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Architecture that screams for attention disappoints

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"It does not matter how badly you paint," said the English writer George Moore, "so long as you don't paint badly like other people." The same might be said for architects, whose professional success hinges on novelty just as surely as it does for artists. In order to garner even a small measure of recognition, an architect must manage to stand out from a whole sea of colleagues equally starved for attention. Some architects seem to achieve this kind of notoriety by nature. Frank Lloyd Wright scandalized early 20th-century tastes with his dismissal of historical precedent in favor of what he called "organic architecture." From the perspective of the time, this idea alone would have been shocking enough. But Wright, whose ego was as vast as his talent, also delighted in tweaking his rebel image. "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility," he once said. "I chose the former and have seen no reason to change." It took Americans decades,...