Tag Archives: HOWARD ROARK


February 28, 2020

The Factory, Catalonia, Spain, by Ricardo Bofill (photo from thisiscolossal.com)

There are the Usual Suspects, and we all know who they are. Featured on our magazine covers, these architects take home the big-name awards, are invited to international competitions, and cash in on their prestigious commissions. Then there are those creative minds that march to their own drum, exploring ideas that resound privately in their head. Rarely in the zeitgeist of the mainstream, these architects flourish in bizarre ways and have tremendous influence.

Pavilion for Japanese Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, California, by Bruce Goff (photo from lacmaonfire.blogspot.com)

From Oklahoma to France, from California to Spain, from Alabama to New Mexico, these six artists did and do not follow the status quo. Instead, they sought solutions of ingenious personal expression— sometimes even unsettling forms and imagery.

left: Gryder House, Ocean Springs, Mississippi; right: Struckus House, Los Angeles, California, both by Bruce Goff (photos by Elena Dorfman)

BRUCE GOFF (1904 to 1983)
As I often enjoy doing with my design work, Goff too finds inspiration in music as well. He leans on Claude Debussy and Balinese music. He also happens to like seashells. Eclectic and unconventional, Goff’s work was sublimely organic—starkly original with never-before-seen forms and unusual materials. Regardless, a world-class institution like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art took a huge risk and scored big with hiring Goff.

Les Arcades et Les Temples du Lac, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Gregori Civera)
Kafka Castle, Sant Pere De Ribes, Spain, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Ricard Bofill)

RICARDO BOFILL (still in practice)
Bofill’s early works represented some of the most interesting explorations in Post-Modernism. With facile classical skills, this artist added fantasy and twisted plays of scale. For Bofill’s dystopia, see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Additional projects are other-worldly explorations into geometry and mind-bending repetition. His reconstruction of an abandoned cement factory transforms dilapidated structures into his personal residence and park, as well as offices for his architecture company (first image).

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Sheats Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California, by John Lautner (photo from archdaily.com)

JOHN LAUTNER (1911 to 1994)
This Southern California architect captured the sunny optimism of the region. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner similarly stretched the rules of structural engineering as well as spatial relationships. He pioneered new possibilities with poured-in-place, steel reinforced concrete. Lautner was a Mid-Century visionary of brave new worlds.

Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by hotellacasadelsol.com)
Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by Getty Images, Tanatat Ponghibool)

ANTONI GAUDI (1852 to 1926)
When I visited Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, it was only then that I realized that an architect can indeed build his fanciful visions that seem to appear from a hallucinatory fugue. Like a jazz musician, Gaudi improvises, experimenting with Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, taking engineering risks and aesthetic chances. 140 years later, the world is still dedicated to completing Gaudi’s design of the Sagrada Familia Church, an ambitious vision that was conceived before we even had the technology to execute the design.

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Community Center, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo by Johann Strey)

SAMUEL MOCKBEE (1944 to 2001)
Look closely at the Lucy Carpet House. By its name, yes: Those are carpet tiles stacked up to make part of the exterior skin. The design used 72,000 worn carpet tiles held in compression by wood beams on top. And the smell, you might ask? The tiles were stored for seven years to prevent off-gassing. The multi-faceted red structure has a bedroom on top of a tornado shelter. Inventive, novel and philanthropic, Mockbee and his Rural Studio often worked with rural, disadvantaged communities.

Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House, Cote d’Azur, France, by Bart Prince (photo from odditycentral.com)

BART PRINCE (still in practice)
Call it weird—rebellious too. Some would argue that Prince’s work was ugly or better yet grotesque. A colleague of Bruce Goff, Prince’s work was unprecedented and imaginative, whether you saw courageous splendor or awkward shapes. His architecture is a collision of myths, dreams and nightmares, laced with raw materials straight from the shelves of your local hardware store.

Fu Residence, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, by Bart Prince (photo from Robert Peck)

Ayn Rand promoted the Roark-ian ideal through her Objectivist view that “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Does this apply to my six iconoclastic architects above? Let’s just say that Individualism has it merits, as these architects value self-reliance in the creative process–as they cherish their artistic freedom


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.


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.

Nanjing International Youth Cultural Center, Nanjing, China, by Zaha Hadid (photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash)

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.

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.


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.



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.

A cobbler: even the art of making shoes requires customers (photo by Mehmet Turgut on Pexels)

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.

 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.