How to become a Famous Architect


I came across this blog while browsing the blogosphere. It is a list of notes from all over the web on how to become a famous architect.

This is something most architect aspire to be but what most architect won't admit in public or are afraid to discuss. It is a kind of a catch 22 enigma of our profession.

Anyway I thought I would share and see what comes up. This is the link:

Aug 12, 07 12:39 pm

the reason a lot of people shy away from 'admitting' or talking about fame is that (as was sort of alluded to by mayne in orhan's wonderful feature/interview), if you're worried about fame, focused on fame, then you are actually distracted from the major effort that it will take to get there: doing great work.

do your best work and it will happen or it won't.

and, as evidenced by wright, once you HAVE great work, a little self-promotion doesn't hurt.

Aug 12, 07 12:44 pm

becoming famous ought not to be the target of an architect... in my opinion

Aug 12, 07 1:13 pm

While I agree whole heartedly with Steven Ward's comments, I think there a lot of good reasons to be famous. It is easier to get projects, often times you are selected for opportunities that unknown architects are excluded from.

I just saw an article about how Frank Ghery & Peter Eisenman are selling their old models for a modest fortune. Beyond the financial rewards, it places you and your contribution in history. I would think it feels very good to be recognized for what you are doing beyond a paycheck and the pure love of what you do. The list of benefits goes on and on.

While I don't think it should be the focus of professionals, I don't think it is something to dismiss as vain aspirations for wannabes.

Aug 12, 07 1:39 pm

being famous is so last century.
being notorious is where it's at.

Aug 12, 07 4:26 pm

holz made me do it.

Aug 12, 07 4:41 pm

or throw a brick at someone notorious

Aug 12, 07 6:24 pm

A famous architect who will remain nameless for now once told me:
"you have to be famous to get famous"

Does anyone dispute this?

Aug 12, 07 9:08 pm
timothy sadler®

When I was in grad school at Texas, I asked Charles Moore to tell me how he got famous, more specifically how he got great commissions. He said these things happened because he developed the teaching track - teaching, writing and lecturing gave him the money, he said, to keep the office going irrespective of how much work it had coming in. That way, if there wasn't enough fee to do that killer rendering, or to work up presentation materials for publication, say, he could infill with his own money. He got bored with being known for a singular type of work, he said, so as people approached him about starting and being associated with other offices, he did. Being in three places at once was kind of a novelty that helped his profile as well.

In a contradiction to SW's statement above, ChasMo said being famous was just like any other driven career track - you have to commit to it, you have to think your way through it, you have to make the right connections with clients, the right types of clients, people who control publication, people on the academic side - you have to devote your life to it, which he did. I don't believe it's a random thing - there's an element of randomness to it, but becoming famous doesn't happen at random. Just ask Britney Spears' mother.

Aug 12, 07 9:56 pm

i suppose to have to be friends with already famous ppl to begin with.

Aug 12, 07 10:40 pm
vado retro

when william faulkner's daughter pleaded with him to stop drinking so much, his reply to her was, "Who the fuck ever heard of Shakespeare's daughter?"

Aug 12, 07 10:55 pm

"In a contradiction to SW's statement above, ChasMo said being famous was just like any other driven career track - you have to commit to it, you have to think your way through it, you have to make the right connections with clients, the right types of clients, people who control publication, people on the academic side - you have to devote your life to it, which he did. I don't believe it's a random thing - there's an element of randomness to it, but becoming famous doesn't happen at random."

well said OldFogey.

I suspected it worked something like this. I know of quite a few great architects who are masters of their craft that nobody knows about. Some of them get a little recognition but nothing near what they deserve. Some of these guys are kind of introverts who spend most of their time doing what they do best "making architecture".

If you want your work to be seen take it to the masses.

Although this guy is an artist look at how he distinguishes himself from other unknown artists by putting effort into making him self visible

Aug 13, 07 4:41 am

agree with both fogey and og and don't see their comments as contradictions at all. the point i was making (apparently clumsily) is that the work has to be good. chasing fame can often guarantee that you don't have time to make the work good.

Aug 13, 07 7:20 am

No problem --- with enough followes , the profit of fame, you got the muzzle to just rob some silli guy, then laugh about intelectural property and copyright.

Aug 13, 07 7:46 am

Sorry what I mean is, that with a huge studio, there allway's be some cleark, that are willing to find something, maybe even "borrow" something, and happily give it to the boss for the new project, being known as the nice guy who can use the computer and "find" the inspiration somewhere on the web.

Aug 13, 07 7:53 am

huh? clerks finding inspiration on the web? have you been drinking, per?

Aug 13, 07 7:58 am

So if I gave you a gun, you will just "have to" round up the gang and rob some silli guy aye?

Aug 13, 07 8:22 am

fame is easy....
relevance is the hard part.

keys to becoming famous:
1. do anything
2. develop a contrarion position to surround said anything
3. publicize, publicize, publicize
4. did i say publicize
5. bask in your 15 minutes

(this is basically the abridged version of FAT's formula)

in other words...fame doesn't mean anything except one's ability to make it into doesn't mean you're good, it doesn't mean you have good ideas.
and be prepared for the backlash after your 15 minutes are up. (and everyone realizes that you were just another fame whore).

Aug 13, 07 10:02 am

is that what FAT's been up to? thank goodness. will they go away now?

Aug 13, 07 10:16 am

we can only hope, we can only hope.

Aug 13, 07 10:17 am

i don't think archinect is the best place for advice on becoming famous.

Aug 13, 07 10:44 am

See how it works kids. Futureboy just threw a rock at the article.

Aug 13, 07 11:05 am

mr. bojangles,

check out OldFogey's post. I thought that was pretty good.

What do you think about the blog on the original post?

Some of it is funny and a bit over the top but good.

What would be your suggestion?

Aug 13, 07 11:06 am

I would think that the path to becoming famous back in the days of Wright & Corbu is a lot different then than it is now.

Hell, we can't even say FAME anymore. From this forum we learned that thats now old news. the term is "NOTORIOUS" or "RELEVANT".

So let me rephrase.

How do you become a relevant notorious architect today?

Aug 13, 07 6:07 pm

ooh. i like the sound of that. ok, now i wanna do it!

Aug 13, 07 7:07 pm

i don't think so different willsimon. corb, wright, and especially mies were very good with the media. they knew how to use it to advantage.

there was interesting article a decade or so ago that talked about how mies started his career as cutting edge modern-style master with a series of unbuilt projects that set his reputation, and no one really noticed (apprently) that he still hadn't built anything. he used collage very effectively and was careful to be published in right place in a very calculating way...but was in fact the zaha hadid of his generation (a paper architect)...then proceeded to build all kinds of great stuff. same as zaha really, maybe with johnson playing role of shumacher...

another hunderd (or two) years back and things get more funky. can you imagine being architect when only way way to get commission was to be member of royal family or friends with same? michelangelo was adopted by medici household as child, chris wren's family went underground when king was killed and rewarded for loyalty upon return of charles, etc etc...i mean, how in the world could even the most media savvy and intelligent person BEGIN to start in that context?

is much easier now.

Aug 13, 07 7:15 pm
how in the world could even the most media savvy and intelligent person BEGIN to start in that context?

you gotta be 'relevant notorious', i guess.

Aug 13, 07 7:23 pm
timothy sadler®

'garwondler' comes to mind...

Aug 13, 07 11:38 pm

what is a 'garwondler'?

Aug 14, 07 4:07 am

i think back then you just had to be born lucky (ie, an aristrocrat with good connects to patrons).

hm, maybe now too.

when reading history of famous architects a common thread is either that they were born rich (like p. johnson...kurokawa, fumihiko maki, shigeru ban, and i hear rumours about ando too...), had a good teaching job to live off of, or combination of both...i think s. holl and zaha and rem did not grow up too poor. actually the only working class famester i know of is norman foster (speaking of which, his buddy rogers also grew up rich as creosote in italy)...

which sort of makes me wonder how easy it is to go from noone to someone in our world...ny times report not so long ago showed how statistically people tend NOT to be very mobile socially or financially in the good ole USofA at least...

still, maybe willisimon has a point in that now media is at least more accessable today than it used to be...does that change playing field at all


Aug 14, 07 4:28 am
I think there a lot of good reasons to be famous. It is easier to get projects, often times you are selected for opportunities that unknown architects are excluded from.

Ha ha ha!

I agree with the blog. It's all relative. To think anyone on the "outside" is watching! Anyway, the famous folks I know would gladly welcome projects. Fame in architecture takes sacrifice. And it seems unless you enjoy being depressed and alone, it isn't a means to an end.

"What is a garwondler?" is something I've been asking myself for some time now...

Aug 14, 07 4:38 am

In response to JUMP's comment on the media leveling the playing field. Look at the new post

"the social epidemic"

It seems to assert that not only is the playing field leveled by the media but that there is a science to fame.

Aug 20, 07 9:15 am


curbed just discovered this blog. still funny.

Jan 18, 08 10:21 pm

FAT --- that's short for File Allocation Table ?

Jan 19, 08 7:47 am

I'd be interested to know of any stararchitects that were not privileged to begin with. I cannot think of any, but would like to know if there are any.

Seeing Gwathmey's short bio in the recent Architecture kinda made the point even more solid - who wouldn't be happy to start their career building a high budget house for their parents? Jesus! I would have started a firm in college too!!

Life ain't fair, as they say.

Dec 29, 09 8:58 am

I don't think Frank O. was born into a wealthy family.

Dec 29, 09 10:05 am

Im pretty sure Renzo was middle class and Libeskind- poor.

Regardless, success via privelege happens in any and every profession.

Dec 29, 09 11:28 am

frank o. was definitely 'middle class' or lower for large periods of his young life. he made his money doing the equivalent of spec offices, strip malls, multifamily housing, etc. once he had enough money to be somewhat comfortable, and after he finished his own house (the cap to a decade long rise in terms of awareness of him as a designer), he made a 'go for broke' decision to focus only on work that he thought would allow him to advance artistically. remember he was 50 when he did his house...

Dec 30, 09 11:10 am

Good example. FOG is pretty much the epitome of the rock start architect. Maybe I should have kept playing that damn guitar...

Dec 30, 09 12:47 pm

Thom Mayne has been a relentless self-promoter for decades. SCI-Arc, the school he helped co-found, was a platform for him to promote himself.

I recall him once saying that he liked to see grad students have early successes by doing "good work" early on. What was "good work?" It was work Mayne liked or that looked like his own.

"If your work looks like mine, that makes it good." More or less.

Soo... One prerequisite to being famous would seem to be to have an unshakeable conviction that you are right, no matter what the world thinks.

This requires a level of ego and self-importance and sense that you are some sort of better human being than everyone else. I am embarrassed for the man. Every time he gets in front of a microphone or on a panel or whatever, I think, "When is this guy going to shut up? Go home? Decide that there are other things in life besides having crowds of admiring groupies fawning over him?"

Jan 1, 10 3:36 am

get banned on valentine's day

Jan 1, 10 7:06 am

How to become a successful Architect

My short answer:

work for Rem Koolhaas.

My (very) long answer:

I have studied many famous architects biographies and would like to share with you what I have learned from them.

let’s first begin by defining what "Famous Architect" means by differentiating between a prosperous architect and an influential architect, knowing that one does not necessarily go with the other: There are plenty of architecture firms that are extremely profitable but do not publish their work, earn the accolades of the critiques or win the honors from their peers. So I will assume that by Famous, you are referring to those architects who have had an impact on the discipline and that we remember through history.

I would then divide this category further down into two subcategories, the skyrockets, and the late bloomers:

  • The skyrockets: Bjarke Ingels is probably the most impressive case in this subcategory. By 25 he had already set-up his practice and started working on his first big commission—the notorious VM houses in Copenhagen—by the age of 29. 

     How did he do it?

    A very clear vision of what he wanted and an extremely proactive attitude. He studied the greats early-on and modeled himself and his projects after them. He then adopted Rem Koolhaas as his guru and committed himself to working for him. He did land an internship with OMA and worked there for two years before splitting off. Where his proactivity comes into play, is that he was also participating in open competitions throughout his academic career, thus building credibility and confidence in his skills.

  • The late bloomers : Here, you have the likes of Louis Kahn who opened his office at the age of 50, or Frank Gehry who was producing pretty average projects until his 40s. Both of them had an awakening moment that changed the way they approached their work and liberated them from self-imposed constraints.

  • For Kahn; it was a trip to Rome where he was deeply influenced by the ruins he saw there and got a glimpse into what his architecture could represent.
  • For Gehry; it was a mixture of therapy, his formative years in France and mostly his close relationship with artists and sculptors in California, who inspired him through their freedom of expression.


Here is the pattern that I have noticed in almost every Influential Architect's story:

1- Choosing an Architecture guru or acquiring a valuable expertise.

That is the most efficient way to get into the starchitects club. Because make no mistake, it is a private club: Unless you have studied under a starchitect in one of the top schools of the world, worked with one of them as an intern, or otherwise have some highly valuable expertise to offer, there is no way you will be accepted later-on into a high-profile office.

I have to mention though that there are exceptions to this rule, who did not need to work directly with a famous mentor.

  • Sou Fujimoto for example; chose to devote himself to introspection and research after his graduation, in order to define his personal approach.
  • Peter Zumthor who trained as a cabinet maker and an industrial designer, worked for many years in historical monuments preservation before winning his first competition.
  • Dominique Perrault followed a more academic approached and earned a high level of expertise through his post-graduate studies in town planning and history, which was instrumental in him winning a major competition in France by the age of 40;
  • Tadao Ando is probably the most spectacular case: At the age of 25, he boarded on a Siberian train to Europe, fell in love with Le corbusier’s projects and decided to study for his license and open an architecture practice when he returned to Japan.

2- Proactively gaining recognition

  • Rem Koolhaas did it through his thesis project first, and by writing a highly influential book.
  • Bjarke Ingels by winning open competitions very early on.
  • Thomas Heatherwich by building an impressive installation for his thesis project.
  • Le Corbusier by methodically promoting/marketing his views on modern arts and architecture through a magazine he co-founded, and pioneering a new style.

3- Going through the drought

Basically, being able to sustain yourself while you work for an undetermined period on open competitions until one of them catches. But also to afford being picky about your prospective clients.

Most architects, if they didn’t come from a wealthy family do it by relying on a teaching position, cutting their expenses down and living in below-average standards for a few years.

  • Steven Holl lived and worked in a studio for 12 years, not having a single client for that whole time.
  • Zaha Hadid lost competition after competition for a decade.
  • And Louis Kahn was only able to provide for his family by teaching and relying on his wife’s income.


So, what if you didn’t have enough foresight to get into a top rated school, to strategically seek entrance into the starchitects club through an internship, or to proactively realize projects outside of your academic projects? What if you have already graduated and are working in an average office, making average projects and wondering how to still make it to the top?

The first question you have got to ask yourself is: How bad do you want it?
Nobody can answer this question for you, it can only can only come from an objective assessment of your talents, confidence and level of commitment.
One thing is for sure, working full-time in an average office while criticizing starchitects will not get you there.

In my opinion, the first step is to establish the source of income that can enable you to cover your expenses while you dedicate yourself to following your own interests and gaining recognition: Writing a paradigm-shifting book, winning a big competition, or initiating and building a groundbreaking project. That source of income can actually be your full-time job, if you are willing to scarify some sleep, and have a supportive partner. or it can be a parallel endeavor, which preferably is linked to Architecture and is legal.

From there on, it only depends on your talent, patience and hard work. But also on an external factor that seems to play a considerable role in all of these success stories, and that is luck. I can only wish you plenty of it.

Jan 1, 18 7:44 pm

Nicely timed necropost, congrats!

awesome post !


Get your own TV show!

Jan 2, 18 12:01 pm

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