Overlooked Talent: William Rawn

William Rawn is a Boston architect who designs buildings that are contemporary but not always attention-grabbing, thoughtful but not always dynamic. Some of Rawn’s work tries too hard to fit in, and sometimes his buildings’ tasteful masonry cladding and interior wood paneling give them a slightly saccharine quality, but on the whole, Rawn is a smart architect and strong proof that contemporary architecture doesn’t have to always be about ‘starchitects’ and deconstructivism. Rawn proves that elegant contemporary buildings can blend in, and we can enhance people’s environments without ostentatiously drawing attention to the fact that we are doing so. Rawn’s buildings are elegantly and thoughtfully conceived; together, they make up one of the most subtly successful bodies of work around.

Temple Beth Elohim.

More after the break.

For the past three years, the Pritzker Prize has gone to lesser known architects, firms doing interesting work outside of architecture’s main spotlight. It is important to note that Rawn is in many ways very unlike Eduardo Souto de Moura, SANAA, and Peter Zumthor (the Pritzker winners from the past three years). Rawn’s architecture is simply not Pritzker material in that he does not seek the same sort of elevated plane of originality that the others have sought –he does not seek to advance some new philosophy. Instead, he has mastered the vocabulary of contemporary architecture, and makes very good use of it in projects ranging from a 30-story hotel to a small synagogue (pictured above). Rawn shows that good architects don’t have to reinvent the wheel; they just have to take a thoughtful approach to design.

Williams College’s ’62 Center for Theater and Dance

This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Rawn’s office at Post Office Square in Boston. The office is small and quiet, with desks clustered according to projects and models abound. The people were pleasant, and the office light and airy. The architect who showed me around delighted in each of the small, intelligent details Rawn incorporated that she showed me. Various AIA awards covered the walls.

The Cambridge Public Library. Expect another post on this building later.

Rawn’s overall approach is quite compelling. Rem Koolhaas often goes on about how people can inhabit anything, and public space is dead, and so forth, and what he says frequently rings frighteningly true. In his architecture, however, he still attempts to create striking buildings that solve architectural problems in quite ostentatious ways, drawing attention to themselves are much as possible (don’t get me wrong, I do like Koolhaas). In a sense, Rawn’s work is truer to Koolhaas’s social criticism than Koolhaas’s own work. Rawn takes the ordinary — genial-feeling spaces, standard, contemporary detailing — and still makes it human, livable, and empowering. It’s a neat trick, and one that can be easy to forget when we get lost in the more cerebral architecture of many ‘starchitects.’ The thing is, it doesn’t take an architecture buff to appreciate Rawn’s work — it has a very good kind of mass appeal (see my previous post, The Role of Popular Opinion).

So here’s to William Rawn, proving that architecture isn’t always about crazy angles and original ideas: it’s about working well and looking good.

Note: All photographs in this post were taken from William Rawn’s web site.

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One thought on “Overlooked Talent: William Rawn

  1. […] ‘classy’ — contemporary design vocabulary. The architect William Rawn, whom I blogged about before, did two dorms, which manage that style successfully. They are slightly boring to me (I blogged […]

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