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Exhibition at Yale Center for British Art Assesses the Career and Legacy of British Architect James Stirling
James Frazer Stirling, House for the Architect: presentation model, ca. 1949, paper, burlap, cork, plastic, metal, thread, ink, gouache, wood fi bre board, 6 x 26 x 26 cm (largest)

NEW HAVEN, CT.- The Yale Center for British Art and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal (CCA) have co-produced the fi rst international exhibition of the archive of British architect, Yale School of Architecture professor, and Pritzker Prize laureate James Stirling (1924–1992). The exhibition, Notes from the Archive: James Frazer Stirling, Architect and Teacher, will premiere at the Yale Center for British Art in October 2010. James Stirling, regarded as one of the most important and innovative architects of the twentieth century, earned international acclaim through bold and innovative projects such as the Leicester University Engineering building (1959–63); the History Faculty building at Cambridge University (1964–67); the Neue Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (1977–84); the Clore Gallery for the Turner Collection at Tate Britain (1984); and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University (1979–84).

Notes from the Archive will feature more than three hundred original architectural drawings, models, and photographs drawn from the James Stirling/Michael Wilford fonds at the CCA. Together the works reveal Stirling’s wide-ranging approach to architectural composition and language, as well as the fundamental importance of historical and modernist architecture to his work. A concurrent exhibition at the Yale School of Architecture (YSOA) will include nearly three hundred drawings by seventy students who studied architecture under Stirling’s tutelage. Following its opening at the Center, Notes from the Archive will travel to Tate Britain, London (spring/summer 2011); Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart (fall 2011); and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, (spring 2012).

Stirling’s work has been interpreted by historians and critics in a number of varied, and often confl icting, ways. Some have seen it move through a series of eclectic modern styles; others have insisted that Stirling was a steadfast Modernist; while still others have proposed a fundamental break with Modernism in the mid-1960s. Stirling himself contributed to these diverse views through his own writings. Notes from the Archive, curated by Anthony Vidler, Dean and Professor of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, will deepen our knowledge of Stirling’s unique approach to the design process and demonstrate continuity in his work from his early days as a student to his fi nal projects. According to Vidler, “This exhibition offers the potential for the re-evaluation of Stirling’s career as an architect, revising the often contradictory assessments of his work from the 1960s on, through the evidence of the notebooks, sketches, presentation drawings, photographs, and original models from the offi ce.”

In this sense, Notes from the Archive is an exhibition of an archive rather than a monographic retrospective. It emanates from the CCA’s fi rst public presentation of material from the Stirling/Wilford fonds in 2003–04, with the exhibition out of the box: price rossi stirling + matta-clark. As stated by Vidler, the exhibition “brings together the heterogeneous materials from the work of the offi ce in such a way as to present the viewer with an inside look at the process of design, the working methods of an architect and a fi rm whose struggles to defi ne an authentic approach to contemporary architecture in the wake of the heroic fi gures of the Modern Movement are marked in every sketch.”

The exhibition will consider Stirling’s student work at the Liverpool School of Architecture; his struggle to defi ne a post-Corbusian vocabulary through experiments in regional vernacular for housing; his invention of a range of new typologies for university buildings in Britain; his development of urban assemblages in the important series of museum projects in Germany, leading to the construction of his masterpiece, the new Staatsgalerie in Munich; and the design development of selected projects in England, Germany, the United States, and France, including the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin, and the competition for the Bibliothèque de France, Paris.

Stirling taught at the Yale School of Architecture in 1959 and was the William B. and Charlotte Shepherd Davenport Visiting Professor of Design at the YSOA from 1966 to 1984. A fi nal section of the exhibition will use audio recordings and lecture notes— written on the back of design studio assignments and jotted on postcards, index cards, and hotel stationery—to evoke Stirling’s consistent treatment of an architectural project as a formal response to the client’s brief; the continuous exploration of themes from the critique of modernist rationalism; and his fertile and always innovative attempt to overcome the proscriptions of the International Style, while avoiding the pitfalls of an entirely historicist postmodernism. He always strove, in his words, “to continue the development and also extend the limited vocabulary of modern architecture.” (James Stirling, Notes for a Lecture at Yale, 1960)

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