Aaron Betsky (born 1958) is a critic, curator, educator, lecturer, and writer of texts about architecture and design. He is the former director of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the current dean of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (formerly the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture).
Betsky was born in Missoula, Montana, United States, but grew up in The Netherlands. He graduated from Yale University in 1979 with a B.A. in History, the Arts and Letters (1979) and received his Masters of Architecture from Yale School of Architecture in 1983.
From 2001 to 2006 Betsky served as director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, Netherlands. He taught at Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Cincinnati from 1983 to 1985 and worked as a designer for Frank Gehry and Hodgetts & Fung. From 1995 to 2001 Betsky was Curator of Architecture, Design and Digital Projects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art before moving back to The Netherlands.
In January, 2015, Betsky was appointed dean of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (formerly the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), which consists of Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Betsky has written numerous monographs on the work of late 20th century architects, including I.M. Pei, UN Studio, Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Inc., Zaha Hadid and MVRDV, as well as treatises on aesthetics, psychology and human sexuality as they pertain to aspects of architecture, and is one of the main contributors to a spatial interpretation of Queer theory. His essay "Plain Weirdness: The Architecture of Neutelings Riedijk" won the 2014 Geert Bekaert Prize in Architectural Criticism.
He has opined on the historically gendered nature of architecture (Building Sex: Men, Women, Architecture, and the Construction of Sexuality, 1995), the unique qualities of Dutch design (False Flat: Why Dutch Design is So Good, 2004), and consistently advocated for an interpretation of architecture that transcends physical building (see his writings in Architecture Must Burn, 2000; and Out There: Architecture Beyond Building, 2008). Another recurrent theme in his writings is a call to embrace and reimagine the American suburban landscape (see At Home in Sprawl, 2011). Betsky has championed temporary or pop-up architecture as a democratic antidote to architecture's traditional "ridiculous obsession with eternity." His book on the history of Modern design, Making It Modern (2016), according to Metropolis Magazine, "argues that, in seeking to represent the constantly changing reality of modern life, Modernism was always a bit too late. From teacups to cities, the goal of 'making it modern' was always elusive."
In addition to his books, Betsky authors a twice-weekly column for Architect Magazine, the "Beyond Buildings" blog.
Betsky has spoken out on many issues in contemporary architecture, earning both admirers and detractors. Some of Betsky's opinions have been questioned as "out of touch." He has been critical of some architects' interpretations of sustainable design, which he argues "justifies itself by claiming to be pursuing a higher truth—in this case that of saving this planet. The goal justifies many design crimes, from the relatively minor ones of the production of phenomenally ugly buildings ... to the creation of spaces and forms that are not particularly good for either the inhabitants or their surroundings." Lance Hosey, a columnist for the Huffington Post, has called him elitist and "arrogant", while Justin Shubow described him as "an architectural priest and patrician ... a voice of the high-status quo" because he fails to "consider the actual human beings, the unwilling guinea pigs who live in [architect-designed] houses. He implicitly says of the poor residents: Do their roofs leak? Let them buy buckets ... No wonder architects have an image problem."
In 2017, Betsky declared, "There should be no top 10 prizes for sustainable architecture." In response, a HuffPost columnist insisted that “Betsky trips up when he attempts to school the reader about the meaning and mechanics of sustainability,” outlining how his views are uninformed (“over-consumption of energy usually results from too much glass, not too little“) and inconsistent ("last year he championed giving awards to socially experimental architecture that some might not find aesthetically appealing, and this year he condemns giving awards to environmentally experimental architecture that he doesn’t find aesthetically appealing"). While Betsky claims that “the most sustainable architecture would start by using existing structures,” in fact studies show this is not the case for the most advanced new construction. However, Betsky has frequently promoted resource conservation: "We should think of not building at all. The future will increasingly be dedicated within design to renovation, restoration and re-imagination of existing buildings. We have more than enough buildings. We can no longer use up natural resources that we cannot renew on structures just because we want something newer, shinier and only maybe more logical than what exists."
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