Catching up with Bob Stern on life after Yale

AN Interior Architecture Conversation East Professional Practice
Robert A.M. Stern in his new office at One Park Avenue. Behind him is an elevation drawing of a house in Aspen that he designed for clients who are also friends of his. (Courtesy Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP)
Robert A.M. Stern in his new office at One Park Avenue. Behind him is an elevation drawing of a house in Aspen that he designed for clients who are also friends of his. (Courtesy Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP)

In an exit interview with the Yale University School of Architecture student newspaper Paprika!, former dean Robert A.M. Stern said, “Once I became the dean, I stopped going on any kind of a regular basis to live theater in New York, which I used to be quite an habitué of… I was usually so exhausted that at the end of the day I would go and sit in my one hundred dollar seat and have the most expensive snooze ever known to man… I’m looking forward to catching a few plays after June 30.” AN Senior Editor Matt Shaw caught up with Mr. Stern to talk about his life after deanship, his new office, and what else he has been up to in his newfound free time.

Matt Shaw: This is my first visit to the new office. It has a similar feeling to the old one.

Robert A.M. Stern: Well I don’t like too much change. The new office here on One Park Avenue is a reflection of the previous office on West 34th Street, which was a reflection of its predecessor on West 61st. Also, after being in an office for roughly 20 years, people forgot to throw things away, so the cleansing experience of coming over here—archiving things and so forth—has been great. But we kept the library.

I remember that drawing.

When we moved here, we just moved the drawing. The clients in Aspen have been friends of mine for a long time, and so I keep it there. I have a sentimental side, which people don’t actually know. They think I’m a man of steel and I’m really Clark Kent at heart.

A stone carving of Stern at Yale’s Pauli Murray College dorms, complete with his signature pinstripe suit and Gucci loafers. It was made by Traditional Cut Stone in Mississauga, Ontario. (Peter Aaron/OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects)

Well, congratulations on the move. So, what are you up to now that you are finished being dean at Yale? You must have lots of free time.

Well, that’s not true. To begin with, I’m on sabbatical. I am preparing a new seminar that I will give this coming academic year. For a long time at Yale, I’ve given one seminar called “Parallel Moderns,” which says that what is commonly called “modern architecture”—in cocktail party chatter—is really only the International Style of the modern movement. However, there were many different kinds of modern architecture that ran parallel in the 20th century. I’m also working with Jake Tilove and David Fishman on my New York 2020 book, which I swore I would never do, but here I am.

I was hoping to talk about what you do outside the office. What do you enjoy doing in the city? Do have more time to see shows at the theater now that you aren’t back and forth from New Haven?

I had a kind of orgy of shows. The last one I saw was the one with Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, War Paint. I saw Dear Evan Hansen—I actually saw that before it opened. I knew it was going to be amazing and it was amazing. I saw Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, and the Kevin Kline thing, Present Laughter. I love musicals, as you can tell. There is a series at the City Center where they revive old shows. I saw The Golden Apple and it went in one ear and out the other.

What are some of your favorite restaurants?

Oh, you sound like a client who’s come in from Oshkosh. I used to love going to the Four Seasons and now… I don’t know, it’s not the same. They kind of sexed it up in a way. We’ll see what happens when it reopens in the fall. But, for me, the Four Seasons was very special. I had many lunches with Philip Johnson in the Grill Room and I kept going there afterward, once or twice a year. I still think it’s a beautiful experience to be there.

What about public spaces? Where do you like to take a walk?

Obviously from my books, I’m a complete enthusiast for New York. There’s no greater enclosed space in New York—or maybe the world—than the great hall of Grand Central. Central Park is another of the great rooms—and it is a room. There’s a difference between Central Park and Prospect Park. Prospect Park is not a room. You go in there and you get lost, whereas Central Park is a completely defined rectangle with walls of buildings on all four sides, so it’s a great room and I love that. I find Times Square amazing. They’re all kind of clichés because they’re so great. Everybody will say, ‘Oh, doesn’t he know some surprising place?’ No.

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