Walking the line between architect and showoff

I expect to see architecture on the cover of architecture magazines. Sometimes, however, I see photos that perpetuate a stereotype that many architects I’ve met in the past nine years tell me they wish didn’t exist. This stereotype is one of design professionals who are more interested in selling their vision rather than an ability to make their clients’ vision come to life.


As one might expect of articles that follow such cover photos – photos in which only people are shown with no architecture – the editorial focus is on the person, his or her vision, awards, education, portfolio and interests. These interests might include architectural styles he or she is “into” these days. Rarely is a client’s dream listed as one of the architect’s interests.


There’s a market in which clients seek architects to commission to create over-the-top artwork in which to live. That’s all fine and good, and it’s great these people are finding each other. It’s within this niche where boundaries are tested and architects experiment. This niche, however, doesn’t deserve the exposure it is enjoying on the covers of so many trendy consumer and trade magazines.


Consumers see these magazines and believe the over-the-top homes are where they’re expected to live, and this can be dangerous. Take, for example, what my architect friend Tony Crasi told me; “I lost a client to one of those over-the-top architects last year. That same client recently confided in a current customer of mine that she was a little embarrassed at her over-the-top home and wished she had done something much more understated like I had suggested. Interestingly enough, that over-the-top client referred that new customer to me.”


There’s far more value in the larger market segment in which architects perform mind-melds with clients and download mental images of their dream home. Now, that’s a skill worth writing about. But what happens when visionless clients hire architects to help create a vision? Isn’t this when architects should step in? To answer this question, I’ll quote another architect friend, Dan Contelmo; “Many times clients will ask for space planning (a new house or addition), but they really do not know what they want it to look like. They come to us looking for advice and a way to expose them to alternate possibilities. So, what do we suggest? Many times it is what we feel would best reflect the personalities of the clients.”


Bingo – architect as consultant and leader, but not a showoff. There’s a big difference.