Beginning with the first critical analysis of the buildings and design practice of important Detroit-based architect Gunnar Birkerts, my dissertation addresses the conventions of architectural practice and the ways in which they underwrite claims to authorship posited by firm figureheads like Birkerts. Examining archival materials related to five key projects spanning twenty years, I traced the development of Birkerts’s firm within its disciplinary, professional, and social contexts. In doing so, I foregrounded often overlooked processes and protocols, and questioned not only the hierarchies of mainstream architectural practice but also the way they are obscured and reified in architectural history. I exposed the essential role played by firm associates, the reciprocal influences between client and architect, and the function of professional standards in enabling the signature of architects like Birkerts. 

Construction photograph of Gunnar Birkerts and Associates’ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis by Schwang Studio.