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The postwar American city grew up as a development free-for-all. Suburbia became possible because of the automobile, and cities like Los Angeles just sprawled. The older American cities had concentrations of infrastructure that allowed for a New York–style density—an essential hub of urbanity that’s been missing from many of our newer cities but that now seems to be the model for the future of all American cities, including Los Angeles. The missing element, in this development free-for-all, has been architecture.

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The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

Most of the buildings built would not qualify to be identified as architecture—and yet the world values architecture. People take their vacations to visit architecture of the past. The few great architectural wonders that have been built command tons of attention and generate plenty of revenue for the communities in which they reside. So the question is: Why isn’t there a movement that requires real architecture as a priority?

Real architecture tends to have an uplifting effect on the people that experience it, and it creates identifiable icons—like the Sydney Opera House—that brand a city, even a country. Since I’m an architect, the question is perhaps self-serving; but at my age, I don’t have too much longer to benefit from the fruits of it. As I think of what’s gone on in the years I’ve been on this planet, I wonder why great architecture isn’t considered an important shaper of the American idea.

Frank Gehry is a Pritzker Prize–winning architect.
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