Aaron Betsky

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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 Netherlands Architecture Institute and the Cincinnati Art Museum and the current president of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (formerly the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture).

Early life[edit]

Betsky was born in Missoula, Montana, United States, but grew up in The Netherlands.[1] 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.[2]


From 2001 to 2006 Betsky served as director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, Netherlands.[3] He taught at Cal Poly Pomona[4] 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.

From August 2006 to January 2014, was the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum.[5] In 2008, he was named as the director of the 11th Exhibition of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which he titled, Out There. Architecture Beyond Building.[6]

In January, 2015, Betsky was appointed dean of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (formerly the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture),[7] which consists of Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.[8]


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.[9] He has also contributed to architecture history and theory, including a scholarly monograph on early-20th-century architect James Gamble Rogers (ISBN 978-0262023818) and an analysis of buildings embedded in the earth, Landscrapers: Building with the Land (IBSN 9780500341889). His 2017 book Architecture Matters, called "a delightful ramble through a lively, well-stocked mind" by Interior Design magazine, includes "46 Thoughts on Why Architecture Matters," including “Why Architecture Is So Cool (to a Teenager),” “How Dreams Die in the Process,” “How Perfection Kills,” “Why It All Happens in China,” and “What We Can Still Learn From the Greeks.”[10]

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[11]). Betsky has championed temporary or pop-up architecture as a democratic antidote to architecture's traditional "ridiculous obsession with eternity."[12] 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."[13]

In addition to his books, Betsky authors a twice-weekly column for Architect Magazine, the "Beyond Buildings" blog. His articles, published in various magazines such as ArtForum, Architectural Review, Architect, Blueprint, and others, include critical ideas for improving the built environment, for example: "We need to start from the qualities of the interior that usually come from furniture and furnishings, while also paying attention to the thoughtful use of light, scale and sequence. This means that pattern and decoration, arrangement of furniture and fixtures, ways in which buildings respond to the body, and the ability for the interior to both cocoon us and create a relationship to a larger world through frames and views, need to be the seed of all design."[14]


Betsky has spoken out on many issues in contemporary architecture, earning both admirers and detractors. He has been critical of mainstream approaches to 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."[15] A columnist for the Huffington Post called him elitist[16] and "arrogant",[17] 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."[18] Other columnists have praised Betsky for his prescient concerns about environmental and social sustainability. Herbert Wright, writing for DesignCurial (Blueprint), wrote that "Betsky's stop-and-think view is timely, because the issues of environmental and social sustainability don't go away, they become more urgent."[19] At the opening of the 2015 Shenzhen Urbanism\Architecture Bi-City Biennale (UABB), Betsky said, "We have built so much, maybe we have built enough. We need to think about making better use of what we already have...It's not about building...it's about breaking boxes."[19]

In 2017, Betsky declared, "There should be no top 10 prizes for sustainable architecture."[20] In response, a HuffPost columnist insisted that “Betsky trips up when he attempts to school the reader about the meaning and mechanics of sustainability."[16] However, Betsky has frequently promoted resource conservation, and emphasizes the importance of adaptive reuse: "The future will increasingly be dedicated within design to renovation, restoration and re-imagination of existing buildings."[14]


  • A. Betsky (2017). Architecture Matters. London and New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 9780500519080
  • A. Betsky (2016). Making it Modern: The History of Modernism in Architecture of Design. New York and Barcelona: Actar. ISBN 978-1940291154
  • A. Betsky (2012) At Home in Sprawl: Selected Essays on Architecture. RMIT University Press. ISBN 978-1921426858
  • A. Betsky (2008). Out There. Architecture Beyond Building: 11th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. Marsilio. ISBN 978-8831794473
  • A. Betsky, A. Eeuwens (2004) False Flat: Why Dutch Design Is So Good. Phaidon Press Inc. ISBN 978-0714848617
  • W. Maas, A. Betsky, S. Kwinter, B. Lootsma, A. Ruby (2003) Reading MVRDV. Nai Publishers
  • A. Betsky, K. M. Hays, G. M. Anderson (2003) Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio. Whitney Museum of American Art
  • A. Betsky (2002) Landscrapers: building with the land, Thames and Hudson
  • B. van Berkel, A. Betsky, C. Bos, M. Wigley (2002) UN Studio: UNFOLD, Nai Publishers
  • A. Betsky, E. Adigard (2000) Architecture Must Burn: a manifesto for an architecture beyond building, Thames and Hudson
  • R. Moore, J. Herzog, A. Betsky, P. Davies (1999) Vertigo: The Strange New World of the Contemporary City, Gingko Press
  • A. Betsky, O. R. Ojeda (1999) Miller Hull Partnership, Rockport Publishers
  • T. González de León, A. Betsky, A. Leon (1998) Kalach & Alvarez, Rockport Publishers
  • A. Betsky, A. Suzuki, D. Jackson, P. Zellner (1998) Pacific Edge: Contemporary Architecture on the Pacific Rim, Rizzoli
  • T. Riley, A. Betsky, X. Costa, M. Robbins (1998) Fabrications, Actar
  • A. Betsky (1998) Zaha Hadid: Das Gesamtwerk, DVA
  • Z. M. Hadid, A. Betsky (1998) Zaha Hadid: The Complete Buildings and Projects, Rizzoli
  • A. Betsky (1997) Queer space : architecture and same-sex desire, William Morrow
  • A. Jarmusch, A. Betsky, R. W. Quigley, M. S. Larson, M. Benedikt, M. Les Benedict (1996) Rob Wellington Quigley: Buildings and Projects, Rizzoli
  • A. Betsky (1995) Building sex : men, women, architecture, and the construction of sexuality, William Morrow. ISBN 978-0688131678
  • A. Betsky (1994) James Gamble Rogers and the Architecture of Pragmatism, The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262023818
  • A. Betsky (1992) Architecture & medicine : I.M. Pei designs the Kirklin Clinic, University Press of America
  • A. Betsky, J. Chase, L. Whiteson (1991) Experimental Architecture in Los Angeles, Rizzoli
  • A. Betsky (1990) Violated perfection : Architecture and the Fragmentation of the Modern, Rizzoli


  1. ^ Hong, Catherine. "Through the Roof-Aaron Betsky, curator of this year's Venice architecture biennale, dares to look beyond buildings". W Magazine. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  2. ^ "Aaron Betsky". Syracuse University School of Architecture. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  3. ^ Hong, Catherine. "Through the Roof-Aaron Betsky, curator of this year's Venice architecture biennale, dares to look beyond buildings". W Magazine. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  4. ^ "Critical Architecture and Contemporary Culture" by William J. Lillyman, Marilyn F. Moriarty, David J. Neuman
  5. ^ Boucher, Brian. "Aaron Betsky Resigns from Directorship of Cincinnati Art Museum". Art in America. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  6. ^ "Out There: Architecture Beyond Building". la Biennale di Venezia. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  7. ^ "Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture Announces New Branding | Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation". Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. 2017-04-24. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  8. ^ Vogel, Carol. "Aaron Betsky Appointed New Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture". ArchDaily. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  9. ^ Oosterman, Arjen (23 April 2014). "Prizing the Critique". Volume. Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  10. ^ Abercrombie, Stanley (2017-04-20). "Book Review: Architecture Matters by Aaron Betsky". Interior Design. Retrieved 2019-07-19.
  11. ^ "At home in sprawl: selected essays on architecture". English Worldwide. 2015-01-27. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  12. ^ "Aaron Betksy: architecture's obsession with permanence is ridiculous". Dezeen. 2016-03-29. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  13. ^ "The Top 50 Design Books to Read This Fall - Metropolis". Metropolis. 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  14. ^ a b Betsky, Aaron (6 March 2018). "Women in a man-made world: the need to build more holistically". Architectural Review. Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  15. ^ Betsky, Aaron. "Green Architecture". Architect. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  16. ^ a b Hosey, Lance. "Architecture's Great Divide". Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  17. ^ Hosey, Lance. "The Failures of Architecture Criticism". Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  18. ^ Shubow, Justin. "Architecture Continues To Implode: More Insiders Admit The Profession Is Failing". Forbes. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  19. ^ a b "Review: Shenzhen Urbanism\Architecture Bi-City Biennale 2015 - DesignCurial". www.designcurial.com. Retrieved 2019-07-18.
  20. ^ Betsky, Aaron (2017-05-09). ""There should be no top 10 prizes for sustainable architecture"". Dezeen. Retrieved 2018-03-29.

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