Tag Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright

BEETHOVEN’S TENTH: IN SEARCH OF PERFECTION

January 4, 2019

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy, by Michelangelo, 1512

If Ludwig van Beethoven (here, here and here) composed a tenth symphony, would he have changed the world? Nearly all classical aficionados agree that Beethoven’s Ninth, his last symphony, is a perfect work of music. My intent of a ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’ is to ask this: What is beyond perfection?

What qualifies a creative work to be perfect? What defines a definitive work—a creation that ends the discussion, is agreed upon as the best, and even surpasses its own genre?

Beethoven 390, by Andy Warhol, 1987

The Ninth Symphony is not just music, just as Joyce’s Ulysses is not just a book, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel not just a painting, or Rodin’s The Thinker not just a sculpture.

Architecturally, there are projects throughout history that have become a definitive work of its building type. Here are just a few from each category.

upper left: Empire State Building, New York, New York (photo from chambershotel.com); upper right: Trans World Airlines Flight Center, New York, New York (photo from mimoa.eu); lower left: Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France (photo from blog.massengale.com); lower right: Taj Mahal, Agra, India (photo by Olena Tur)

Skyscraper: Empire State Building, New York, New York, by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, 1931

Airport: Trans World Airlines Flight Center, New York, New York, by Eero Saarinen, 1962

Chapel: Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier, 1955

Mausoleum: Taj Mahal, Agra, India, by Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and others, 1632

Temple: Pantheon, Rome, Italy, by Apollodorus of Damascus and others, 126 AD

House: Falling Water (LINK), Mill Run, Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

Concert hall: Sydney Opera House, Australia, Jorn Utzon, 1973

right: Pantheon, Rome, Italy (photo by Kim Mason); upper right: Falling Water, Mill Run, Pennsylvania (photo from brandonarchitect.com); lower right: Sydney Opera House, Australia (photo from sydneyoperahouse.com)

These projects have evolved far beyond being a mere building. I am speaking of the monument. Similarly, Aretha Franklin’s Respect surpasses its label of pop song, to become a beloved anthem.

The judge of whether a work of art is a masterpiece or merely something wonderful (which is nothing to complain about) is time. The test of time proves that an idea, whether a building, a musical or a novel, will be more than something attractive or intriguing. Most great works, though accepted as incredible on day one, are rarely thought of as a perfect and ideal creative composition, until years, decades and even generations have honored it, as is the Bradbury Building. When completed, the Eiffel Tower was considered a disastrous work of architecture, protested by all to be demolished. Over time, it has become a world monument of beauty and grace.

Though beloved, this office buildings is not a work of art, Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco, California (photo by San Francisco Chronicle)

But works of excellence are not inherently perfect. We are all judges and we all have our opinions. San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid is considered by most observers to be the iconic San Francisco skyscraper, adored and honored by all. Yet, there isn’t a university architectural professor or notable architectural writer who will give this project any attention. They will claim such a skyscraper to be a trite design, pandering to the lowest common denominator.

The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin, 1904, at the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (photo from joyofmuseums.com)

In the world of perfect creations—imagination, dreams and visions collide to generate a sensation unlike any other heroic artistic effort. When is that gift of talent given to a mere artist that might align himself with the heavens and the angels? Beethoven, this furious artist only wrote nine symphonies. Nine, only nine.

“IT ALL SOUNDS THE SAME TO ME”

March 3, 2017

The Beatles (photo by Rolling Stone)

I often hear, “Yeah, that song is okay I guess. I think all the songs of [insert band name] sound the same to me.” In architecture, similar criticism is imposed on our most famous creators.

Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)
Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)

Is sameness a bad thing? Most of The Beatles songs sound similar, with those peppy lyrics and obvious chord progressions, as do much of Beethoven’s music, with his mishmash of beauty and rage.

All of Mamet’s work reads the same with that staccato rhythm, as does Poe’s chilling tone. Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt—each pursued his lifelong personal expression, resulting in what one might wrongly dismiss as being all the same.

Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966
Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966

If the work is genius, as generally agreed upon for the names above, is it so bad that it is all the same? Should we complain about Apple products being all the same? Oh, that predictable minimal simplicity, the beautiful Zen-like posture.

Products by Apple (photo by Librestock)
Products by Apple (photo by Librestock)

I do think many of Franks’ architecture looks like variations-on-a-theme, but I like all the projects. Here, I speak of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry (here and here).

I see no problem. But I do find it hilarious when critics look at similar appearing projects and assign reasons for how each one is different. Different metaphors for the same building—for example, Gehry was exploring how a fallen city rises from the ashes. Or, Gehry was expressing the blossoming of a flower. Or, Gehry was fascinated with sun rays beaming outward. And so on.

Projects by Gehry Partners upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by John Finn); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo from inspiringhomeideas.net); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)
Projects by Gehry Partners
upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by John Finn); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo from inspiringhomeideas.net); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)

When interviewing an architect, you will often hear him profess, “I do not have a singular style.” The word “style” (here and here) is considered a dirty word, as if architecture is a superficial thing and not the evolving amalgamation of intensive client research, the balance of program, building codes and science, and the careful consideration of budget and schedule.

Many architect’s say that they don’t have a singular style because they don’t want to be typecast, like Jim Carrey doing slapstick. Architects also fear the word “style,” particularly when used in trite reference to something like Picasso’s “Blue Period.” In this phase between 1901 and 1904, Picasso mainly painted monochromatically in either shades of blue or blue-green. And it was all spectacular.

Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)
Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects
upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)

But here’s the thing. All architects, world famous or quietly practicing in her neighborhood, have a certain look to their work, specific aspects of exploration that are individual to each and every architect. In fact, most good architects have that singular style, and I argue that there is nothing wrong with it.

Obvious celebrated examples are Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Morphosis, and Tadao Ando. For each of these designers, one can suggest that all their work is uninteresting because it all looks the same—that they only subscribe to a certain style. Is this so wrong? No.

Projects by Morphosis upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)
Projects by Morphosis
upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)

Even for the lesser known local architects working under the radar, he too has a style where their designs look the same, possibly because this architect loves designing homes with wood siding and metal roofs, or offices that are modern with stainless steel trim. It’s not a compromising position for an architect to have areas of interest, be responsive to local materials and construction methods, and to possess a personal vision of the world. In fact, you want an architect to have a strong viewpoint on the environment around him. If not, what are you hiring, just a drafting service?

Projects by Tadao Ando upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)
Projects by Tadao Ando
upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)

IS TV FOR REAL? PART 2

February 17, 2017

Potential clients have come to my office asking for three free designs from which to pick—“the way we saw it on HGTV.” My anger aside from how reality TV twists reality, the client’s request compromises the integrity of the architectural process. (This article is a follow up to my past one, Is TV for Real?)

My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)
My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)

When I design for a client, I don’t draw three random schemes in a vacuum. I listen to the client first—their goals and dreams. When I show preliminary concepts, the client provides feedback on what they like and what they don’t. Through this back-and-forth process, a design develops, and is then refined. Not ever in a vacuum, the creative process is an exciting and thoughtful journey.

Okay, time for me to confess. Here and there, I have learned a few things from TV about color coordinating, selecting furniture, and being creative on a budget. I confess!

Also, the reality TV DIY shows have brought design to the forefront, that a well-crafted, nicely-styled life is desirable and achievable. In 15-minute bite size servings, these shows have delivered architecture to the mainstream.

Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949
Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949

In some distant past, clients were under the impression that design was a mysterious, closed-loop process. Now, many are conscious of how accessible good design advice is, whether from an award-winning architect or, yes, a charismatic TV personality.

I enjoy meeting with clients who already understand the concepts of an open floor plan, for example. Good or bad, these clients come prepared with Pinterest pages on style. Thank you reality TV. The clients and I can hit the ground running, proceeding with a shared foundation. Knowledge is power, after all, even in choosing paint colors.

Love-It-Web

Once was a cocktail debate between architects: “Who is the most influential voice in our industry?”

The usual suspects were tossed out as conversational sacrificial lambs. Local big names like Steven Ehrlich and Eric Owen Moss. Pritzker Prize winners like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. A safe go-to is naming the senior leaders like I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano.

National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)
National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)

Another angle is to suggest famous architects no longer living, but believed to be still influential today, i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. Pretentiously, you can also try the obscure, though no less significant, such as Wang Shu, Sverre Fehn or Paulo Mendes de Rocha.

Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)
Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)

My contribution that night stopped the discussion. I proclaimed, “Martha Stewart!”

At the time, Martha Stewart utilized avenues of outreach in all forms, and was better known than any other designer in the country, maybe even in the world. If she stated with a quiet breath that “pink is to be used at table settings this season,” you could count on millions of dining tables across America set with something pink.

Stewart-2-Web

Let the debates and cynicism rage on. It’s all for the good. Martha, HGTV, Sunset, Houzz, Dwell, Wayfair, the plethora of magazines and blogs, etc.—all of it deserves gratitude from architects everywhere. To the widest audience, these mainstream entities deliver the concept of wanting good design. And for that, I say thank you.

Covers-Web

THE MEEK AND THE MIGHTY

December 23, 2016

Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, 1938

I recently had the joy of visiting two homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright: a modest design and his most ambitious.

The cozy Pope-Leighey House in Virginia totals a mere 1,200 square feet. In stark contrast, the visionary estate known as Fallingwater in Pennsylvania has a 2,900 square foot residence, 2,500 square feet of terraces, and a guest house of 1,700 square feet. Surrounded by 5,000 acres of the Bear Run Nature Reserve, this house cantilevers over a waterfall.

When historians speak of Wright’s homes as being intimately scaled, was this because Wright had a unique interpretation of domestic life, or was it because he was petite? Only 5′ – 7”.

Pope-Leighey House, Alexandria, Virginia, 1941 (photo from woodlawnpopeleighey.org)
Pope-Leighey House, Alexandria, Virginia, 1941 (photo from woodlawnpopeleighey.org)

For both houses, Wright utilizes two of his most classic moves. The first connects the interiors to the exterior surroundings, suggesting that a house might be a home with no walls—that only Mother Nature limits the boundaries of the structure.

Fallingwater living room in winter (photo from fallimgwater.org)
Fallingwater living room in winter (photo from fallimgwater.org)

Another very Wrightian theme: compression and release. Small spaces are manipulated to be even smaller, so that the large spaces feel larger. The transition is no mere door threshold, but a cramped, dark hallway theatrically stepping into a tall room with expansive glass. Through spatial contrast, the architect bestows drama.

Fallingwater composition: horizontal cantilevered terraces, vertical stone walls, and signature Cherokee red windows (photo by Anthony Poon)
Fallingwater composition: horizontal cantilevered terraces, vertical stone walls, and signature Cherokee red windows (photo by Anthony Poon)

Unless you don’t have the Internet or have been trapped under a fallen rock, Fallingwater is universally agreed upon as one of the best homes in the world. The design has offered over 4.5 million tourists a glimpse into genius. Here, I only have two comments to make.

One, Wright explored a crazy idea: a shower out of cork. Really? Sure, it creates a comfy environment, but why use a porous material that will be constantly pounded on by water. What’s next: a toilet made of a sponge?

Fallingwater drawing, by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935
Fallingwater drawing, by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

Two, the beauty of noise. We have all seen thousands of pictures of Fallingwater. What is missing in even the best of photographs is the sound of the waterfall. The beautiful score of racing waters surrounds the estate, reverberating through the walls, reminding the visitors that they are in a house not just called Fallingwater, but literally built over a waterfall.

Fallingwater living room stair down to creek (photo by Daderot)
Fallingwater living room stair down to creek (photo by Daderot)
Pope-Leighey kitchen (photo by Ronal Hilton)
Pope-Leighey kitchen (photo by Ronal Hilton)

In both homes, the kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms do not impress. But then again, during this period, they weren’t supposed to.

Current California homebuyers obsess over enormous kitchens with 20-foot long islands and commercial-quality appliances, spa bathrooms with luxurious two-person water-jetted showers, and massive bedroom suites with sitting rooms and an espresso/smoothie bar. Such American dreams surpass the excessive and the ridiculous, when seeing how comfortable one can live at the Pope-Leighey House.

Pope-Leighey carport and front entrance (photo by Anthony Poon)
Pope-Leighey carport and front entrance (photo by Anthony Poon)

This precious home is small, but does not suffer from being miniature. Quite the opposite, the taut composition feels grand and generous, never trivial. When critics say a design is a jewel-of-a-project, it is not in reference to glass and reflectivity. Rather, it is a design of brilliance and clarity. Such is Pope-Leighey, and “Good things comes in small packages.”

Pope-Leighey living and dining room (photo by Paul Burk)
Pope-Leighey living and dining room (photo by Paul Burk)
Pope-Leighey writing studio (photo from funinfairfaxva.com)
Pope-Leighey writing studio (photo from funinfairfaxva.com)

This nicely edited creation wastes no energy. All the aspects of a perfect home present themselves in rigorous form. With Fallingwater, I wonder what I would do with these enormous terraces that seem to be sized for a party of 500. Pope-Leighey squanders not even a square inch. I felt more at home in this living room, than the one in Fallingwater sprawling at ten times the size.

Often called one of architecture’s geniuses, Frank Lloyd Wright demonstrates virtuosity when either flexing his muscles and being unshackled, or relaxing and offering restraint and modesty.

THE WORLD FAMOUS FRANK GEHRY AND THE BEST JOB I DIDN’T WANT

December 9, 2016

The Model Shop at Gehry Partners, Los Angeles (photo by Thomas Mayer)

I got the job! Unfortunately.

Not too many architecture companies were hiring during the economic recession of the 90’s. Though I held an impressive piece of simulated parchment that stated in fancy calligraphy, “Master of Architecture,” I could only find temp work as a paralegal, basically a data entry person.

After two years, one of my hundreds of resumes reached the right person. I received a call from the offices of Frank O. Gehry and Partners!

Biomuseo, Panama (photo by Victoria Murillo)
Biomuseo, Panama (photo by Victoria Murillo)

Yes. FRANK GEHRY. The formidable architectural genius of his generation. The most important American architect since Frank Lloyd Wright.

Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (photo by Eve Wilson)
Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (photo by Eve Wilson)

The Gehry interviewer welcomed me, shook my hand, and examined my resume. With tie and blazer, I sat there thinking my application was solid: noteworthy degrees, years of experience in San Francisco and New York City, and a handful of letters of rec. I had my portfolio as well, but as you’ll see, we never got to that.

Showing no indication of being impressed, the interviewer asked dryly, “Do you know how to use a table saw? A band saw? A palm sander?”

I smiled confidently, “Yes, of course.” But I was starting to see where this meeting was going.

I realized that I was not being interviewed for an architectural position, not even a drafting role. I was being interviewed for the infamous “Model Shop,” where young professionals set their egos aside and laboriously, meticulously produce physical models of Gehry’s designs. Some were beautiful presentation models with the quality of fine furniture. Some were rough studies of an inkling of an idea that the genius architect dreamt up in his sleep.

Model Shop displaying the new Facebook Campus (photo from Facebook Corporate Communications)
Model Shop displaying the new Facebook Campus (photo by Facebook Corporate Communications)

Nonetheless, I swallowed my pride. I needed a job that was in my field, regardless of whether I was designing one of Gehry’s concert halls or emptying his trash can. Regardless of the backward step for my career arc, I expressed my most convincing enthusiasm about joining this Gehry organization. After all, my updated resume would carry one of the grandest architectural names of all time.

The interviewer congratulated me, “Okay, you got the job!”

Starting pay was a generous $8 an hour. Adding insult to injury, the interviewer then laid out the terms. Every year, each Model Shop employee gets an automatic raise. That sounded promising, until, with a weird congratulatory wink-wink-smile, he added, “Each year, you get 25 cents more on your hourly rate.”

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by David Giral)
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by David Giral)

(Was this a joke? Did I hear wrong? I calculated that it would take me 16 years to get back to the salary of my first job as an entry-level architect in New York.)

I pushed back all the warnings in my head, and replied, “I would be honored,” again delivered with a convincing tone. I could not return to being a paralegal temp.

The tipping point was not a point, but a blow.

Winton Guest House, original location: Wayzata, Minnesota, current location: University of St. Thomas, Owatonna, Minnesota (photo from artribune.com)
Winton Guest House, original location: Wayzata, Minnesota, current location: University of St. Thomas, Owatonna, Minnesota (photo from artribune.com)

When the interviewer asked me when I could start the job, I responded, “In a week.”

“No, it must be much sooner,” demanded the interviewer.

I squealed, “How about in three days?”

He pressed, exclaiming, “No, even sooner.”

Frank Gehry at work (photo from Sketches of Frank Gehry)
Frank Gehry at work (photo from Sketches of Frank Gehry)

It was past 9 PM. The interviewer announced his command. “We have many deadlines, and I need you to take off that tie.” He pointed to a stack of plywood surrounded by tools, and with no wink-wink this time, he asserted, “Start your job NOW.”

At this point, the magic of the Pritzker-Prize-winning, AIA Gold Medalist Frank Gehry evaporated like a handprint on the surface of water.

I picked up my unseen portfolio, rejected the offer, and left the offices of Gehry. With my tie still on.

Within a year, I officially launched my own firm. Yes, my company also has a model shop. Just this morning, I used the band saw to cut my own pieces of plywood.

For more, read my review on the Gehry retrospective at LACMA.

SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ARCHITECTS

June 24, 2016

1940’s architects (public domain, photo from wikipedia.com)

Why do some people like having architects around as conversation pieces, while simultaneously accuse us of unbearable pretentiousness?

Arguably impressive and both cultured and irksome, architects have the ability to speak about almost anything, to pontificate, to provide diatribes on nearly any topic—from why Apple will fail or succeed, to the specs of a car vs. the specs of an espresso machine, to the latest documentary on documentaries.

Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue
Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue

Though most architects can provide “constructive criticism” on many topics, ask an architect about the last three Super Bowl championships. Or ask for a review of a Tom Cruise blockbuster. Rather than being a casual conversationalist, the architect might deliver a righteous discourse on the downfall of Western Civilization.

At times, there is the better-than kind of reaction to a situation that would typically draw an authentic human response, such as laughter to a good joke, or complacency at a family gathering. Many architects are skilled at displaying boredom as they try to appear as though their creative minds are preoccupied with the next big idea that will deliver world peace.

Architects try to be cool, want to be cool—and yes, some are. But many are just trying too hard. They are no better or worse than anyone else. The problem is that only architects seem unaware of this fact.

We possess our own absurd lexicon. (See, I just used the word “lexicon.”) A sentence almost makes sense as the architect speaks it, particularly when the client witnesses the conviction in an architect’s voice along with the poetic glaze in the eyes.

The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)
The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)

In a review of a new building, the Harvard Design Magazine actually spewed, “Unlike architecture that seeks to articulate understandings about the nature of things through expressive or metaphoric mimings, this remarkable building yields us actionable space.” Or, “Digital design finds its certainty in a parametric computation of infinite, noncritical formal variability, with its simultaneous assurance of all possibility and no particularity.”

Huh?

Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)
Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)

Maybe this convoluted speaking is pseudo-intellectualism, but in truth, it is ridiculous when you hear an architect (me included) present in full egomaniacal glory. Do we really need to use words like tectonic, datum, aperture, and gestalt all in one sentence? Do architects need to use the common tags “-ality,” “-ology,” and “-ity” to make words sound fancy? Words that gush out of the architect’s mouth too easily: actuality, phenomenology, specificity, and homogeneity.

How about the name of an architect’s company? There are the invented names that might sound like words you know, Morphosis and Architectonica, for example. There are abbreviations that are sort of the founder’s name, SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates), or MAD architects (Ma and Dang). And there is the use of the generic—such as OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), or FOA (Foreign Office Architects).

Also, my favorites are company names with unique spellings, punctuations, capitalizations, such as Office dA, SHoP, SPF:a, wHY, No.mad, or Coop Himmelb(l)au. How does the receptionist answer the phone? How does she spell the name when asked? “Capital this then that, no, lower case, now get rid of the space, yes, add an open parenthesis, no, it is actually spelled wrong, I mean, that is correct . . .”

Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)
Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)

Then there’s our appearance. Most architects are well-groomed, decently dressed (predictably black), and generally put together in some conscious way. When I say, ‘decently dressed,’ I don’t mean an overdressed fashionista. We do have a very conscious sense of our day-to-day uniform. The way we wrap an old scarf to appear blasé—this apparent indifference is rehearsed. When I say “well groomed,” architects may not broadcast their attention to personal hygiene, but you will not find too many architect’s looking like the absent minded professor/engineer with three-day unwashed hair and an overlooked belt loop.

Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life
Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life

For female architects, traditional conceptions of pretty femininity are ignored. I believe most female architects prefer to leave the cute outfits, glittery clanging jewelry, obvious make up, and high heels to fellow interior decorators. For male architects, impressions of metrosexuality are common: the neatness, a decent haircut, and clothes that just seem to work together, even if it is a simple crisp shirt and artfully distressed jeans.

Accessories are rare for any architect, but the carefully considered accent item might be present, such as the locally created wristband, a French fountain pen, or a custom designed wedding band. This approach to the personalized feature item might come from some famous predecessors. Le Corbusier (1887-1965) had his famous black shell, round rimmed glasses, of which Philip Johnson had Cartier make a replica in 1934—a trend which I.M. Pei continues today. Fortunately, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cape never caught on.

left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)
left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)

EPILOGUE: I confess that these characterizations are not all architects. But where is the fun if I can’t generalize, if we take ourselves too seriously?

Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother
Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother

© Poon Design Inc.