Thursday, May 6, 2010


Architects are the Fashionistas of the building industry, mavens of culture to the Architectural Digest crowd. Nice lambaste of a hard-working profession.

The creative process of architecture has pushed cultural understanding of space since the days of Roman engineering expanding outward to the empire, the development of the barrel vault and arch, on to the Gothic flying buttresses to prop up cathedrals built over many lifetimes, to the domes of St. Paul and Brunelleschi dome at the Cathedral of Florence. Architectural space married to the mystical experience, as it were. Not to mention the Greek temples, the ground of government houses of parliament and bank buildings as memorialized in the Four Books of Architecture by Palladio.

For the rest of architecture history evolution, get out your "History of Architecture", by Sir Bannister Fletcher, otherwise known as "the bible". Many hours of slide lectures in architecture history class only begin to scratch the surface...

Which brings us to some cultural commentary, such as Tom Wolfe's missive on the drawbacks of modern architecture - well written but omits key historical facts. Parody, in essence. Then there's a very cogent dissertation on the deeper workings of the Fashionista line, "American Architects and the Mechanics of Fame" which examines the contemporary system of getting one's name out there in this crazy design business. That doesn't always play out well even for those who gain a reputation during their professional lifetimes.

A friend and mentor of mine, Don Hensman FAIA, was a local architect of note. While his career had its ups and downs, the homes he designed appreciated in value immensely. Shortly before he passed away, I asked him how he felt about that. His wide-eyed retort was that he felt like a starving artist, since like all architects he was paid about 9 percent of its construction value for the design and construction documents services, as well as advice during construction - a period of several years. Subsequently, the Realtors were making 6 percent on the entire appreciated value of the property each time it sold - usually about a 6 month process - far more than an architectural commission.

Nonetheless, there are good and noteworthy architectural accomplishments that are not necessarily by the "names". Architectural Record has an online library of photo galleries of architectural designs around the world, submitted by folks who have captured something unique about buildings and the urban environment.