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How and Why Does an Architect Become Famous?

In a fascinating essay in the journal <em>Places</em>, Keith Eggener examines the politics of architectural reputation through the lens of architect Louis Curtiss's life and career.
February 12, 2012, 7am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Never heard of Louis Singleton Curtiss? You're not alone. I suspect if you have heard of Curtiss, that you've at one time resided in Kansas City, Missouri where, according to Eggener, "he is sometimes called the city's most innovative and important local architect."

But what are the reasons that Curtiss, designer of more than 200 buildings and projects, who died in 1924, and who worked with some of the most important clients of his era, is not known more widely? According to Eggener he was, "a structural innovator of the first order" and has an oeuvre comparable to contemporaries such as Bernard Maybeck or Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.

By recounting Curtiss's career and personal life, in comparison to his better known contemporaries, Eggener examines the larger process by which architectural reputations are manufactured and sold. "Why is Curtiss so much less celebrated than Maybeck? The answer has less to do with the quality or character of each man's work than with factors extrinsic to design."

"Stories like his may cause us to shift our emphases and challenge our often limiting and simplistic assumptions about history, including those that place a few towering, isolated figures on postage stamps, while others who worked beside them are left to dwell in obscurity. Such stories add texture and nuance to the broader field of American architectural history. For this, at least, they are well worth getting to know."

To that I'll add an enthusiastic amen.

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Published on Monday, February 6, 2012 in Places
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