I’ve always had an eye for buildings. Growing up, I loved gazing out the car window at the refinery sites along the New Jersey Turnpike. As a teenager, I was fascinated by the way the W.R. Grace building on Manhattan’s 42nd Street swooped down to meet the pavement. And in Seattle, where I lived after college, I was intrigued by the gravity-defying Rainier Bank Tower, which looked like a stylized pencil, its point buried in the pavement.
But I never thought all that deeply about design. I’d never heard of Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the bank tower, or Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm behind the W.R. Grace building. Then one day in 1978, I saw a movie that changed my life. At the time, the German director Wim Wenders wasn’t famous. Probably the only reason I selected his 1977 adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel, Ripley’s Game, from a long list of Seattle Film Festival screenings was that it starred Dennis Hopper. But once I’d seen The American Friend, I couldn’t unsee it.
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