Why is Sanford Kwinter so popular?


in academia, but why?

Nov 7, 11 9:55 pm


Nov 8, 11 7:05 pm  · 

i think we're all stumped.

Nov 8, 11 7:42 pm  · 

i like his hair

Nov 8, 11 9:48 pm  · 

it has to be the hair...


Nov 8, 11 11:56 pm  · 

i'd also be interested to hear a serious answer to this question. preferably from someone with some personal experience of kwinter.

i consider myself an ambitious reader of arch texts, but his are still mostly opaque to me - certainly not anything that can influence my thinking, since i only have a fuzzy idea of what's being proposed. i've tried one book, given up, only to buy another because i wasn't willing to accept that here was a celebrated architecture theorist from whom i could glean so little!

i expect that what is so murky to me in text form may be better comprehensible in dialogue? maybe as critic, professor, lecturer, his point-of-view becomes more clear?  

Nov 9, 11 6:56 am  · 

You don't get it because you're not smart enough. Either that, or it is completely incomprehensible bullshit.

My money is on the latter. This profession is second only to economics in obfuscation of reality.


Nov 9, 11 1:02 pm  · 

Miles's comment is key here.  Popularity here has to do with fashion and fashionability, not necessarily talent or skill.

Good, clear, accessible writing is a skill.  It takes time to acquire and to execute.  Many famous theorists (and plenty of mere mortals) lack this important communication skill, and couldn't compose a clear paragraph to save their lives.  At best, it's lazy.  At worst, it's incompetent.

These folks rely on fashionability and a kind of celebrity for their livelihoods.  They hope that (mostly) students and young people will hear the buzz and buy the books, and not discover that behind the curtain of big words delivered with grave pomposity may hide just another person who may (or may not) have an interesting idea but can't write well.   

(The rant above is general, not necessarily person-specific.)

Nov 9, 11 1:53 pm  · 

Yup, the hair!

Nov 9, 11 3:09 pm  · 
job job

Let's see:

established ZONE with McCrary, and Mau. Rethinks book design, and historigraphic book concepts

excellent article for Boigon's Culture Lab 1: Soft Systems to introduce systems processes (and epigenetic surfaces) to designers

ANY21: Hammer and Song and another called Flying the Bullet (based on a quote from Chuck Yaeger) delineating his position on Diagramming

... some vague fight between east and west coast writers

and now part of GSD 

You don't have to like him, but don't pretend that he's unimportant. For me, his writing can be lyrical and evocative. Some of the translations of French and German writers are as strangled as they get; in comparison, Kwinter is a pleasure to read.

Nov 9, 11 3:28 pm  · 
Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

Googling o..b..fus...c..ation..


Nov 9, 11 5:51 pm  · 

Huh, people "read" architecture.  Interesting....

Nov 9, 11 7:05 pm  · 

i remember him talking about the earth being so liquid and 'soft' when seen from space, yet beneath all that liquid are hard masses of land.

yeah he writes nice, pero dios mio... almost a modern colin rowe

Nov 10, 11 12:29 pm  · 

@Steven Ward, I wonder which books you've read. I thought Archtectures of Time was incredibly intelligent, well written, and also influential on my thinking. I could see how parts of Far From Equilibrium could seem opaque, I don't think that book is the best introduction to his writing. (Landscapes of Change is another great essay, as Smokety points out and it would be hard to read it and not see its influence). Requiem, I thought was great reading, though slightly less in the ready-to-apply category.

It's true that his writing is sometimes a little under-edited, but he tends to make up for it by being a very ambitious thinker. And yes, his strength really is as a lecturer, I think. He is one of a very small number of people who can speak extemporaneously and in full paragraphs.

There may be academics hiding behind hype and big words (sounds like a strawman to me) but Kwinter isn't one of them.

Nov 11, 11 11:32 am  · 

Never seen in the same place at the same time:


Nov 11, 11 1:31 pm  · 

I saw his give a keynote for the last ACSA meeting in Boston.Didn't really understand what he was talking about but he ended his talk on a YouTube clip of a yo-yo championship. Gotta give him kuddos for humor. 

Jun 12, 12 1:41 am  · 

I had Sanford ages ago when I was in undergrad. Although, I can't say that I have read a large swath of his work, I felt like he exposed me to a little bit of a lot of things that were different from any other history/theory course I have taken in architecture. He was hard to absorb as a student that didn't have a large knowledge base in history/theory. He would start a lecture explaining his thoughts on whatever the reading was, but constantly go down rabbit holes that reminded him of something he was talking about. There would still be a thread that would hold these conversations together, but I felt like I couldn't fully appreciate all of the random references. I would write some things down in the margins of my notes, and look them up later. They were never crap. I kind of wish I took his class later on in my degree, so I would have been able to ask better questions about his tangents.

On a side note, we never had a set class time, therefore we never had a set classroom. I would just end up sitting in the hallway having a mini panic attack about a linguistic theory class I was taking. When Sanford would pass by looking for a classroom, he would look at the books I was reading and randomly say something about it that would clarify a lot of things. 

Hmm. I don't know if this is really a defense of him being a great teacher, but I am definitely in the camp that he is very very smart, and knows what he is talking about.

I feel like this thread relates to the why is architectural theory so opaque thread. And honestly, as a dual degree student, it is not limited to architecture theory. It is why is <insert a field of study> theory so opaque. Smart people are not necessarily good writers (or teachers). But I wish it were more accessible, because I feel like history/theory are important, but tend to be blow off classes for most students in architecture.

Jun 12, 12 11:35 pm  · 

Interesting that this came up in my search result. Five years ago, I saw this Kwinter video and it really stuck with me.  Anyways, here is what I was looking for and might be of use :

Jun 2, 17 7:41 pm  · 

No offense but Sanford Kwinter is a complete wanker. A flashy-wording twat likes to pull miserable phrases that even himself needs to check upon dictionary. Been given some article about tectonics in my uni days: where two paragraphs of dick sucking of heavy words could be simplified into 3 words. He is the king of sadists.

Aug 23, 18 10:25 am  · 
Non Sequitur

Cool story. Any other year-long discussions you want to resurrect as an excuse to drop more golden opinions?


He is similar to Malcolm Gladwell, he is Canadian, lives in New York, has interesting thoughts and gets into the minute obscure details of a lot of different things. Also has interesting hair.  

Maybe he is impossible to define and the schools that don't want to be looked at as a trade school training people to do the work of architecture but instead want to teach people how to think about architecture and maybe advance the art of architecture "forward" in what it can do for humanity find him to be helpful to achieving their ends.  Or maybe his take on design theory reinforces the academic agenda of the schools that are trying to set themselves apart from all of the other schools of architecture that might be viewed as being too concerned with training new professionals to do work that gets built to serve the needs of people who are not architects.

He is interesting but hard to follow his lectures when listening to them, or maybe I am not invested enough in his perspective and his opinions to give it the time and thought to become indoctrinated by his lectures and published work.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Aug 23, 18 1:39 pm  · 

Funny thing is, Sanford Kwinter isn't popular at all, he wasn't already when this thread was made back in 2011. He peaked in the early 2000's:

Aug 24, 18 4:30 am  · 

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