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Tribute to Allan Greenberg

Driehaus Prize Presentation, Chicago, IL
March 25th, 2006

Good evening. You have heard a lot about the Driehaus Prize by now, and something about Allan Greenberg, and now it is my special honor to connect these two and explain exactly why it is that Allan is so important as well as so deserving a recipient of this great architectural prize.

I have been privileged to have known Allan Greenberg for more than two decades, and to have experienced not only his work, but his commitment to ideas, to writing, to history, and to the ongoing presence of architecture as a creative force in our culture. One of the many documents surrounding the Driehaus Prize describes Allan as “an eminent practitioner of progressive architecture that advances classical ideals,” and that is a wonderful phrase, since it subtly but powerfully tells you the most important thing about Allan: that he is not, for all his brilliant scholarship and committed classicism, one of those classicists who looks yearningly at the past, wishing to send only the message that things were better and that our age has gone to the dogs. Allan is far too smart, and far too subtle, for that. He believes passionately in the present, and in the ability of classicism to enrich the present and – most important of all – in the ability of classicism to be a part of the larger architectural dialogue of the present. Another way to say this would be to say that Allan Greenberg does not reject the idea of progressive architecture – he simply insists that classicism is a part of the progressive act.

Allan’s passion is not really for classicism – it is for the idea of the present, and for the way in which classicism can continue to grow and develop as a creative force. And I might also say that Allan’s passion is for all of architecture, since one of the other things that distinguishes him is the breadth of his vision. He can speak with brilliant insight about all kinds of architecture different from his own. He has chosen a particular road for his own work, but he does not believe that it need follow from this that there is only one route to the Kingdom of Heaven. In a world that is too often defined by fundamentalists, Allan represents the enlightenment.

But if we honor him in part for his determination to respect the broader landscape of architecture, and make connections between classicism and other worlds, we honor him most of all, of course, for the work that has flowed from that determination. Whether it is the extraordinary farmhouse in Connecticut that emerged out of his long study of Washington and Mount Vernon – a study that eventually yielded a brilliant book, and changed my own views about Mount Vernon (and I should say parenthetically that visiting Mount Vernon with Allan, as I did, is one of the great experiences you can have) – or whether it is the great work he has done for the State Department, including 29 different interior suites including the office of the Secretary of State – or the courthouses or the Humanities Building at Rice University, or even the Hilfiger shop in Beverly Hills, in each case Allan has shown us how classicism, brilliantly rendered, can deepen and enhance our sense of American culture. Allan Greenberg’s work manages at once to be in the great tradition of classicism and to be profoundly American. He has worked to make classicism meaningful in our time, and he has succeeded. It is a great honor – and a great pleasure – to invite Allan Greenberg to the stage to accept the Richard Driehaus Prize.

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