Frank Stella, Architect

Week before last, we looked at the watercolors of Steven Holl: an architect pushing architecture into art. But what about an artist pushing from art into architecture? Here are three architecture models built by Frank Stella, who gained notoriety as a minimalist painter in the late ’50s and early ’60s with several series of striped paintings including “Benjamin Moore Paintings” made with, what else, house paint. Through decades of his prolific career, Stella’s canvases became increasingly complex, colorful and dimensional. Maybe it was inevitable that his trajectory would lead him to architecture, but when the Met held an exhibition of his work called “From Painting to Architecture” in 2007 not everyone loved the results.

I’ve always liked Stella’s paintings, but I’ve always had a hard time placing his architecture. Maybe because the models he makes look more like complex sculptures or fragments of architecture. I’m not saying his work is bad, just that it doesn’t have enough plumbing (yet) to leave the realm of sculpture. I’ve worked on plenty of architecture projects that initially developed through sketch models not terribly dissimilar from these, and I know it takes a lot of work to transform such models into architecture that can be realized at scale. So it’s strange to see one of the more famous American post-war artists working toward architecture. To get there, he’ll have to give up some of the freedoms that creating sculptures allows; he’ll have to give up some of the freedoms of being an artist.


February 28, 2011