is "corporate" a dirty word in architecture?


why or why not?  it seems to me that it is.

Mar 16, 13 6:18 pm

It is in the "art of architecture" -- it's not in the "practice of architecture"

Mar 16, 13 6:44 pm

It is here, for many.  Out there, in the real world, not so much.

Mar 16, 13 8:55 pm

I know when it comes to corporate a lot of people think corporate=practice/"real world" and non-corporate=academia.  There are a lot of architects/firms practicing non-corporate architecture.  People deemed some of these architects "starchitects" (not all of them are, however!).  People think starchitecture is bad, out dated, etc. The reason they reached "starchitect" potential, however, was through practicing Architecture, not simple building.  They are the only semblances of what remains of a once prestigious and high Art.

A lot of people think corporate is a good word; that corporate firms = good firms.  This is so not true!  I can't stand the idea of corporate.  In my opinion it degrades architecture to a commercialized common realm.  I don't mean to sound snooty about it, I'm just strongly opinionated when it comes to protecting architecture from losing its meaning.  It used to be that the common people created vernacular and "architects" (i put it in quotes because the profession of architect was not a defined profession until relatively recently) designed the most important, highest products of civilization.  i.e. the Egyptian common man built what was needed, houses, markets, etc. the "architects" designed the pyramids and the temples. You had to be a special, sensible person to be an architect.  Now, anyone can be an architect it seems, and architecture has been diluted to include things like "healthcare" and "education." These corporate and commercialized terms indicate the loss of Architecture in my opinion.

In a sense, corporate is a very American term.  You can even see it in the qualifications of becoming an architect in both regions; In America, an architect needs to test well for codes and efficiency (how many offices can you fit here kinda thing). In Europe, architects need to be well versed cultural contributors, taking into account social, political, and economical factors.

 I had a professor from Europe who said when he first came to the US and told people he was an architect they'd say: oh wow what kind, commercial or residential?  his response was "i don't even know what that is/means, I only create architecture."  I HATE that question and I get it ALL THE TIME when I tell people what I do.  Its a product of the commercialization of architecture.  I'm not old school in any sense.  I experiment big time with my work, it keeps the "profession" moving and evolving (in the words of Zaha, "I don't think it is a profession").  However, some may call me old school for believing that an architecture firm should never be called a "company" (office yeah, but company, meh)

So, ya corporate firms or "companies" may pay you more and therefore may not be "bad" in the economical sense but in all honesty, its bad for Architecture, and it is not Architecture.  It's building.  "but wait isn't architecture building stuff" you might wonder.  No, it's far more. Architecture is the highest Art and has great power to influence the psyche, politics, economics, society, etc.  That piece of $%^& strip mall by that one corporate company is not doing anything for humanity.   Think of it this way, non-corporate architecture, REAL Architecture, is like seeing the real Mona Lisa in person, whereas corporate building is like the mass produced Thomas Kinkade print at the bookstore...if you catch my drift.

Now, its totally to each his own.  If you're happy getting paid well and working corporate, then good for you, you should do what makes you happy.  As for me, I'd never be happy doing that.

Sounds harsh but that's my opinion. (sorry, long winded rant! haha). I know I'll set some people off with this one...

Mar 17, 13 12:20 am



your words seem to be a little bit too heroic and not precise. that will only add to the doubt of real architecture

Mar 17, 13 1:49 pm

a corporation is all about bottom line.  It is all about quantitative value.  Architecture is all about qualitative value.  The goal of the corporation is at odds with the goal of any good architect.

Mar 17, 13 2:32 pm

"A corporation is all about bottom line. ....  The goal of the corporation is at odds with the goal of any good architect."

I read this as meaning "any "good" architect would keep designing and drawing until all the fee (and more) is gone, because we all know that design is never finished." By this standard, all "good" architects are destined to a life of poverty.

If that is so, how is it that the majority of the "starchitects" we gush about so often here seem to be fairly well to do?

Mar 17, 13 3:56 pm

stone- good point.  seems like most 'starchitects' or architects that are lauded have had to master both the business and aesthetic side of the profession to be successful, but their business skills are rarely talked about.

Mar 17, 13 5:08 pm

not really, because good design can still be done within tight budget contraints.  It is more about a clash between state of mind and values.  Take food for example.  Great chefs could run cheap food trucks and still sell high quality food for a low price.  Corporate food establishments on the otherhand only care about profit.  The food truck guy cares about making the best quality within the given constraints...His  philosophy is that if you make something great people will buy it.  profit is the result / biproduct of his/her arti ...with the corporation the ultimate goal itself is profit.  The product is shaped around the ultimate financial goal. 

Mar 17, 13 5:09 pm

it is a clash of priorities.  One can be financially successful and still put quality first...just takes more work.

Mar 17, 13 5:12 pm

One also could argue that the best route to profitabililty is to provide exceptional quality and innovation ... say, for example, Steve Jobs and all of his wonderful products. Yet, Apple  - as a company -- is about as "corporate" as it gets.

I don't think the crux of "good design" is either "corporate" or "not corporate" -- I think it is much more about attitude and aims (and, of course, talent). "Good design" does not preclude high profitability - nor does it ensure high profitability.

"Good design" also does not mean the same thing to all people. The clients of "corporate" firms often believe they are receiving "good design".

Mar 17, 13 8:59 pm
won and done williams

I've spent virtually my whole career in a medium-sized firm where many of our clients are major corporations. I'm not sure you would call our firm or our work corporate though our clients definitely are. This may come off a bit polemical, but to me, the ones who scoff at corporations tend to be academics - students or professors. I think distance from the actual practice of architecture allows a more cynical attitude. We don't have that luxury nor would we want it.

Mar 17, 13 9:36 pm

If its a dirty world, I am about to get dirty - after years of kicking and screaming to remain "clean". I really do not think that all corporate architecture firms are about quality and not quality. Some do rather good work. Any firm above 20 employees has to get "corporate" to keep running.

Mar 17, 13 9:39 pm

is "fuck you i have a job with benefits" a dirty word in architecture

Mar 18, 13 1:42 am

znapz, i feel like you have many years of unemployment ahead of you.  i'm sure that's fine though, because if you're really concerned about the 'common people' becoming architects, i'm sure you can live off your parent's trust fund.  personally, i would like to see aristocratic morons, who think 'common people' is a lesser caste, taken out of architecture and society at large, so more power to you.

i'm sure that sometimes starchitects and boutiques form s-corps, meaning if you worked for them you would be working for a corporation.  corporations are not specifically american.  there are stock markets and indexes all over the world, including europe.  i'm not sure what you think european architects do, but if they just sit in coffee shops eating cheese and drinking small cups of coffee, i bet your european professor would still be there.  in real life, i'm pretty sure european architects form some sort business structure, sometimes a 'corporate' structure, and then they get hired by businesses, often structured as a 'corporation,' to design buildings.  same as everywhere else. 

there is sometimes a difference between good architecture and bad architecture, or good design and bad design.  'corporate' is not it.  there is no black and white "commercial" v. "residential," though any decent architect is going to know there is a significant difference between those just as any decent architect is going to know there are different and specialized skill sets between hospitals and hospitality.  obviously, you're not there yet.

the point of this is to let you know your eurpean professor is not teaching you to be an architect; instead he seems to be teaching you to be a smug bitch.  if you surround yourself with failures like that, it's more likely you will become a failure.  it's not too late though, just try to change your environment so you're surrounded by competent people that might help you become competent.  maybe those competent people can explain to you how IDP and ARE are going to work because you're kind of off on that too.

Mar 18, 13 10:01 am

It is a "dirty" word for pretenders.

It's just another word for those of us who live in the real world.

I've worked for both.  They both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Mar 18, 13 10:35 am

are you referring to 'corporate' as the person you're working for or the person that's hiring you?  like corporate architecture as in SOM (which is a partnership, not a corporation) or as in Starbucks?

Mar 18, 13 10:42 am

There is phenominal work that comes out of these "dirty corporate firms" that are ten times more likely to be published than a lot of the work coming from smaller shops.

You just have to ask yourself.  Have firms like SOM, HOK, Gensler, etc not shaped up the course of architectural history?

Sure thay are about the bottom line - this is how successful business works in general.  You CAN have amazing architecture and be profitable at the same time.  THAT is not a dirty concept.

Mar 18, 13 10:44 am

You CAN have amazing architecture and be profitable at the same time.  

True.  There are some corporations that care about quality.  SOM, Apple, etc.....All do a good job of balancing profit with product. Sometimes they make really great stuff.  Generally, this is not the case though.  Many corporations will cut quality to maximise profit.  I think it was Charles Eames that said something like...

"I always accept constraints but never except compromise" 

Like I said, It is a matter of priority.  Even Apple may comprimise its standards to maximise profits.  They manufacture stuff in Chinese sweat shops for instance.  They probably could have made alot of money either way, but the corporate structure requires one to always prioritize profit over all else.  Quality is of course necessary inorder to remain competitive....On the other hand, the artist would rather go broke in pursuit of quality work.  A true artist does not comprimise his/her art for higher profits.  They won't change a lyric, or paint with more color...

Mar 18, 13 11:24 am

"On the other hand, the artist would rather go broke in pursuit of quality work.  A true artist does not comprimise his/her art for higher profits.  They won't change a lyric, or paint with more color..."

Howard Roark lives !

Mar 18, 13 11:28 am

Also, look at music.  You can play great music and become rich and famous.  You can be like the Doors who put their art first and refused to "tone down" the lyrics so that they could be played on the air.  Like I said, just takes more work and skill to make it with an art first mentality. 

Mar 18, 13 11:29 am

SOM isn't a corporation.  it's an LLP.  i just said that.  you're using the word wrong.

it's like you're talking about greed or misplaced priorities or something instead of "corporate."  if you want to address the problems you perceive, it would help to use the commonly accepted definitions of the words you choose.  it's like you went to the same school as znapz, where they teach you to insult your clients instead of designing decent buildings.

i believe our government could improve the country with legislation that encourages corporate boards to focus on their company's products, customers, and employees rather than investors and ponzy schemes.  i think corporations should be required by government to work for the public good rather than private good.  there is historic precedence for that; it's not a socialist idea and it's not new.  i also believe corporations are not people and shouldn't be treated as such.  those are suggestions related to the word "corporate" which is not what you're talking about.

Mar 18, 13 11:39 am

for those interested in why a corporate structure might not be best for most of us, here is a link with a somewhat modern look at adam smith's economic theory.  'conservatives' liked adam smith before they became dumb and decided people like sarah palin should be their intellectual voice.  (now of course it's ayn rand with her hogwarts school of make-believe greed and economics)

Mar 18, 13 12:12 pm

My first job out of undergrad was at SOM.  I know the structure of and how it is a partnership (a competitive one at that) rather than a coproration.  I'm just lumping it in there because many people here think it's a corporation and lump it into that category just because of its size and business model without knowing about it.. 

Gensler is more like a corporatation in a traditional sense.

My point is that if people deny that these kinds of firms haven't greatly contributed to the course of architectural history, they are greatly fooling themselves.

Mar 18, 13 12:23 pm

that was kind of my point too med.  what they're opposed to has nothing to do with "corporate."  i think gensler is a corporation, and HOK too, but i could be wrong.

i think it would be better for the conversation to move one of these directions:

a).  what is it really that you don't like?  firm structure?  is it specifically a management style?  maybe it's size of the firm?  it's not "corporate" so figure out what it is you don't like.

b). rage against corporations in general if that is what you're opposed to.

Mar 18, 13 12:30 pm

I'm about to make the jump to a corporate firm myself, and thought I'd chime in on the benefits that attracted me (beyond healthcare type benefits, which are indeed nice):

I've been working for several years at small firms where there were no other people with my specialty, and I'm looking forward to actually having senior designers in my area to learn from. I've learned a lot from people of other specialties too, of course, but it's not quite the same.

At these smaller firms, I've often not had the technology necessary to do my job well. I literally spent the other day having my computer crash every 20 minutes, trying to do a job on one program that was a poor fit because we didn't have a license for any of the (more expensive, specialized) programs that would let me do it right. So the idea of going into an office with the financial resources to provide the necessary tools is a big relief. 

On the point of resources, another issue is the resources of the clients. Small budget can be a welcome challenge sometimes, but being in an arch-related specialty much of my work can get VE'd right out of the picture, or dumbed down to the point where I couldn't even put it in a portfolio. Money attracts money, and getting clients that actually have some gives my work more ability to actually come to life.

Additionally, the small firms I've worked for have tended to be top-heavy. A founder or founders plus other principals or directors who have been there for 20+ years, and none of them will be leaving for another 20 years. This isn't always a problem in and of itself, but the financial crisis has caused these firms to continually lay off the younger and mid-level employees while retaining those entrenched at the top out of loyalty. The result is too few projects that wind up getting micro-managed and allowing little room for growth in the younger employees. By contrast, in a big corporate firm that same ruthlessness that can feel callous when you're the person on the receiving end of a layoff is actually what keeps the firm balanced from top to bottom and can better allow people to grow and take on more responsibility.

Now I understand that this is coming from a particular perspective of my own personal experience, but I wanted to present a viewpoint where "selling out" will actually help a designer do better work and advance their career. I'm definitely prepared to hear from some people that I'm selling out, but sometimes the corporate path can actually be better for your work as well as your wallet.

Mar 18, 13 12:37 pm

Both HOK and Gensler have very similar corporate structures - that of being "employee owned" with a board of directiors.  There are no partners only corporate ranks - associate, senior associate, and principal - just like you would find in many other firms.

Even corporate firms are different than one another.  There is a huge huge huge difference between AECOM and Gensler.

Here are some advantages in my experiences.  I'll get into the negatives later.

- Better Pay

- Better benefits

- Better resources (computers, software, expertise, etc)

- Exposure to very reputable projects

- An ability to thrive and recieve "star" potential.

-  Exposure to diverse clientelle

- Excellent resume builders

Mar 18, 13 1:00 pm

There is NO difference in corporate offices whether they are LLP or LLC or INC. Its the atmosphere and company culture that matter. And those things are truly different per office.

Mar 18, 13 1:18 pm

LLC and Inc are corporate entities.  an LLP is not.  and LLP is a partnership.  due to the limited liability in an LLP, there are similarities but still the word "corporate" means a thing which is something other than a partnership.  if an architecture education can't teach people how a building goes together, the least it could do is be broad enough to teach what a corporation is.  you're associating the word "corporate" with something other than "corporate."  is it just the size of the office?  is it the profit motive?  or is "corporate" supposed to refer to the clients a firm has?

and S-corp is a corporate entity.  many small architecture firms, even if it's only 4 people, are chartered as S-corps.  do you consider them "corporate architecture?"  or are we making up our own language here?

Mar 18, 13 1:30 pm

i believe our government could improve the country with legislation that encourages corporate boards to focus on their company's products, customers, and employees rather than investors and ponzy schemes.  i think corporations should be required by government to work for the public good rather than private good.

It's cute that you think the gov't cares about the public good.  The gov't and the corporation merger has already happened in the EU, US, etc.  Welcome to fascism.  Wake up man.  Too Big To Fail? 

All I'm saying is that the corporate structure is not the best structure to promote any art.  Jiro dreams of thats a master, a true artist.  It would never ever be possible for a corporation to dedicate such care to a craft.  This level of perfection can only occur with a uncompromsing passion and dedication to ones art. 

Also, when the corporate identity replaces the individual identity (gensler vs. zumthor for instance) authorship is dilluted.  Always feels like something is missing to me... 

Of course there is a place for the corporate firm, of course they influence architecture, of course they sometimes make great things.... all i'm saying is that they are never going to achieve the same level of artistic integrity.

Mar 18, 13 1:32 pm

Also, when the corporate identity replaces the individual identity (gensler vs. zumthor for instance) authorship is dilluted.  Always feels like something is missing to me... 

But what about when the primary author is not the person whose name is on the door? I'd rather feel like the name on what I make is the name of a company that is made up of many individuals such as myself (I'm even thinking more, IDEO, 2x4, Pentagram, even more anonymous than Gensler which was after all, somebody's name), than have my work have someone else's name on it, where it looks to the outside world like that individual does it all. Having a name on the door feels great when it's your name on the door, not so much otherwise.

Mar 18, 13 1:36 pm


Thank you for proving some of my points about corporate architecture.  You would agree with the statement that corporate=good.  However, I think you have missed my points entirely in your understanding.  I am not rich, I do not have a trust fund.  And for your information, my European professor was a project architect at Foster for 10+ years before deciding to teach.  I would also like to point out that, if you had read more clearly, that I do not mean common as in the degrading plebeian sense.  I do not fear "common" people becoming architects.  I fear architects taking on too much of the "common" vernacular and I fear people like you and many others here who are in it for the money, for the profession instead of for sake of architecture.

Commercial vs Residential was meant as examples, yes I know there is a difference between these and hospitality and hospitals, what I am arguing is that these should never be qualifiers of architecture.  I think architects have almost taken on too much, that it has diluted the profession.  The taking-on of vernacular by architects has caused the emergence of terms like hospitality and residential.  You can hardly tell what has been actually designed by an architect vs a design-build contractor or an engineer.  

I understand there is a business side to every firm, but I'm sorry, you can have a successful (money-wise) business but you can still produce insignificant work.  Many people think the things we have learned in school are just things we have to learn and once were out worrying about money and being successful, we don't have to worry about that stuff anymore.  This loss of knowledge between the transition from school to the "real world" has caused the corporate uprising.

I am primarily arguing that "corporate" has come to signify a specific type of architecture, regardless of if the firm is legally a corporation, LLC, partnership, sole proprietor or any other legal term you would like to argue about with everyone on here. 

If I could put the corporate architecture and "real architecture" into a formula it may appear as so:  corporate=licensing+profit and "real architecture"= licensing+profit+high design+historical and contextual understanding.  In my opinion, corporate is a cop out, it doesn't have to think about its place in the history of architecture or its place in the world other than the bottom line.  "real architecture" must also worry about bottom line but it provides a higher/richer architectural understanding because of its concerns with its place in the history of architecture and the consequences of its design.  Corporate is simply building but real architecture is building with deeper meaning.

I'd imagine that becoming licensed and building hospitals may be a major career goal for you, good for you.  As for me, licensing was a mere legal requirement, not a career goal. I'd also imagine that you are very much into "sustainability" and "green," but that is beside the point here.

You may have also misinterpreted my position.  I am not currently in school, so I'm not a little naive puppy who has been learning to be a failure and a "smug bitch" from a successful professor. I'm also arguing that being licensed, satisfying the ARE and IDP requirements does not qualify you as a "good" architect.  it just makes you a legal architect. 

Mar 18, 13 1:45 pm

I see your point, but what I meant was that it's difficult to look at a building and say, "that looks like a gensler building"  on the otherhand, you can easily spot a FG building, or a Ito building and identify it.  The character or "stlye" gets dilluted.  This does not only apply to starchitects either.  Some locals I know are also easily identifyable.  I sometimes drive around and spot a building and say to myself..."I bet --- did that"  and I'm usually right.  Never been able to spot a corporate produced building. 

Mar 18, 13 1:47 pm

may just be because there are more of them?

Mar 18, 13 1:48 pm

curtkram, you should be CPA ! - but thanks for your insight. I own a S-Corp (3 employees) and my wife owned a LLC (one employee), so I do know about these things in a lot of detail. Companies decide on these issues depending on the way they want to be taxed. For example, the LLC was better to get in foreign income. I wont bore you with the specifics.

What I am trying to say is that the OP probably means corporate in the more general sense, of a large office under a unfied name and having a unified portfolio, and with some sense of a general unified direction, with which comes office politics and the general specifics of a large life. Got it?

Mar 18, 13 1:59 pm

"All I'm saying is that the corporate structure is not the best structure to promote any art."

Art, hmmm. If that's your take on architecture, good for you. A lot of us others would like to get paid regularly to feed ourselves and our families...

Mar 18, 13 2:02 pm

If any of you have ever sat in on one of PSMJ's principal training seminars, you may have heard Frank Stasiowski talk about the life-cycle evolution of A/E firm management and leadership styles as it grows and changes through time. He lays out a modified version of the classic firm leadership and scale transition model as follows:

Stage 1: Entrepreneurial - All firms start this way. They tend to strongly reflect the personalities of their founders, for good and bad, and have an entrepreneurial, opportunistic outlook. Successful entrepreneurial personalities tend to be independent risk takers and visionaries who are very hands-on and charismatic. They value personal loyalty very highly, and tend to hire people who support them rather than other entrepreneurs. However, they will partner up with other entrepreneurs. They tend to be very concerned with maintaining information privilege in the organization and are usually very opaque in their management style (for example, as an employee of an entrepreneurial principal, you will never see the firm's financial statements or know anything about the details of its business model or financial health). Entrepeneurial firms are held together and driven by the vision and energy of the founder(s) within the sphere of their personal direction. Organization structure usuallly looks like an inverted 'T', very flat below the leaders, who stand far above everyone else. This limits their effective scale to smaller groups during the active career of the founder(s). Entrepreneurs are alpha dogs, and they tend not to like leadership competition from within their pack. This greatly hinders them when they seek to transition to the next level of scale and success. They will have tended to chase off other entrepreneurial employees / alpha dogs during their leadership tenure. These often go on to become competitors.

Stage 2: Communist - When the entrepreneurial founder(s) retire or the firm grows so large and successful that they cannot exercise personal leadership over its organizational structure anymore, by default it transitions to a 'communist' model. The senior and long-time employees, who were originally hired and kept for their loyalty and ability to follow the entrepreneurs' lead, move into senior leadership positions. They tend to move toward a flat, consensus-based management system in which they are all 'equals,' and try to implement a communal organizational model for the firm. They will tend to be much more transparent and open with information and leadership style. But they cannot sustain the entrepreneurial business model this way, often have difficulty sustaining and growing the business, and lack clear directional leadership. Firms in this stage that have fewer than 50 staff can often hobble along for a while. Larger firms entering this stage are in great danger. Most architectural firms fail at this stage, unless they can find a way to make it to Stage 3.

Stage 3: Corporate - If the firm can survive or even skip its 'communist' stage, it can make the transition to adopting a systematic business model and stronger, explicit, hierarchical organizational structure. Corporate firms will also often adopt accountability and quality control procedures at every level of the organization. This is the point where the firm becomes a self-supporting engine for growth, less dependent on the personal leadership style of a founder or collective. The corporate firm management style scales very well where the others do not. Any firm with more than 100 staff that has been around for more than a handful of years will have transitioned to this stage. Note that 'corporate' does not mean that the firm organization is necessarily a legally-defined C Corporation. It may be structured in many different ways. Some of the largest firms in this category are structured as networks of LLCs and LLPs with associate holding companies and trusts. However, for all of them, their organizational structure and style is no longer totally dependent on individual personalities.

Stage 4: Public or Employee Owned (ESOP) - This is the stage where a successful corporate firm finds itself when it grows very large or reaches the end of its growth curve in the market. There will be so much value accrued to the company and its operations so extensive and complex that strategies will be implemented for distributing and monetizing equity among its management and employees (e.g. financialization). The point where this happens often sets the high-water-mark of the company's success and existence, since the changes in company culture and business model that naturally occur by necessity and incentive with going public or ESOP lead it quickly into decline and bureaucratic ossification.


Mar 18, 13 2:06 pm

the other part, jla-x, is that a lot of the corporates (or LLP or LLC or C-Corp or S-Corp. whatever you want to say) are doing way more interesting work in places like China and the Middle East than in US and Europe.

I think that is because here in the US we have lost our sense of public will and have gotten too much entangled in our own web of legalities, but thats a different story.

Mar 18, 13 2:08 pm

In America, an architect needs to test well for codes and efficiency (how many offices can you fit here kinda thing) <-- i do not feel this is representative of the tests i took or the internship i was involved with.  however, in america our states require an architect license to protect public health and safety, not your idea of what looks neat.

If I could put the corporate architecture and "real architecture" into a formula it may appear as so:  corporate=licensing+profit and "real architecture"= licensing+profit+high design+historical and contextual understanding <-- this is a much better definition of what you're trying to talk about, rather than "corporate" which has an entry in the dictionary that does not include this definition.  i disagree with the notion that clear communication can come from creating non-standard definitions of words.  for what it's worth, i've never worked on a hospital (with the exception of a small bit during an internship during undergrad that i wouldn't count for much) and while i have leed ap, i still think it's mostly just greenwashing.  also, "architect" has a definition in both the dictionary and most state regulations.  it does not separate "real" from "corporate."  i believe you are mistaken by suggesting there is a difference.

i also think i was clear in that i do not think 'corporate' is good.  but then i was probably using a different definition of corporate.  i have a job.  people hire me or my company to do that job.  if i'm in a position to include high design that's great.  if not, that's fine too.  i don't insult my clients by telling them "Architecture" is too good for them.  regardless, that does not mean my understanding of high design or ability to design or knowledge of architectural history is less than yours.  it only means i live in the real world, with the rest of the common people.

getting a license in an of itself may not make a "good" architect, but to say your idea of "high design" is any better than my idea of "working for a living" is still smug, and your opinion of "high design" v. whatever it's opposite is would not be any better than mine or anyone else.  if i have a client that wants a styrofoam stripmall, i might just do my best to design the best styrofoam strip mall i can, and if i want to be proud it and think it's as high of design that can be achieved, they i'm not going to be keen on listening to you tell me my contribution to profession is less.

Mar 18, 13 2:13 pm

jla-x, I see what you mean. And I think it directly related to the point of, who's in control. In a small firm with the owner's name on the door, they're in control, so it's all going to look like them. Even when someone else designs it, they tend to do so with getting the boss's stamp of approval in mind. there's a total control. But the bigger "corporate" places are made up of so many more individuals that actually get a say in how things get built that there's no "style" that develops which is recognizable from one building to the next. Precisely the issue that makes you enjoy looking at the work of smaller firms is the issue that makes me excited to work for a big firm. My hand won't be controlled by someone whose brand name reputation and ego are tied to every little thing.

Mar 18, 13 2:16 pm


there are a variety of reasons why domestic US firms are doing much more interesting work abroad than domestic. The regulatory overhead and bureacratic migraine of working in US jurisdictions is only part of that.

A much bigger part is that over the last few decades our economy became so focused, first on managerialized quantity optimization and then on financialized value extraction, that we have become profoundly impoverished and are no longer able to make value- and quality-directed decisions as we did before we spent all our social, political, and economic capital during the 20th century. In some foreign markets, China for instance (where I do quite a lot of work), there is still a lot of reserve capital in society, allowing qualitative decision making and prioritization to take place in a way that is no impossible in the USA. Now, China has it's own cultural and economic issues, so I'm not going to say they're doing it better. But they do have vast capital to work with, which we do not.

Actually, I think some of the most interesting work going on at the moment is in the middle east, not china.

Mar 18, 13 2:19 pm

and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is no less nobel.  If anything, the pursuit of an art is often selfish. 

Mar 18, 13 2:19 pm


and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is no less nobel.  If anything, the pursuit of an art is often selfish.  It is far more nobel to take care of ones family imo. 

Mar 18, 13 2:28 pm

there's a total control

YUP.  I guess there is a case to be made for "collaborative" design as well.  My guess would be that projects which lack the bias of a single author often function better in a utilitarian way.  Probably also "sell" better to a mainstream audiance.  It could be good or bad...IDEO is a great example of the good side of it. 

Mar 18, 13 2:32 pm

I know people will disagree with me that's why I kept saying its my opinion, I was not pushing judgement until you called me a "smug bitch."  I respect you for working for a living. (and by this you indicate that I somehow do not).  Its really a glass half full or half empty situation.  I see my work as I'm working toward architecture and happen to get paid, but I do not work simply for pay.  In my first post I said that people should do what makes them happy.  If you are happy doing what you do that is good. You were judging me for not being happy doing what you do, some how indicating that you have the superior job.  I was not trying to make these assumptions about you.  

Yet, somehow you are also assuming I do not live in the real world simply because I'm passionate about what I choose to do/think.  (Obviously you are passionate too or we wouldn't be having this conversation).  I'm enjoying this passionate conversation and it's an important one for architecture.  Part of why I disagree with what I call "corporate" architecture as in my definition, is because it does not allow or even start such debates within its boundaries.

I think a Styrofoam strip mall sounds pretty fascinating actually, and would fit that in my definition of high design.  I think as long as you go beyond the limits and try to make something of architecture, you are practicing "high design." 

Mar 18, 13 2:36 pm

Precisely the issue that makes you enjoy looking at the work of smaller firms is the issue that makes me excited to work for a big firm.

That is absolutly true also.  I would rather work for a big firm, but I would rather be the owner of a small firm.  Working for a starchitect is like working for the dear leader kim jung un...your opinion don't matter when the leader thinks he god.

Mar 18, 13 2:37 pm

I think a Styrofoam strip mall sounds pretty fascinating actually, and would fit that in my definition of high design.

Architects saying stuff like this is why we can't have nice things anymore.

Mar 18, 13 2:41 pm


Mar 18, 13 2:45 pm

Part of why I disagree with what I call "corporate" architecture as in my definition, is because it does not allow or even start such debates within its boundaries.

I've actually found sole proprietorships (which many boutique/star firms are) to be much more controlling about the discourse within their firm. Everyone below them is very aware that the owner believes certain things, and their paycheck is contingent upon them being on board with those.

Mar 18, 13 2:46 pm

I've actually found sole proprietorships (which many boutique/star firms are) to be much more controlling about the discourse within their firm. Everyone below them is very aware that the owner believes certain things, and their paycheck is contingent upon them being on board with those.

That's true.  I should clarify that I mean with respect to their work, not necessarily inside the office.  As in, you are probably less likely to have an intellectual conversation about a "corporate" office's work than say a boutique/star firm's work.  (I know, there are several approaches you can have to corporate work, i.e. Harvard Guide to Shopping).  What I mean is students may not use an SOM project as a precedent, but they may likely use a Zumthor or Zaha project, because there's something there to talk about. ( I know, general, I don't know all the projects in the world, note, LIKELY to use).

Mar 18, 13 3:13 pm

The fact that one even has to ask this question tells you all you need to know about the architectural profession and the schooling that educates them.

Mar 18, 13 3:29 pm

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