Glittering Past Leads to Harvard Present

Stirling Outshines World-Class Field

The Sackler Museum project began for architect James Stirling in 1979, when Harvard's Building Committee selected him out of a pool of over 70 architects.

At one point in the interviewing process, Gleason Professor of Fine Arts Seymour Slive, the committee's chairman, asked Stirling what his favorite museum was. The answer: The Dulwich Art Gallery in England, designed by Sir John Soane.

Impressed by the unusual answer, as well as Stirling's previous works, the Building Committee gave him the nod.

But the work had only just begun. Stirling immediately received a 234- page set of guidelines detailing all the zoning regulations and the stringent usage requirements for the museum.

"The program was unique in the sense that 50 percent of the space was for public and 50 percent for private uses," said Stirling, adding that the project was quite detailed.


"Architecture is always a situation of compromise," he said. "The principal requirements were met although some were modified.... The clients were delightful, not difficult and sympathetic to our problems."

Stirling was born in Glasgow, England in 1926. A year later, his family moved to Liverpool, where his father worked as a nautical engineer.

Stirling's first architectural accomplishments came in partnership with James Gowan from 1955 to 1963. Jointly they designed the highly acclaimed Leicester University Engineering Building.

A number of other successful projects followed for Stirling: the Cambridge University History Faculty Building (1964-67), the Residential Expansion of St. Andrew's University in Scotland (1964-68), and Queen's College, Oxford's Florey Building (1966-71).

Stirling's British jobs dried up after the Florey Building, but he found a more receptive audience in West Germany. To date, the Germans have comissioned 10 works from Stirling and his partner since 1971, Michael Wilford.

The most highly regarded of Stirling's West German works is the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. Avant-garde critics of architecture have lauded the new museum addition.

Stirling has had some exposure in the United States as well. Besides teaching architecture as a visiting critic at Yale, he designed M.D. Anderson Hall at Rice University, completed in 1981.

Plans for a Columbia University chemistry building which he designed are currently on hold, but his Cornell University Performing Arts Center is expected to be completed next year.

Stirling has won several distinguished architectural awards, including the British Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1980 and the $100,000 Pritzker award in 1981.