Non-Built Work in Architecture


I find it interesting how many of the top firms list all their projects, including the ones that were just ideas and never anything beyond that. Like "hey look we designed this really cool hotel that looks like it may tip over on the banks of the Nile river,  its never going to be built but we did it!" All the collage type renderings and perspective views that look like vintage travel advertisement posters. Don't get me wrong, they are usually pretty cool, but what's the purpose of this work? I mean other than exposure here and there what are the benefits of firms spending time on this type of work? The love of it? The publicity if you win a competition? I feel like in a way, this type of artistic representation is really what is taught in school not like actually designing and coordinating to build a building. 

How do other people feel about non-built work? What line do you draw in terms of calling something architecture or just art? Like theoretically if a licensed architect only does drawings but has never actually built anything is he still an architect? (in your own opinion not through NCARB or anything like that) Also, when firms do this type of work, is it completed, like do they have all the floor plans any everything thought out with real drawings or just presentation wise?

Jul 12, 18 5:14 pm
Sir Apple Chrissy

well, you have multiple options here.

1 - Sometimes a firm or architect has had an idea and has entered it many times into competitions, tried to sell a client on it, and yet it was never built.  Those projects may get exhibited for shear desire to show people "for fuck sake - someone build this"...and then someone does, but it's not them so it becomes a - well I had the idea first kind of thing!

2 - Sometimes a firm does practically no work because they are completely incapable of obtaining real work since they have no skills for doing actual architecture.  Some even go as far as doing deceptively real renderings of the unbuilt work, so that if you quickly browsed their website you might think its real. 

3 - The drawings usually do not go past schematics unless its an obsession.  Renderings, even if realistic, are pretty much schematic.

4 - Colleagues and I use to have good laughs looking at people who had tons of unbuilt work, comments like "yeah right, grass on glass! what unpaid intern designed that!"

5 - Sometimes you do paper architecture because you're drinking on the weekends like me or tired of real work and decide, well if anyone cares about my theory on this stuff - here it is.

6 - marketing.

7 - dreaming.

Jul 12, 18 8:47 pm

Architecture is design, not art. There is a thread to that effect here somewhere.

Promoting unbuilt work makes you look like a failure. I've seen architect's websites where the only thing they have is unbuilt work. I'm guessing they do production for people with real projects.

Putting your ideas out there for everyone to take is a stupid idea. Some jackass could hire someone on Craigslist to draw it up. Kind of like like telling every idiot looking for a freebie here how to build his house.

Jul 12, 18 9:49 pm

One can show whatever one wants. The reader is not my problem.

Jul 12, 18 10:09 pm
I'm not a robot

If you can figure out how to run a profitable "ideas" office without actually building anything, then you're living the dream.  less risk - less liability - all the money.

Jul 12, 18 10:33 pm
Sir Apple Chrissy

and then become a tenured professor or star professor or dean and steal $100k + from unsuspecting students while you teach them to make diagrams....oh the humanity!


worst idea ever...why don't you just masturbate for your entire life with no intention of doing the deed. no risk no reward.

I'm not a robot

Wanting to get something built is like having unprotected sex with the goal of having a baby.  You better hope both parties want the baby - and no one has an STD.


I think publishing unbuilt projects is a very smart way of claiming ideas, build an office narrative to frame actual built work and to get new commissions or be invited to competitions. Look only at OMA's unbuilt work in the early years, the Zeebrugge Sea Terminal, the Dutch Parliament renovation or the Jussieu library, hell even Koolhaas' AA thesis Exodus. Publish whatever helps you build your story and convince your potential clients, even just a napkin sketch might do the trick.

Jul 13, 18 3:16 am
Sir Apple Chrissy

This is a good form of marketing for capital A architecture. OMA are definitely the masters at it.


My point exactly.

Also, if you need to worry about others stealing your ideas and getting them built...such a waste of time if you ask me. Although I'm sure Rem was pretty pissed off when Winy Maas built Villa VPRO (that basically launched MVRDV) after having worked on the Jussieu library for OMA.

The A in capital A architecture stands for asshole.


Asshole architecture or Asshole architect?

They tend to go hand-in-hand.


Asshole is in the eye of the beholder I guess.

The reputation of most starchitects in the construction industry is absolute shit. And most starchitect clients are colossal assholes. Birds of a feather ...


the only unbuilt work worth something is lebbeus' and antonio sant'elia.

Jul 13, 18 10:54 am

It's been my experience that oftentimes 'unbuilt work' or items identified as 'on the boards' are projects that required a certain amount of effort on the architect's part, but never went anywhere.  Beyond the control of the architect, the project was never built and therefore, slick images of the final product will never be available.  If it's something you're proud of--something that shows the firm's capabilities--then don't be ashamed of including it in your portfolio.

However, as somebody already pointed out, a portfolio of nothing but renderings is most likely just a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Jul 13, 18 11:01 am

It's simply exhibiting one's body of work. And there's nothing unethical about it.

Jul 13, 18 11:52 am

Listen up, people. You've now heard from the authority on unbuilt work. 

Jul 13, 18 12:44 pm

I happen to like quondam's body of work and agree with him, don't know where all the disdain for unbuilt work is coming if it is so easy to get clients to actually build explorative work, some people are not that fortunate, don't have the network or whatever.

I don't have disdain for unbuilt work.


My bad, I misinterpreted...


On the whole, most architectural work is unbuilt-- even apart from competitions and theoretical noodling.  Consider all the dead ends of resold property, flaky clients, bankruptcies, corporate shifts, changed minds, cold feet, unpaid invoices, divorces, budget cuts, neighbor protests, zoning surprises and other factors that have killed projects.

Why not put some of the best-drawn of it into the portfolio?

Jul 13, 18 2:53 pm
Sir Apple Chrissy

I have debated this everytime i update the website. Do i show the big disappointment. One project seems to attract potential employees but now work. No potential clients yet


Yeah... while built stuff is the true test, the notion that unbuilt projects have no place in demonstrating some talent is just silly, to my mind.


I always really appreciated the look into a firms unbuilt work. It's a look at the firms potential, which I'm assuming is invaluable for those just starting out.

At the same time, I would agree that having a portfolio of unbuilt work looks suspicious. And of course, there's plenty of unbuilt junk that gets produced in schools that I'm sure most of us would wish would never be built. Sometimes ideas should stay ideas.

Jul 13, 18 3:08 pm

I’d say this was one of the most frustrating aspects of architecture to me. It demonstrated this situation that a lot of architects seemed to be stuck in which was not understanding the value a licensed professional brings to the public. People are not looking for architects to be explorative they are looking for help and guidance to build their project within their budget. However, so many architects it seemed took this approach of we are so smart and the owner doesn’t know what’s good for them and hijacked projects with their portfolio in mind, then were bewildered that so many of their “best” ideas went unbuilt. 

Jul 13, 18 3:29 pm

This is a really good point. I've always thought that there was an interesting rift between architect-client.

When you go to a doctor, and they tell you something. Generally you view their position as a professional to mean that they know what they're talking about.

How often do architects recommend something, and a client believes that it is not the right path to take? How valuable is a professional architects opinion comparatively to other professionals in other disciplines.

Sir Apple Chrissy

I do a good bit of boring legal stuff. My opinion in those cases matter as they could be part of cases. They listen and you walk them through the legal arguements. When it comes to design beyond legal its a harder sell and we know whether a wall is red or blue is not a professional opinion (usually).

A good architect puts the client's interest first.

Another failure of the Pritzker-prep architectural education system. And the #mefirst society as a whole.


Less blue wall, red wall stuff. Say, as an architect, you knew that more SF per employee in an office building would raise productivity. In both situations I would say that the doctor/architect is trying to promote human health/productivity. But is the doctors advice seen as more valuable over that of the architect?

Sir Apple Chrissy

you can provide data for that and although not an easy sell its possible. the issue though, quite often, is the client naturally understands the logistics of their business better than the architect. not always, but quite often they know more. take a kitchen in a restaurant. the chef will know the menu and the restauntuer will often know the amount of food to be produced, stored, managed, etc...this very much affects the kitchen equipment layout to the type of seating in the public areaetc... obviously when you have a good bit of restaurant experience you can advise against the restaurant owner's thoughts, but its not so cut and dry as a doctor and architect. you may have to really listen to your client and determine does it work with code and design...its a much more gray relationship. 


I think the solution is just taking back the CM role

Sir Apple Chrissy

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