Breyer as an expert (in architecture?)

October 7th, 2011

I’ve written at such length that Justice Breyer has no problem posing as an expert in judicial determinations. It seems he has no such qualms about posing as an expert in an architectural competition.

But sitting in the marble behemoth of the United States Supreme Court recently, sunlight bouncing off the books that line his chambers, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said it would be easy to make too much of the fact that he has become a juror on the panel that awards the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s greatest honor.

“I’d be very surprised if people think I’m some kind of great architect or architectural expert,” he said. “I am what I am.”

Justice Breyer, 73, has never studied architecture. He does not bandy about terms like “cantilever” or “curtain wall,” and he is more than a little understated when asked to describe the style of his house in Massachusetts.

“My home architecturally?” he said. “It’s where I live with my family. I like it. It’s attractive. It’s an old house in Cambridge. It’s very nice. I love living there. It’s very comfortable.”

But Pritzker officials said the justice’s intelligence, disposition and enthusiasm for architecture made him a good choice to serve on a panel that hopes to expand the breadth of its jurors’ experience.

I think that sums it up very nicely. Judges as experts.

Justice Breyer said he hopes to advocate for high-quality design in government buildings.

“The point of all these projects is to say to people — through the architecture of the building and the construction of the building and the use of the building — that the government is you,” he said. “There isn’t a wall of separation. It’s very important to break the idea of the wall down because otherwise people think this is a foreign entity. But this is a democracy, and the government is the community.”

“The wonderful thing about a building is, it can’t do that by itself, but it can help,” Justice Breyer added. “Architecture can help.”