In the main concourse of the East Building of the National Gallery in DC, where I am based,is a plaque put up commemorating the foundation of the new wing, donors, builders, architects etc. It's perfectly standard stuff, except the name of I. M. Pei is practically blacked out -- thanks to the numbers of hot, dirty, sweaty hands that, since 1978, have dared to touch the holy spot where his name is carved.
What is it that makes someone treat an architect as a saint? Does this happen for others? Or has Pei got some special charisma that the rest dont have?
DC turns out to have a lot of celebrity architecture about. Some of it uncannily reminiscent of the work of the same celebrity architects' work elsewhere.
There is a Foster roofed-over court at the National Portrait Gallery that is a dead ringer for the British Museum Great Court, and just a few years later. (Do click on the Foster website: it is a cliche of the genre "we design by challenging -- by asking the right questions" . Pity you didnt think about where to leave your bike at the Law Faculty in Cambridge, I found myself thinking. Any modern building in Cambridge that needs scores of notices on it saying 'please do not park your bike here' has certainly not asked the right questions!)
I suppose I shouldnt be surprised. I mean Christopher Wren did much the same, and you can spot Frank Lloyd Wright's tricks a mile off. And I think that the Pei building in Washington is one of the most stunning buildings I've ever worked in (and I guess before I go, I'll be joining the pilgrims).
But you cant help being a bit surprised that he hasn't got a wider range of tricks up his sleeve.