is architecture a rich kid's profession?


"but maybe there is something wrong in America if going to architecture school means you have to be either inherently rich, or if you will have to work for decades to get out of debt..."

(how do you italicize?)

this from bRink in the student debt forum and i think it's a good and interesting statement. i was surprised after a search of the fora using the word "class" that there wasn't any discussion of the link(s) between class and architecture.

and not class as in "whoa, that's one classy babe" or as in "there's, like, this babe in my class...whoa!" but as in good old marx-and-engels class.

i have personally wondered how a profession that (in my qualitative anecdotal experience) is filled with the children of upper-middle and upper-class parents could ever hope to be relevant to a society with a ever-widening chasm between rich and poor...where the poor side seems to be getting larger and larger and the rich side seems to be getting richer and richer.

the paternalistic way in which many architects discuss the public..."we have to educate them"..."we have to make their lives better"..."they hire us because we show them something they've never seen" etc always sounded condescending to me and a bit indicative of a pre-assumed superiority that maybe has been conditioned and socialized from birth.

i mean, don't get me wrong, i detect a lot of relative ignorance about architecture -- i work with contractors and engineers as do we all -- but i tend to admit my relative ignorance about construction and engineering up front. i once wanted to be an engineer ... of a train. 'cause that's what i thought engineers did. but that was two years ago and now everything's changed. i like drawing houses.

there are traits that i've seen in many architects that, to me, speak to our profession's marginalization. inability to compromise, lack of empathy for others, and the substitution of the architect's needs and goals for the client's. and if one is conditioned through childhood not to compromise (nor has a need); if there is no need to empathize with others since one is cocooned in an enclave of wealth; and if one is conditioned to believe in one's mental and creative superiority -- then how can we relate to anyone but ourselves and our rich patrons?

i used to have a martyr complex on this issue since i didn't have that silver spoon in my mouth at birth. i had to watch "silver spoons" using rabbit ears, not cable, when i was a kid. but i mellowed out when i started realizing the REAL suffering that people experience out there. mom's stewed-tomato-and-ramen dinners started to look real good.

i need to discuss something to get my mind off the hurricane plowing towards my beloved home state so...

Sep 22, 05 7:15 am

I came to this country when I was four, along with my parents and siblings, and a few hundred dollars. By no stretch was I upper or middle class.
I was not only the first in my family to go to university (still am), but managed to end up with three degrees, the final being M.Arch.
Of course, by the time I was done school, I had a chunk of debt load.

Crediting my parents' foresight, I happen to live in a country that values public education, and has maintained a (reasonably) cost-effective post-secondary education system. (Canada).

Short story - I wanted to be an architect, and did it. Some cost.

I'm not sure that the 'class' from which an architect comes is all that relevant to their 'responsibility' if it can be described that way. I think that we all know at least one (probably more) architects that appears to have been born with a sense of entitlement. It used to bug me more than it did to work for poeple who display this 'entitlement'.

I am encouraged by the trend toward social responsibility (architecture for humanity et al - props to Cameron; and many others) and, perhaps naively, think that this is the development of a new way for professionals to consider their role.

Sorry, there were a few not-so-well organized thoughts there - it's early.

Sep 22, 05 8:28 am  · 

Great post. It something I've been thinking about since I started school.

I agree with your point about relevancy to society at large. Architecture requires money. Lots of money. Everyone associated with the construction process must be pretty well off in order for the building to happen. And we never are building directly for the poor - it's always through a developer or government agency. How do you accomodate a class who can't afford your product, even if you're doing it pro bono? I can't think of a way to do it.

Regarding education, I have wondered if the traditional upper/middle class view of education as a noble pursuit combined with our ridiculously long education/internship process translates into more architects from that background. In other words, I have the luxury of spending 6 years in architecture school and everyone thinks it's great. I don't have to get out into the work force and support any member of my extended family; in fact, I can expect to be financially supported to a certain degree.

The NYT had a series on class in America, and one of the things that they discovered was that people of a certain background tend to stay in that background - middle class kids grow up to be middle class adults, etc. There was also an expectation or confidence what came with being a member of a certain class - the more money you came from, the better you generally think things wil turn out. Maybe the prospect of taking out $100k in loans for a $60k/year job is absurd to someone whose parents are making $30k/year each.

No solutions here, just thinking out loud. Again, great topic.

Sep 22, 05 8:41 am  · 
Joe Bloggs

Some of the issues you mention such as the paternalistic way we discuss the public and the architect’s substitution of the clients needs and goals for their own are, I think, can be attributed to school’s studio culture and it’s inherent disfunction (check out “The Redesign of Studio Culture by the AIAS). I think class does play a role in how we view the social and service aspects of architecture but I also think that generally speaking society is becoming more and more aware of social injustice but it is a generational thing and therefore progress is slow.

Sep 22, 05 8:53 am  · 

i know exactly what you mean m. ochana.

when i worked in a practice that did lots of public buildings and low income housing i didn't feel that so much, and i think in the case of the latter we did pretty good work; low-rise, (very) slightly cool, but not philippe starck crazy. but that was because the owner of the office actually cared, and also because the class differences are not so big in Japan as in north america, so there isa stronger will in the government here to do well. this ISN'T george bush's kind of government.

but NOW i am designing flats for very rich expats in Tokyo and its a totally different world. i mean these guys pay in a few months RENT as much as my mother makes in a year. Hanging out with these folks and with my design partner is a slightly uncomfortable proposition at times. they aren't exactly bad/evil, but every once in a while they do something dumb/selfish i can't help but feel they really believe they are entitled to their wealth and power, as if they were born different from the rest of us. They act like it often enough, doign crazy shit and not thinking about consequences to the peons. basically they act like fat children who want candy NOW dammit. Not all the time and not all of them,but often enough that it makes you wonder if someone needs a good kick in the head to shake them out of their goofy vision of the world. it is not always easy to keep the reaction inside...

architects basically are taught to be socialists in school but we work for capitalists so there is always this guilt. it comes up often with the architects i know here and in europe, and we all sort of laugh at ourselves for being so naive.

On the plus side of this kind of realisation though we are all well over the idea that we have to educate ANYONEabout architecture and just happily do our various things. If we can, we will have an effect, maybe try it the way Koolhaas did with the euro flag and the wee little big conference he set up not so long ago. He had a real affect on the debate, whaich was amazing, and inspiring actually.

as for school, i suppose most of my classmates were middle class, and a few of us were working class, but never felt it was an issue.

but getting to the core of your question, the thing is that architecture is not really a tool for affecting society anyway. people on the ground are the ones who take care of that, and all we can hope to do is refrain from impeding them...

i wonder what cameron sinclair it the architecture or the people that make the real difference?

Sep 22, 05 8:53 am  · 

It depends on what being an architect means to you; if it means owning your own firm then there is a visible class divide, if it means being an employee then there is no class divide - a well off person can manage a project just as well as a loan-strapped person.

If you own a firm and you can't make payroll because the client hasn't paid you better have a estate to borrow against or a big house to mortgage to keep the office afloat. On a project I was recently working on the client/prime consultant had not paid us in 8 months, I was not willing to wait 8 months for a paycheck!!

Sep 22, 05 9:03 am  · 
Joe Bloggs

Jump - I would argue that generally speaking we are taught to be idealists more than socialists. In school client and user is usually something is presented but eventually gives way to our own artistic endevours.

Sep 22, 05 9:03 am  · 
The Thriller in Manila

YES!!....Architecture is totally for Rich kids. Look at the tuition for all the "Best" Architecture schools and how many scholarships for Arch students. How many Black architects being published? What really makes it worse is that most of the professors are grown up rich kids that can’t relate to somebody who grew up poor.

Every black boy in America goes to study Business/law/medicine not architecture. Why? If you grew up poor the greatest joy would be to buy a house for your mom (Architecture aint gone do that) and help out your family not get published in the next issue of A+U.

However that’s America, it’s just harder in Architecture and most artistic fields that don’t bring in much money. It sucks but you just have to suck it up and have a "fuck you" attitude and overcome it, let the "rich sliver spoon kids" live in guilt.

Until there is massive social reform in this country it will always be difficult for Architects to break through the “class” barrier in Architecture.

Sep 22, 05 9:35 am  · 
brian buchalski

paging dr. garry stevens...paging dr. garry stevens

Sep 22, 05 9:42 am  · 

interesting conversation, and being self-critical is always a good exercise so that you keep perspective, but you might also consider that maybe the fact that we sometimes have a different agenda than our client comes from:

1) the fact that we have been educated in issues of architecture and that's (at least ostensibly) why they hire us (or is it just for the permit?)

2) while the client's concerns are typically selfish (and rightfully so, maybe), it is our ethical responsibility to keep issues of the public good in mind. our projects take a place in the public realm, even if they're built to serve a client's needs.

i don't think that my having different opinions about the built environment comes from any feeling of entitlement but from the fact that i have studied issues pertaining to the built environment. i know that big boxes are eroding our greenfields and ruining our (sub)urban landscape, despite the general public's willingness to trade these things for short-term savings and the convenience of a big parking lot. i know that, though downtown surface parking may be more profitable and involve less capital outlay for the property owner, that a building would be better. an architect's reactions to gated communities, humvees, single-use zoning, demolition of historic buildings, etc. is not an issue of conceit or privilege or class; it comes from having looked at these things with intention and analysis.

the trite example of the surgeon is relevant here. do you feel that the surgeon is acting on a feeling of entitlement when she/he makes a recommendation or a statement about what is best for you?

instead of taking ourselves to task for knowing things, we should be trying to convince others of these things we have learned. second-guessing ourselves privately is fine; doing it publicly just erodes our credibility.

Sep 22, 05 10:08 am  · 

indeed, i re-read "the favored circle" a few weeks back. there's actually a lot of meat in that sandwich -- the graph of social vs. financial capital and where architects fit in that is pretty apt.

i wonder if the higher proportion of architects to the general population in europe -- and (my perception of) europeans' higher estimation of architects and architecture -- and (my perception of) european architecture's general higher quality -- has to do with the much, much lower discrepancy between rich and poor over there. but that's a broad generalization of a broad generalization, i've been to st. denis, it's a war zone.

Sep 22, 05 10:12 am  · 
Ms Beary

we are all going to drop a class or two during the Bush years.

Seriously though, in a proposal I saw once, an architect had made sure to mention that he was born of a special family. Clients expect architects to be half royalty I guess. It offended me but he was probably right for putting it in there.

I know people who became architects from all classes except maybe the very bottom. But yes, trailer trash, for lack of a better term, I know a few from this class.

Sep 22, 05 10:36 am  · 

i resemble that remark.

Sep 22, 05 10:47 am  · 

MM representing the trailer park contingent of rich-kids. YO.

Like anything else, money don't hurt, but a small bit of it depends on whatcha do w/ your career. However, Having $$$ can reduce the percentages needed for actual achievment. My breakdown for success in architecture is as follows:
25% Talent/Architectural Aptitude
25% Work Ethic
25% Individualaity (some say stubborness & 'aak it' attitude)
24% sense of Humor
1% Money

I'd like to shift some of items 3 & 4 to item 2. Actually, I'd like to reduce my percentages in 1 through 4 so that I can increase item 5, which would mean that I'd be out of debt, but a long way from rich.

Sep 22, 05 11:24 am  · 

ya, i come from a fair degree of financial destitution too...

so why do Ivy's have to be so damn expensive?!? some of us thrive in settings with the highest quality peers, and that seems like a primary upside to these institutions. sigh...

I love my undergrad, but more of the same (although affordable and with it's own set of perks) doesn't sound as exciting...

Sep 22, 05 11:37 am  · 

it depends on what "success" is, i guess...

there is a debate on what that may be. some may say, money is no object...better to have one's "integrity" or "creative freedom"...but then again, SOMEONE is making money off doing lowe's supercenters. probably cringing all the way back home to their mcmansion.

my dad always said, anyone who says money doesn't matter -- already has enough money.

Sep 22, 05 11:44 am  · 

Amen Ochona.

Sep 22, 05 12:30 pm  · 

i second that mm

Sep 22, 05 12:44 pm  · 

I hear you bro...not sure what can be done about it though, just gotta try your best I suppose, mix the good with the bad.

One unfortunate trait architects develop is (in Koolhaas' for-once-wise-words) a mixture of megalomania and impotence...architect's thing (and are educated to think) that they can change the world. And maybe to an extent they can, but not alone.

Sep 22, 05 1:08 pm  · 
Oana S.

is architecture a rich kid's profession?
no doubt about it.

Sep 22, 05 2:08 pm  · 

no i dont think so. i know tons of fellow classmates in debt and struggling after getting their degree.

Sep 22, 05 2:45 pm  · 

working for decades on that debt!

Sep 22, 05 4:45 pm  · 

being architecture student is fun ... poors have no time for fun
being intern means working for nothing .... poors work for money
being architect means making "things" nice are for uppers... poors need "things" first

and many more...

Sep 22, 05 6:19 pm  · 

Rich kids have one advantage over not so rich kids - invariably the majority of young practices are funded by parents or relatives or by themselves through commisions.

Sep 22, 05 6:21 pm  · 

professions, in general, are mostly filled with ppl who are better off. getting a bachelor's costs a lot of money. getting a master's and phd cost even more money. poor ppl can not afford this. the price of higher education is out of control and is a barrier for those with less mean to elevate themselves.

the business of architecture mostly serves those with money.

Sep 22, 05 6:38 pm  · 

from personal experience, there is a lot to learn when you try to make the class leap. and not just financially but socially. i came to college not knowing about things that others spoke about and talked about.

i had never been skiing, for instance. i thought rock climbing was something you did if you worked in a quarry. or, more to my immediate experience, if you worked at a gravel pit. i had never been outside the US and my only experience of any length in a city larger than fort worth was five days spent in chicago on a band trip in 1993. and that was, trust me, highly orchestrated and dealt lightly with the actual experience of the city.

i had only been to the beach three times in my entire life. when my family went to the lake we came back the same day -- no lake house for us. and we went and just sat there, no boat for us either. i spent my summers in haltom city, tx, which coincidentally is where i spent the rest of the year. traveling meant driving to some tiny-ass town in central TX to eat the cheapest best barbeque my dad could find.

mind, this isn't complaining at all. i would never have had it any other way. i could spend all my summers in love with my girlfriend at the local park playing volleyball and making out. i got ripped lifting weights in the backyard, chilling with my dogs. i practiced my bassoon until i became a virtuoso, read stuff, drew a lot, and never knew what i had missed until my freshman year in college.

garry stevens talks about this disconnect in his book with the example of the sailing skiff that was installed in the u. of sydney school of architecture. for me, it was going to the house of a millionaire from whom i had received a scholarship (along with some other students). i never noticed until afterwards that nobody else was wearing a ballcap inside -- much less backwards like i always did. nobody had ever told me not to do that. and nobody else said "howdy" or "y'all's". this was in texas, mind you, and there is an upper class in texas, believe me.

anyhoo, that's part of what was going through my mind with this one.

Sep 22, 05 7:02 pm  · 

the idea of entitlement driving wealthy architects to fix the world has gotta be a minority view. Rather it is the opposite. where wealthy folks feel the world can go to hell because they deserve their luxury, and for those who suffer well, they were born poor and likely deserve it dont they...sorta thing. cuz that is how the wealthy DO think, just look at georgie bush and all his friends at haliburton.

what does it mean for an architect born into that world view. go SOM maybe?

as for disliking the big box cities we live in, absolutley they have negative impacts but they are the reality and the kind of top-down, paternalistic view that says things can be better only IF we do this, this, and this, ignores the society that supports those places. Not only does it ignore it it DISCOUNTS it as worthless. So you tell my step-father he shouldn't buy his paint at wallmart cuz it is an awful company and so on, his response is...yeh, i know, but i can't afford to pay more, and it is easier to go there than to the old paint shop on 7th street. Basically he is just trying to get by on his declining salary, and you want to make things tougher for him.

No wonder no one listens to architects, we're worse than George Bush.

the way I see it is we have to work with what is here, twist it and tweak it til it works better rather than try and redesign society form whole-clothe in the Modernist manner. This is NOT what we are taught at architecture school, but it should suspicion is that this is a view maintained by our very middle/upper class-ness.

Sep 22, 05 9:24 pm  · 

You surely do not have to be rich to be an architect, but it helps make the difference between a marginal practice and a very successful practice once you have your own firm. Being affluent often means that you have an affluent peer group which as you grow older either become clients or can bring you into opportunities you might not otherwise come across.

As a handicap, being middle-class isn't horrific (Jeezus, imagine being actually under the poverty line in this country), nor is it insurmountable, but goddamn if I don't wish that I had the advantages of some of the folks that I went to grad school with. I'm trying to build a very small structure for myself and my fiance and it is going no where simply because of scarce money. If I were the neice of the Emir of Kuwait, or the daughter of the Mayor of Caracas (two of my classmates) I can only imagine that I would be having an easier time.

Sigh. All that said, chastising our parents for not being greedier isn't going to get us anywhere, so we might as well work our asses off and try and buck the trend.

Another thing: I have to admit that when I hear that someone is from an affluent family and they have their own design firm, I hold them to a MUCH higher standard. I also have had a hard time dealing with my co-workers complaining about what a hassle it is to cash the handfuls of residual checks that their spouse gets.

Sep 22, 05 11:26 pm  · 

If you think about it, architects are by nature bad at business:

1. Higher education costs in America are out of control, so going to school is an investment.

2. Architects work hard for realtively low pay, so return on investment is low.

Therefore... Since getting into architecture school is not a smart business move in the first place, its no surprise that architects are poor at business when they get out of architecture school...

The cycle reinforces itself:

Architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money... So somebody who wants to make money, doesn't go to architecture school... So architects don't make money...

How do we break the cycle? Become an architect that makes money. Go to architecture school but become an "architect / developer".

Sep 22, 05 11:57 pm  · 

ha, ha, ha...


yeah, im quite feeling guilty, my principles are of a more social dimension of architecture, all these theories i learned amounted into nothing if you pit it against the "real world" where you had to work extra hard and a little more to earn your dues...but i really believe your principles and the capitalist condition can be reconciled..YOU MUST NOT LET THE CURRENT CONDITION DICTATE YOUR PRINCIPLES AS AN INDIVIDUAL ARCHITECT, LET YOUR PRINCIPLES DICTATE THE CONDITION, THAT IS A RISK THAT WE SHOULD ALL TAKE IF WE WANT TO CALL OURSELVES TRUE STUDENTS OF ARCHITECTURE. its hard being principled in a hypercapitalist environment where the rich is elevated and the profession can be very harsh on you, sometimes you will think that taking up architecture was regretable... im still a student in manila, and from my vantage point, tuition on the best architetcure school cost a lot for a kid with middle class background like me, iam very uncertain about my future, iam a middle calss kid, being a rich student is a big plus, materials for model making, plotting, etc. cost a lot plus add to that the support they get from their families.. the rich can have more opportuniteis since here in the philippines the extravagant and the celebrated architectural commisions always comce from the rich, the rich clients here oftentimes commision "rich kid" architects, i dont know there is a huge discrimination on middle class architects. this is so unfair especially if you see the talent innate in this middle class kids being put into waste because of lack of opportunity not given unto them. nice topic.

i know a black architect who gets published "thriller in manila", check out david adjaye.

Sep 23, 05 1:08 am  · 


"Basically he is just trying to get by on his declining salary, and you want to make things tougher for him."

i don't want to do anything to him. i want him to make better choices, same as, despite our relatively low income, i want my wife and i to always try to make better choices. those choices are hard.

they involve understanding where the things we buy come from, whether the money will go to a corporate office or a local business owner, whether they are likely to last or become garbage, etc.

choices like paying the extra $3000 for a hybrid over a conventional car > then taking the tax exemption and the savings in fuel cost.

choices like walking instead of driving.

while it may seem cheaper to go to home depot or walmart, when i think about the time it takes, the gas it takes, to go to the suburbs instead of paying the higher price up the street; when i think about the fact that the people up the street know me and (usually) what i'm working on, that they live near me, that the money i spend will be spent in my city - it starts to seem worth it.

the problem is not financial hardship, it's laziness/convenience. you have to think about the implications of what you do and you have to take a little extra time and energy. i'm fairly sick of convenience as a reason for anything. convenience will have us all living in asphalt hell.

Sep 23, 05 9:31 am  · 

SW -- i agree with you on making choices and thinking through the implications of your actions, it's something we all should do. my wife and i try to do it, too -- i mean, that mini would sure cost less per month (in payments and otherwise) than my prius, which i drive downhill as much as i can to save gas.

but we (and y'all, too) have the relative luxury of having a certain level of income, low as it may be, that allows us to make those choices.

austin is the headquarters of whole foods (we like to call it "whole paycheck") market. there's a lot of sanctimony about buying "organic" food, "locally produced" food, "fair trade" food, etc. coming from people who can afford a $200 per week grocery bill (for two people).

well, maybe i don't make even the money that an architect makes but while i certainly don't like a lot of the processes that go into, say, making my 99-cent-a-pound apples that unnerving shade of red, i can't afford the $2.99-a-pound apples at whole foods. and i "need" apples. (it's just an example, i like green apples better anyway and rarely buy fruit at all to begin with)

i could take it further -- someone might say that i need to make the choice to live in a "city" like NY so that i can walk / ride / etc everywhere and not pollute the environment and so on -- rather than live in austin where the air is cleaner and i don't get seasonal-affective disorder (i lived in chicago for two years).

the point is, the whole self-righteousness about social/design/artistic issues that many architects seem to share, to me, comes from a conditioned, bred self-righteousness that comes hand-in-hand with never being required to empathize or think through the opposition's position. i never met a rich person who truly understood poverty. i don't understand it, either, but at times like these i think i have to try. especially since poverty is a rapidly-expanding lifestyle in the US.

Sep 23, 05 11:10 am  · 


skip the whole foods (another chain) and go really local. here in louisville you can subscribe for a whole season of vegetables from a local farmer for $400. they deliver your share to a downtown pickup spot every thursday. truly organic, instead of "organic", and affordable to most people who buy groceries. you probably have something similar.

you're right that we each have to make decisions about how far to take these things. there will be some decisions for which the hardship will counterbalance the benefit and the old habits will prevail.

but key is information: how many people even have enough information about quality of life issues to start caring and thinking.

and what is the opposition you're talking about? opposition requires thinking and some level of action. it's laziness and the culture of convenience that i'm talking about.

american consumers, even those who are paid too little, spend a lot of money on garbage, money that could be better spent in another way - for more nutritional food, for more responsible means of transportation, for products made responsibly, and for homes that make as much sense for them as for the developer. but many just can't be bothered.

it's not lack of empathy. (and empathy can be just as self-righteous as belief in a cause.) in fact, empathy is necessary in order to understand why certain decisions are being made and why they could be made another way. those without money often buy things they don't need because it makes them feel more plugged-in, more fully participants in the consumer economy. how do you work with that desire, but provide information about the benefits of different choices?

Sep 23, 05 1:35 pm  · 

...and architects are complicit in making responsible decisions harder for people. a couple of years ago the director of the center for disease control was on the lecture circuit talking about our built environment and showing how we've built laziness and convenience into our environment and NOT built even the possibility for walking or biking in many of these environments.

testing his position, i took a class of high school students walking from the center of a small city in kentucky out toward the edge. downtown, no problem. first ring neighborhood, no problem. but soon, as we started to get into more recent development, it became more and more impossible/dangerous to walk. by the time we got to the 10 yr old ring road several of the kids were very uptight. because this place was not built for people.

fixing this kind of situation is not about class or income. it's about designing for people.

Sep 23, 05 1:38 pm  · 

ochona, from what I've read of yours here, you seem to be a rare person indeed, very observant, smart and honest.

Sep 23, 05 1:44 pm  · 

well, my wife thinks i'm a rare person, and honest to a fault, but not so observant, especially when it comes to where the laundry goes or where i put my car keys. (blush) and i think i used to be smarter, back before i discovered shiner bock beer. make it finer, have a shiner.

convenience and laziness have inspired quite a lot of innovations, and i'm not being sarcastic or ironic.

the romans couldn't build higher than five/six stories because of stairs. i guess one could walk up 10 flights of stairs if one wanted to, but elevators make it much more convenient to live in a high-rise. i think you'd agree that the kind of density elevators made possible is one answer to a great many problems of sprawl that plague us.

in "bartleby the scrivener" herman melville's narrator walks something like half the length of manhattan to go to work. contrast that with one's current ability to get on (correct me new yorkers) like six different subway lines in order to make the same commute.

my great-grandmother had to go to no less than four different shops each day (on foot) in order to get food for my memere's family. and then she had to spend hours over a primitive cooking fire in order to make food (on top of cleaning and child-rearing). today, for better or for worse, i (a man) can go to my neighborhood H-E-B gigasupermarket, get an entire week's groceries, drive them home, and then each night spend one hour making dinner for my wife who can work outside the home (although she actually has a home office) unlike her female ancestors and mine.

the whole point is, an ideal that you as an architect seem to much despise has actually spawned quite a bit of social and economic progress. sure, there are a lot of evils perpetrated in the name of convenience, but you seem to dismiss the ideal outright. a lot of your public would hasten to disagree. and we as architects bemoan our "irrelevance."

don't ever tell the client what he wants is wrong, show him that what he wants can be done better.

Sep 23, 05 3:13 pm  · 

"...the whole self-righteousness about social/design/artistic issues...comes from a conditioned, bred self-righteousness that comes hand-in-hand with never being required to empathize or think through the opposition's position."

interpretation: we don't know what 'they' are up against, so we shouldn't be suggesting to 'them' how 'they' might live better. if 'they' don't already know, doesn't matter. 'they' are on their own.

forget that. we're all in this together. it's up to you to share what you know. let take people take what's useful to them and disregard the rest, if they choose.

using 'self-righteousness' in any argument is a non-argument, a pejorative used to make someone's beliefs look petty. i don't think social, artistic, or design issues are trivial. they're part of how we make the world we have to occupy.

i, too, think you sound like you're observant, smart, and honest, ochona...and you're trying to live your life according to your beliefs. but live-and-let-live too often translates to every-man-for-himself and our communities cease to be communities in which we want to live.

Sep 23, 05 3:22 pm  · 

oops. i was still writing when you posted.

i agree with a lot of what you're saying. but i also think you let us off too easy.

architects have to respond to a lot of individuals' desires, but we're also responsible the public good. we're learning what that means and, as we learn, it's our responsibility to put that learning into use.


Sep 23, 05 3:28 pm  · 
Per Corell


ochona ;
"convenience and laziness have inspired quite a lot of innovations, and i'm not being sarcastic or ironic."

So have skills and drive , experience and knowleage greed and passion , but all that is required are tallent.

"the romans couldn't build higher than five/six stories because of stairs. i guess one could walk up 10 flights of stairs if one wanted to, but elevators make it much more convenient to live in a high-rise. i think you'd agree that the kind of density elevators made possible is one answer to a great many problems of sprawl that plague us."

The romans btw. isn't without ability becaurse of that , it's not being able to realise that beauty you and I reconise today that let them into the same lazy lead as we see within architecture critic ; as soon as it is possible to maneage a stone viadukt, innovation stopped and everything must be build in bricks. The sheer weight was the reson to stop, still even a lot of highrise building are still stuffed with stone ,bricks or whatever impossible material , things that work most ineffective with a computer. No what stopped the romans was when they saw the pyramides. If they had just forgot about them we maby could have had real digital instant modeling programs --- making architecture do the solutions instead of all the trouble.

Sep 23, 05 3:29 pm  · 

it's certainly true that we have to share our knowledge -- as professionals we possess a body of specialized knowledge that others hire us to put into practice. absolutely.

my contention is perhaps best said this way: that there are those in our profession who see that sharing as a one-way street. and that such a view is often bred by privilege and insulation (not actual but metaphorical, financial and social).

in contrast i can show my developer client ideas about how his condos might be more pleasant, humane places to live. he can show me how to make my designs more economical and easier to construct for the same level of design quality. and this client is not hypothetical, it's an actual client of mine.

self-righteousness is, to me, a refusal to acknowledge that another opposed point of view is or even can be right and true. personally, SW, you're not whom i'm against, and your level of inquiry and discourse is why i enthusiastically spend my lunch breaks on archinect.

Sep 23, 05 3:38 pm  · 

it is a struggle to balance awareness of reality with a desire to shape it; a struggle that is borne directly from the education system i suppose.

the main issue i have with the way we are taught is the unwavering certainty that architects, with our superior education, are capable of seeing the correct way to do things and that we should be able to impose our view on the rest of the world. And then when we realise that the profs are crazy because the world doesn't work that way suddenly we get in to conversations about educating the public. It's kind of like the "this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you" sort of nonsense that parents spout all of the time. And I say parents because that is exactly the attitude. Self-righteousness is not great because it assumes hierarchy (with the self-righteous at the top of course), but paternalism is even worse. we don't need fathers we need leaders, and patronising people by telling them they are fucking up the world with their red apples and won't you please stop driving to work, but don't worry i have super little new urbanist plan that will fix this all up, is really disheartening. Moreover it is the wrong way to get people to make changes. And it doesn't work. 40 some years since silent spring and the death and life of american cities and what have we got? the issue is not ignorance it is human nature.

My mother and step-dad have car-pooled for years because they can't afford to keep two cars running every day, they grow most of their own food in the summer and are pretty decent people. They have seen their share of suffering and made serious sacrifices that go far beyond gas mileage and organic food. So I guess when folk come out with things that say the world would be so much better only IF you do what I say I find myself quite off-put (and anyone who says they chose their life doesn't know shit about the kind of choices offered to most of the people out there). I have this very powerful suspicion that when the middle and upper class folk ask for sacrifices they intend to exclude themselves from the whole process.

Wal-mart, cars and plastic are not intrinsically evil; and even if they were there is little likelihood that the situation will change simply by crying wolf. Why not come up with a solution that accomodates them as part of the everyday reality? why not try out the cradle to cradle thing ( a la wm mcdonough) instead of asking everyone to chuck it all for a lumpy futon? seems one of the best ideas in ages...

just out of curiosity was there ever a proposal for utopia that came from the so-called lower class?

Sep 24, 05 7:50 am  · 
not per--corell

well said, jump. a brilliant (and eternally recurring) argument for doing nothing. the bush administration would be proud. it seems the poor are most useful to the (small-c) conservative mindset in arguments for not putting too much burden on them by changing the status quo.

mcdonough is brilliant, and he's doing something - actively. the rest of us can't wait - passively - for what comes of it. unfortunately the mcdonough/braungart proposals require a lot of r&d $ and therefore a lot of political will. those $ are more likely to be spent toward figuring out how to protect the oil economy. because who would these $ come from anyway?

and, despite mcdonough being an architect, none of their proposals address the planning and development of the built environment. whatever we make our cars of and whatever we fuel them with, we'll still be 'commuting' to the grocery store unless architects and planner learn how to sell a different vision of convenience, efficiency, savings, whatever.

sw, you, on the other hand, are taking on a little too much territory. focus, man.

Sep 24, 05 10:36 am  · 
not per--corell

middle-class guilt (over not being poorer) will stymie us every time.

Sep 24, 05 10:39 am  · 
the righteous fist

"the point is, the whole self-righteousness about social/design/artistic issues that many architects seem to share, to me, comes from a conditioned, bred self-righteousness that comes hand-in-hand with never being required to empathize or think through the opposition's position. i never met a rich person who truly understood poverty. i don't understand it, either, but at times like these i think i have to try. especially since poverty is a rapidly-expanding lifestyle in the US."

"self-righteousness is, to me, a refusal to acknowledge that another opposed point of view is or even can be right and true."

who is the opposition? the client? or the condition? because you can work with a client but you have to question the conditions. i hope i don't force anything on anyone, but i think we both have a duty to ask what is the meaning of viability.

i think our relevancy is more a question of power than attitude, after all there are plenty of other disciplines, politics, economics, finance, law, with a paternalistic, elitist attitude that dictate our lifestyles.

if we consider things like the distance between a shop and your home, the size of a shop and what belongs inside, or proximity to the coast to be the domain of architecture, and these things are out of hands, then there is no question that we are a marginalised discipline. instead these relationships are more often than not dealt with by the above mentioned disciplines.

there are parts of our discipline that are self righteous, but it is misleading to think they are all to blame for our relegation, not when the same insular, self-serving attitude pervades all of politics and economics today which still operate with maximum authority. it is their power to provide for all eventualities, or the belief in their inclusivity, that makes them relevant, rather than any respect for actual (worthy?) needs or wants.

is relevancy about catering to lifestyles?

Sep 24, 05 2:48 pm  · 

Here is my theory: The problem is that architects don't understand their market or our product. The problem is that right now, developers are in the business of "building space", architects are only in the business of "fashion".

Developers are the ones who are in the business of buildings and square footage, so developers make money off buildings. Building space is a normal good, in otherwords, as income increases, consumption of building increases, at the end user level. Architects who work for developers are considered sell outs, but really this means that they are selling buildings rather than fashion. They can make more money, everybody consumes this.

Architects, despite being in the building industry, and project management aside, are not really selling buildings, they are selling design which is very often about style rather than smarts, about "fashion", even "high fashion". Well, consciously or subconsciously, that is how we quite often have positioned ourselves, and where the biggest sell goes. Fashion is a luxury good, meaning that as income increases, consumption of fashion increases more than proportionately. In other words, architects target those with money.

The truth is, the "lack of power" of our profession comes from a failure to merge these two things, building and design. #1. We are too content to sell ourselves as "fashion" rather than ideas and better building... #2. We don't sell the "building" side of what we do... The immediately pragmatic, and "real value" component of what we do... the thing that actually everybody can use and needs... Green or energy efficient design makes alot of sense, it is a normal good considering our current energy problems... We should really be selling energy efficient designs as the "hybrids of homes" and "hybrids of workplaces". Same with infrastructure: energy prices are too high, people will not want to travel as much, and keeping up with the jones's can mean not having to drive long distances to the supermall... But only if there is a smart alternative. We need to see ourselves as an "ideas profession", but more than that: an "ideas business".

But its not really about educating the public.... You don't teach the market what to think... "Education" is not really the word... The real word should be "marketing". The way that we can actually make more of a difference (not to mention make more money) is to think like an architect but play a developer (either in thinking working empathetically with developers, or actually putting our money where our mouth is and being the developers...) Architects need to resist being too fashionable (seeing our product as "fashion"), and take more of a hand in development, (seeing "building space" as the product)...

There is a market for good design... Its just that quite often we are content not to tap it, but to let our profession fall under fashion.

Sep 24, 05 4:13 pm  · 

edit: with regard to building space as a normal good, what i meant to say is that it is something that increases proportionately with income, meaning that everyone, rich and poor consumes it. it is in contrast to fashion which is a luxury good, where consumption increase more than proportionately with income, meaning that it is a good that only rich people buy.

Sep 24, 05 4:25 pm  · 

bRink, there is an EDIT COMMENT button on the top right of each response you make.


this out to be a permanent thread topic....this is the why and how of our profession.

i think bRink's analysis comes closest to the truth of the situation. a firm who choses impoverished clients could eek by...but a firm with wealthy clients will most likely be financially successful.

it's just the way it is, and how it should be. Bentleys are sold to wealthy people.

there is a third way though - one that transcends the status quo through interventions created by or that cause a realignment of values. it can can be successful as a single case...if further success comes massive change can result and the momentum causes cultural shift.

the key is convincing the patron (or yourself) to take the risk of trying an alternate formula.

sell what's been proven to work, or sell what could work better. redefine 'what works'.

-convince a poor restaurant-owner patron that taking a risk with a more experimental design could give them a marketing advantage over their wealthier competition.
-convince a middle-class developer patron that they could actually make more money on an apartment complex by making the units smaller and better designed)
-convince a wealthy residential patron that the architecture of his house will say just as much about him as his Bentley. sell him on Minimalism. offer him more than a house. offer him a smaller, less expensive house that also functions as a once-a year retreat for members of a group he philanthropizes.

use your creativity for more than jerking shapes around...

and don't cry when you fail and blame the world, because it's risky not to take the most traveled path and the path is defined by the number of people who take it.

Sep 24, 05 6:41 pm  · 


Sep 25, 05 2:31 am  · 


Those are some highly idealistic suggestions.

Anyone who has the capacity to make a good decision would not really look into architecture. And u know what? It shows in reality.

The examples you used (poor restaurant owner) is naive. I mean, architecture is the last thing that's important for a poor restaurant owner. Food and quality are most important to the restaurant owner. To improve these things would generate more Returning clients...not to mention it is way way cheaper than "architecture". On the hierarchy of things that should be done for a poor restaurant owner...architecture is dead last on the list.

Your next example...middle class developer patron. You do not really need a freaking architect to design a better apartment complex by means of making the unit smaller. Anyone with any logical sense knows how to maximize the space of a unit and many people (guys who can actually do math) can OUT DO an architect in this regard. Case in point: My grandfather was a developer who designed his own apartment units. His units sold very well and he is very wealthy. He had no schooling. He is not interested in aesthetics and he is very pragmatic. Anyway this is a moot point. I mean i'm sitting across from an apartment complex that was designed by a "design" oriented architect. And you know what? The units sold like crap because the spacing is bad within the units. Sure, the design is more "experimental" but it didn't bring in the money. Anyway this is a moot point.

It seems that the only place for architecture (because it really is too often a "luxury") is for the rich / big instituitions.

What I want to say is that for most people architecture is a very luxurious item and appears very far down the list. People have many "REAL" needs to address that need to be taken care of far ahead of architecture. Most people need a home first, not a cool looking house.

Sep 25, 05 7:50 am  · 

nicomachean has hit the thing on the nose.

What allows the small boutique firm to take the path less traveled is a certain amount of safety net. That safety net can either be provided by American Express or the Trust Fund.

Talent or SHHHHMARTS is not inherently a reliable safety net, particularly in a culture where the monied set is extremely conservative and holds few core values apart from monetary concerns.

This is a bottom dollar society that values little that is important or valuable.
I find myself saying in my work that it is there money they can do whatever they want…..before I catch my breath reaffirm my responsibility and my personal mission, and get back in the game and fight for the values that I believe in.

This realignment of values is an interesting notion. I think that here is where the possibility to rethink the profession and its role in the society lies
We have to ask ourselves are we pencil pushers (or mouse sliders as it were) or are we engaged in the critical discourse that is helping to shape the society we live in.

I disagree with nicomachean about the crying when we fail because I admit that it does make me sad when clients make poor decisions for themselves and or the environment.
It is a personal failure if I am not able to convince them to do the proper thing.
. I couldn’t do this work and or work as hard as I do if I was not invested in the profession with more than simply my bank account as a concern

This stuff is simply too hard to do.

Don’t confuse race with class.
ADJAYE is from a wealthy political family.

Sep 25, 05 8:05 am  · 


you seem to be arguing for your own obsolescence. sure, from some perspectives, no one really needs architecture. no one really needs art, literature, or film either...especially if they could use that money for food, as you say. that's a pretty bleak view of the world. we're more than animals.

yes, most architecture ends up (naturally) as toys for rich people. i'm saying that's the way it is, and probably will always be. (let me know if one day money's value inverts itself)

i'm also saying that there are exceptions to the rules. these exceptions have the potential of causing gradual evolution. i offered up a few general suggestions as a way of understanding my angle...but the nature of the exception is that you can't write a rule for the exception, otherwise it would be adopted as a rule.

the exception usually sounds risky and impractical because it is. you can come at me with several reasons why it probably wouldn't work, and you'd be right, but such has been the case with every exception that succeeded in transcending the status quo.

i share your bleak view...which allowed me to end thought of ridiculous top-down utopian schemes (quit trying to change Nature's rules) and instead focus on a bottom-up perspective and individual interventions, which can be delightful on their own as well as being part of a larger cultural evolution.

Sep 25, 05 4:37 pm  · 

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