Architects don’t get enough love. In our culture, stereotypical portrayals of architects are rampant, with the caricatures showing them as overworked, underpaid artistic wannabes shrouded in black; such wraiths, of course, hang out almost exclusively with other architects. These preconceptions give the noble profession a bad name and should be put to an end. Architects don’t necessarily seek each other out, but simply gravitate towards those who share their love for certain coffee blends, post-structuralist thought, and words like bifurcation and juxtaposition. Here, we examine those and other common misconceptions.
Dr. Mabuse: the Gambler (1922)
1. They are socially maladjusted.
At dinner parties, a mixed company of ten architects and a graphic designer will discuss a wide array of topics, from Wittgenstein to long work hours and arthritis. One of them will compliment the vibrant colors of the food and warm materiality of the apartment, incidentally contrasted by the black silhouettes sitting at the table. Despite being Friday night, the party will most likely conclude before the stroke of midnight. Tipsy guests will shuffle to their studio apartments and flat-shares to get a good night’s sleep before going back to work the next morning.
2. Sustainability is always welcome at the design table.
In addition to the stereotypes manufactured by those outside of the profession, a fair number are created by architects themselves. Contrary to popular belief, architects find the concerns with the environmental impact of their work to be a nuisance, distractions that stand in the way of their grandiose visions of formal perfection. Sustainability is the socially awkward colleague standing in the corner at the office party that you have to walk up to so you can keep telling yourself you’re a good person.
Nobody really likes this guy, despite his gentle disposition and the fact that he forces himself to leave the office every day at a decent hour — so as not to raise the bar for the rest of you. He’s the type your parents would love you to be friends with, when you would rather go out inhaling freon and crashing pool parties with the cool kids. He’s the guy that disrupts our collective fantasies of poetic monoliths, intellectual retreats, and architectural follies by asking anticlimactic questions about environmental impact, durability, carbon footprint, and similarly marginal stuff.
Office Space (1999)
3. They adore collaboration.
Teamwork is a phenomenon supposedly loved by architects. Brainstorming sessions are essentially operas where masks keep falling to the floor; egos fly into the sun to crash and burn; false propriety conceals deeply rooted resentment towards the office suck-up; power struggles are enacted through subtle word plays; and tongues are bitten when ideas are falsely appropriated. Every architect will agree that the whole concept of collaboration is exhausting, unnecessary, and reminiscent of the fact that what one really wants to do is scream “My thing is right!” in people’s faces as they’re walking out of the meeting room.
The Addams Family (1991)
4. They only dress in a particular monocolor.
We look refined wearing black. Black evokes the asceticism of the struggling artist and the Steve Jobs-like, no-nonsense entrepreneurial spirit. This is an illusion. Except in the case of starchitects and trust-fund brats with healthy lifestyles, most working architects can’t cope with the visual effect black has on their drained faces. Unpaid overtime, constant deadlines, and putting up with egomaniacal bosses should be reason enough for wearing colorful clothes.
Instead, we cling to our fetish for black, walking in and out of fashionable restaurants with a mental image of ourselves as ethereal figures oozing spiritual and intellectual depth. In fact, we look like exhausted hit men, insomniacs ridden by guilty consciences, trying to remember where we left our Glocks.
A Serious Man (2009)
5. They are well-read, write coherently, and would never alienate their colleagues in the field.
Architects consider themselves great readers. This is absolutely true, particularly if the books in question offer an abundance of sexy diagrams and axonometries, complemented by concise, haiku-like descriptions. The literary arena highlights where our differences with the “common folk” (read “non-architects”) become painfully obvious. Give us a few flowing diagrams with cool gradients, and the symptoms of our ADD immediately vanish.
We pride ourselves on the number of picture books and monographs we own, but we wouldn’t admit even under interrogation that we have no idea what most of them are about. We’ve grown too lazy to read and it’s no wonder — architectural theory has become impenetrable by all except its authors and a few of their closest chums. These thinkers organize symposia, debates, and panels, cracking inside jokes and giggling at each other’s witticisms, while the brain-hemorrhaging audience desperately tries to keep up and appear to be in-the-know.
The process of deciphering much of contemporary architectural theory generally induces a headache if you’re lucky, and a nosebleed if you’re not. Are such extremes really necessary?