Tod Williams and Billie Tsien: Defiant Optimism
The 27th Pietro Belluschi Lecture
Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have been working together since 1977 and founded their New York architecture practice in 1986. Their studio focuses on work for institutions such as schools, museums, and not-for-profits. Each project is carefully designed from the inside out. A sense of rootedness, light, texture, detail, and most of all, experience, are at the heart of what they design. Some of their notable projects include The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, and the Lefrak Center at Lakeside in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Their current work includes the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, the renovation of David Geffen Hall in New York City, and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Over the past three decades, their dedication to this work has been recognized by numerous national and international citations including the Praemium Imperiale in Architecture from the Japan Art Association, National Medal of Arts from President Obama and the Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects. In parallel with their practice, Tod and Billie maintain active academic careers and lecture worldwide. As both educators and practitioners, they are dedicated to creating a better world through architecture.
More than forty years ago, when we were a much smaller studio, we wrote a personal mission statement: “We want to work with love and make good marks on the earth.” As our work continues, we have tried to stay true to these words. Through the years we have made our share of missteps, but what they have taught us has made us stronger.
We’ve learned the limits of what we can and can’t do. But most importantly, we’ve become more aware of our values, and what we will and will not do. Tod has long said – “knowing what you don’t want to do – helps you to find what you want to do.”
The truth in architecture is iterative and messy, but when we accept this reality head on, work has the potential to be transformative and enduring. While we will focus on our work for the Obama Presidential Center, we will also talk about mistakes made, lessons learned and future hopes.