Message - Re: What is it that makes architects famous?

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Posted by  Jim on June 26, 2003 at 10:02:42:

In Reply to:  What is it that makes architects famous? posted by Justin Hui on June 25, 2003 at 12:30:05:

Someone once said that Fame is a Fleeting thing. Our lives are short and we all naturally want to be remembered, and for some, Architecture has been their chosen means to try to achieve a small measure of 'immortality.' For other architects, it is primarily a pleasant way to earn money to pay the bills. Since, as an architect once observed to a physician: "You can bury your mistakes; we have to live with ours!" fame for an architect can become notoriety because of his 'mistakes.' Thus one wants to be sure of what constitutes 'fame.' To be notorious is not the same as to be famous. Further, fame in one's own time is quite different from fame in history.

As another poster here made clear, in today's world, engineering is often taken as architecture, both because of the rise in technology, and because of the basic fact that most all structures today are financed by someone else's money by means of loans which are often overseen by committees of so-called 'number-crunchers' (accountants) who may know everything about money, but nothing at all about art. Thus, today, it is much more difficult to be known as a famous ARTIST who happens to practice in Architecture, rather than a glorified Engineer who has designed large structures. People tend to be impressed with anything large, and that usually requires good engineering, but that is not the same as to say that the structure and its designer are famous for Artistry. The former World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, and such like structures are certainly impressive as engineering achievements, but their designers will not go down in history as being famous as Architectural Artists. Palladio, Wren, and a host of others in history have become famous as Artists in Architecture, while doing competent engineering, but for our day, it is almost impossible to be famous for art's sake. There are a few exceptions that prove the rule, however. Probably most famous among these is Frank Lloyd Wright, since his artistry often surpassed his engineering, as in his famous Fallingwater residence. Yet when he astounded the civil engineers of Racine, Wis. with his 'lily-pad' columns for the Johnson Wax Co. office building, he demonstrated that some architects are also innovative engineers.

What makes an architect famous? Artistry, innovation, and timeliness -- that ability to discern what the client needs at a given point in time and technology that no one else has yet attained. A good architect is, of course, a successful businessman else he will not long remain in the business, regardless of other talents. With today's complex structures it is understandable that most larger firms retain accountants, financial advisors, technical specialists, and a host of others to make sure that they succeed in the business and legal senses ever more important to the business of today. The principals in such large firms often take the lion's share of credit for conceiving a large project, but it is often the unsung detailers, drafters, and others who actually conceive the elegance of the project, if it is to have any. Thus, responsibility for a design today is more often a group effort than it was in the past. So whose fame should be sung? And since buildings are rarely actually built by the designer/architect, one should not overlook the contributions of the craftsmen who make the drawings come alive. Often their modifications and advice during building result in buildings substantially different from what the 'artist' conceived.

Thus, history may remind us of artists as we view it today, but in our tomorrows it will be more likely to name a group as responsible for a structure, and then more likely for the size, complexity, vast cost, and engineering achievements than any artistry. This is the reason that I myself did not go into architecture as a profession since I discerned that it was moving into almost pure engineering and business, with traditional artistry shunted to the side. Even with post-post-Modernism, there is virtually no real ornament left to create artistry, and outline shape can take one only so far. Materials can beautify a building if chosen carefully, but usually lack of money prevents any good use of them and money must be concentrated on the superstructure and building systems to make the structure do what the client wants. With materials costs rising as fast as labor costs, buildings are more and more being built on the cheap, especially when there are thousands of dollars in interest being paid to a bank every day that the project continues. Today, architecture is more than ever a difficult business of conflicting demands that have nothing to do with art, such as politics, obstructing local ordinances and officials, lawyers, building codes that are out of date, overseeing bankers, unrealistic and demanding clients, union work rules, office politics, etc., etc. Architects in future will not be famous for their artistry, but for the fact that they were excellent politicians and shrewd enough to manipulate things to survive. Architects were often remembered for their egos and pride, and that is probably what will keep them in mind in generations to come, especially with such as Jennerett ('Corbu') who made fame from drawings and dictums more than any physical achievements. So, you want to be famous? Better to write obscure epistles and draw outlandish buildings that no one will ever build, and you will indeed be famous -- or is that Infamous?!

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