and the epilogue. The passages were highly emotive yet restrained, graceful in their treatment of difficult and existential topics.
Event: “Cocktails & Conversation: Bartholomew Voorsanger and Alastair Gordon”
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.16.17
Speakers: Bartholomew Voorsanger, FAIA, Principal, Voorsanger Architects PC; Alastair Gordon, Contributing Editor, Architecture and Design, Wall Street Journal
Organized by: AIANY Architecture Dialogue Committee