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American schools lead the way in embracing diversity

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Last night I had dinner with Robert Stern and Cesar Pelli. Stern is the current dean of architecture at Yale and Pelli was his predecessor. I am sitting with two charming people who belong to an American clan that would appear to make decisions regarding the circle of architects that is destined to prevail.

Yale is not unique in this activity. I have come across this in Vienna with Hollein, Peichl and Holzbauer, but the difference in the States is the diverse range of styles and beliefs it encompasses.

At the top of the pile is Philip Johnson (to be 97 on 8 July). This architect, who is always right, has represented almost more styles of architecture than exist. His early Modernism was greatly admired and he had the ability to make it look easy. But as the 20th century progressed, he embraced PostModernism, Decimus Burton, Fairyland and Disneyland, to the point where it became a meaningless exercise in creating a pattern book that clients could choose from - the Matalan of architecture.

Stern is very serious about his work, as is Pelli, whose office is almost opposite the architecture department (designed by Paul Rudolph, another former dean). Two of Louis Kahn's most important buildings are in New Haven, which underlines the gravitas of this place. For a number of years, Papadakis acted as a European mouthpiece for this enclave.Currently teaching at Yale are Demetri Porphyrios and Eisenman.

I think it wonderful that such a diverse range of architectural tastes and gestures can be found in this modest-sized school.There would not be such a unique range of talent at any UK school, where often the palette of architectural choice is partisan.

And it is not only Yale. If you add Columbia, Princeton and Harvard to the list, one finds a network which represents a range of ages and includes practitioners, academics, theorists, and would-be radicals.

The integration and variety of the staff gives an extraordinary robustness to the East Coast architectural scene. And the schools, by and large, support each other by promoting themselves and sharing information.

The relationship between practice and theory is very strong, which is not the case in the UK where the gulf between education or teaching and what we build is enormous. The offices that build a lot tend to view the work done in the schools as irrelevant to the needs of their often dull offices.

On the other hand, many of the schools can find no place for the 'so called'architects in commercial practices. I feel that both would benefit if there was a stronger link between the two. I can imagine the first period of such a change would be painful for both sides, but hopefully persistence would open up new vistas on both sides.

English architecture has suffered a little at home due to the stylistic preferences of the 'taste makers and advisers', who have a field day as they introduce an austere Modernism to a disorganised architectural scene that does not pull together.

Stern and Pelli could well teach our scene the advantages of collaboration over a diverse range of interests. With no predominant style or theory at present, which I think is positive, there is an opportunity to agree on being different.

WA, from the bar at the Hotel Le Germain, Montreal

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