Stephen J. Kieran, FAAR’81, FAIA On Carrying Rome

November 20, 2013
Stephen J. Kieran with Barbara DeGrange Kieran
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It was 1980, Stephen J. Kieran, FAAR’81, FAIA, now principal in the architectural firm KieranTimberlake, had recently been named a Rome Prize winner of the American Academy in Rome. Mr. Kieran planned to use his time at the Academy studying the theory of imitation, and part of his research included walking around Rome taking pictures of buildings that were imitative examples of each other. On his first such jaunts into the city he took 6-7 rolls of 36 exposures each of Kodachrome film, and when he calculated that it would cost about $100 more to develop the film -- he concluded that he would soon run through his small stipend.  Returning to his studio on the Janiculum, he took out the 3x5 index cards that he had planned to use to record information gathered in the library, and began to use the cards instead to sketch and record details of the buildings he encountered as a means of disciplining himself before he took a single picture, allowing himself to use the camera only after he had fully “taken the building apart” visually.  By the time he left Rome 11 months later, his studio walls -- 100 linear feet - were lined with the 3,500 cards. He now keeps the cards in two shoe boxes under his desk.

So began Mr. Kieran’s talk “Carrying Rome,” the second Home from Rome lecture,  given on Tuesday, 5 November to a roomful of Fellows, Residents and friends of the American Academy in Rome. As an undergraduate at Yale, Mr. Kieran’s work was greatly inspired by both Louis I. Kahn, RAAR’51 and Robert Venturi, FAAR’56, RAAR’67.  Mr. Kieran used some of his time in Rome to look at the dialogue between the two men’s vastly different approaches: Venturi’s attraction to the surface of a building and Kahn’s engagement with what was left once a building became a ruin.

Kieran began to explore his own approach to this dichotomy in his drawings of Palazzo Maccarani. He sketched thirteen cards that took apart and analyzed the façade of the building, completed in 1532 by Giulio Romano.  Every stone in the building is present in his drawings, and even today -- 32 years later -- he can still draw each stone from memory. In taking apart the façade he recognized how Romano established convention, then flaunted and broke it and rhetorically pointed a finger at it.  This study served as a pivotal moment for Kieran, giving him focus and direction, and has exerted continuing influence during his 25-year career. Its impact can be seen in the diverse structures he has designed with James Timberlake, FAAR’83 -- buildings such as the reverse bay window structure at the West Chester University, Brooklyn Poly Prep, Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC and the American Embassy in London.  All represent a continual exploration of performance in ethical architecture.

Academy President and CEO Adele Chatfield-Taylor, FAAR’84 opened the evening by talking about the significance of the Home from Rome lecture series. “The question of what happens during and after the Academy experience can be complex, as every person has a different response to Rome, and many things become clear only after years of thinking. We have long wanted to create a forum where the unfolding of these discoveries, these “musings”, can be shared, because these evolutions are fascinating to all of us.”

KieranTimberlake is an internationally recognized architecture firm noted for its integration of research and practice guided by a deep environmental ethic. It has received over one hundred design citations including the 2008 Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, and the 2010 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Architecture from the Smithsonian Institution. Stephen Kieran  has co-authored several books, including refabricating Architecture,Cellophane House™, and KieranTimberlake: Inquiry. In addition to his architectural practice, he teaches a graduate research studio at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. He has also held professorships at the University of Washington, Yale University, the University of Michigan, and Princeton University.

It is fitting to end as Stephen Kieran began the evening, “ I think the title of the whole series - Home from Rome -  is a bit of a misnomer, at least for me. As an artist or an architect, if you go to Rome and I don’t mean just go, but really go. Really, really go. Then Rome is never away from you.  It’s always with you. It’s a home. A touchstone. A measure of belief and a recordation of where you are and who you are and what you have become and what you are becoming.”

We hope you will be able to join us for the full series of Home from Rome lectures:  

Wednesday, 18 December 2013
Adele Chatfield-Taylor, FAAR’84

Wednesday, 8 January 2014
Peter J. Bell, FAAR’13

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Patricia Fortini Brown, FAAR'90, RAAR'01

Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Maira Kalman, AFAAR’12

Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Michael J. Waters, FAAR’11

Thursday, 8 May 2014
Marina Rustow, FAAR’07

Details about upcoming presentations will be provided in the American Academy in Rome monthly news update.

To view a  recording of the lecture, please click below: