James Frazer Stirling — a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a recipient of architecture’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize — has never had his own retrospective show — until now.
The School of Architecture and the Yale Center for British Art are both opening independent exhibitions this week on Stirling, using materials from his professional archives and the records of his time as a professor at Yale’s School of Architecture during the ’60s through the ’80s. Working with a decade of research in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Centre for British Art is exhibiting “Notes from the Archive: James Frazer Stirling, Architect and Teacher,” a collection of Stirling’s , three-dimensional sketches, models and handwritten notes, which will travel to Stirling’s native England, and to Germany, where a number of his most famous buildings reside. Meanwhile, the School of Architecture is presenting a complimentary show, “An Architect’s Legacy: James Stirling’s Students at Yale, 1959-1983,” which is a showcase of student drawings from when Stirling taught at Yale’s School of Architecture more than two decades ago.
Together, the exhibits present Stirling full circle, from architecture student to budding virtuoso to master teacher, said public relations manager for the Center Amy McDonald.
“Today, history takes a long time to come to the surface,” School of Architecture Professor Peter Eisenman said, referring to the long gap between Stirling’s death in 1992 and his show today. “It takes time for history to settle and to get a reflective look.”
While the architecture school’s exhibit focuses on Stirling’s work at Yale, McDonald said the Center’s exhibition is the first international retrospective — a traveling show reviewing the work and career of an architect — on Stirling
Eisenman added that he doubted any of his 60 graduate students had heard of Stirling. The exhibition will help familiarize students with Stirling, Eisenman said. School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 added yesterday that the research gathered on the architect will be housed inside “the other Sterling,” Sterling Memorial Library, for Yalies and architecture scholars to consult for interpretation for the generations to come.
But the exhibitions’ coordinators hope that the impact of the shows will not be limited to just academia, but rather that the retrospectives will also help bolster Stirling’s international legacy, said Eleanor Hughes, assistant coordinator and head of exhibits and public relations at the Centre.
Although Stirling was famous when he died in 1992, his reputation was not in good shape because historians could not canonize him in any one specific architectural movement in the 20th century, Hughes said. Now that many of his buildings are 30 to 40 years old, developers are thinking about replacing or significantly changing his works. She said she hopes the exhibitionswill encourage the preservation of his buildings here and abroad.
School of Architecture Director of Exhibitions Dean Sakamoto said Stirling’s reputation varies geographically. In America, he is hardly known outside of the circle of architects who have specifically studied him, Hughes said. In England, he has been criticized across the spectrum of architectural styles. Meanwhile, in Germany, his work has been largely well received. The goal of the exhibition is to highlight the architect and to bring his accomplishments to light across national boundaries.
For those who knew Stirling, however, the exhibitions also serve to remember the architect, as a professor and a comrade. Craig Hodgetts ARC ’67, a student of Stirling’s who donated his 1966 model of a moving, futuristic city to the exhibit, said working on his old model for the exhibition made him feel like one of Stirling’s students again.
“It’s a curious experience,” Hodgetts said of returning to see the exhibition on his former professor. “We egged on one another. We liberated him and he liberated his students.”
The Center’s exhibit on Stirling is open from Oct. 14 until Jan 2, and the School of Architecture will display the works of his students from Oct. 13 until Jan. 28.