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Wendell Burnette

Doing more with more

detail of Burnette's David Michael Miller Associates building

So a few weeks ago I was in Austin for a meeting and decided to stick around for a lecture at the University of Texas School of Architecture. I had heard Wendell Burnette speak about ten years ago and had also had the opportunity to see several of his projects in the Phoenix area. I have always respected his ability to transform common materials and common building types into exquisite architecture. His projects were always a inspiration that showed it was possible do a lot with very little.

Seeing him lecture again I saw a few of the older projects I was familiar with as well as some of his newer work. These more recent projects reflected Burnette's aesthetic and attention to detail, but the budgets he was working with were obviously much larger. It's not that the work wasn't as good, it's just that there are plenty of architects out there doing good projects that cost a lot of money. It is much less common to see good work being done with modest means and I regret the loss of one of the few architects doing that sort of work.

Doing good architecture is hard. Having ample budgets makes that job a little easier but in a way it diminishes the relevance of profession. If architecture is understood to be merely a plaything of the privileged, then its value as a social art is reduced to that of a designer watch or a luxury automobile - sure the craft and the performance may be exquisite, but if only a small percentage of the population are able to appreciate it, is it worth it?