Tag Archives: HOWARD ROARK

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

BAD APPLES

November 11, 2016

A client screaming at his architect (from hongkiat.com)

No client names are mentioned. This essay will not kill my career, but I certainly have no shortage of battle scars from ridiculous clients. When it comes to what a client can demand of their architect, I am sure that they are not yet done with me.

Gary Cooper as Howard Roark with his clients, The Fountainhead, 1949
Gary Cooper as Howard Roark with his clients, The Fountainhead, 1949

Yes, clients.

Architecture is a service industry. So while our art form pursues creative passions, we are here to oblige.

Unfortunately, architecture cannot exist without the client who hires the architect with a project in mind, with a location at hand, and with the wallet to bankroll the whole thing. Similar to a dentist, an accountant, and even a cobbler, architects are in a business that relies on customers.

Even the art of making shoes requires customers, a cobbler in Capri, Italy (photo by Jorge Royan)
Even the art of making shoes requires customers, a cobbler in Capri, Italy (photo by Jorge Royan)

I say ‘unfortunately’ because at times, I fantasize about creating architecture without the involvement of (meddling) clients. I wish to create designs exclusively of my interest and no one else’s. I am often envious of poets who have the luxury of writing poems as they choose. For the most part, poets don’t wait around to be contracted by a client, paid a retainer check, and then given the poem’s subject matter and stylistic direction.

An architect fantasizing about his designs in The Architect’s Dream, Thomas Cole, 1840
An architect fantasizing about his designs in The Architect’s Dream, Thomas Cole, 1840

Imagine this dreadful situation: A poet by legal contract composes four options for a poem, recites his work before a committee, and then must listen to the client’s so-called “constructive criticism.” The committee’s feedback usually demands the absurd combination of the content of the first option, the length of the second option, a few words from the third option, but with the tone of the fourth option!

Who do the clients want their architect to be? Man Juggling His Own Head, unknown artist, 1880
Who do the clients want their architect to be? Man Juggling His Own Head, unknown artist, 1880

Architects do so much for their clients that go beyond the industry of architecture. When designing a restaurant, I am asked my opinion of the menu, as if I am a food critic or chef. When designing a shopping center, I am asked my opinion on concepts for profitability, as if I am a financial analyst. When designing for a client, I am called upon to be a best friend, psychiatrist, marriage counselor, life coach, church member, gym buddy, car mechanic, or any such role that doesn’t actually relate to the skills I acquired in architecture school.

Guilty of profiling, I have categorized my worst clients. Those of us in any service industry know these customers. In an earlier draft of this article, I detailed rants for each specific client below. But life has enough negativity. Let’s leave my tirade as merely a list for your imagination.

Some clients have no idea what they want or like (from 3coze.com)
Some clients have no idea what they want or like (from 3coze.com)

 The Indecisive and The Chaotic
The Yellers and The Whiners
The Bandits and The Delinquent
The Needy and The Insecure
The Haters and The Unhappy
The Narcissistic and The Conceited

Vincent D’Onofrio in The Cell, 2000
Vincent D’Onofrio in The Cell, 2000

There is no end to clients that are bizarre, melodramatic, thoughtless, dishonest, loathsome, and invasive—and even criminal. (I had one client that was found guilty of fraud, witness tampering, bribery, and obstruction of justice—in a murder case.)

Though there are indeed great clients—the ones that get me out of bed smiling, the ones that love the design process, the ones that beam with joy from our discussions—it is the scary client that keep me up at night. This client always has new ways to torture your architect.

So very scary, Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project, 1999
So very scary, Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project, 1999
© Poon Design Inc.