Wednesday, December 26, 2007

31. Get The Publicity You Need



Claire Whitaker spent five years as president of The Kreisberg Group, a New York P.R. firm whose clients were architects, as well as institutions with architectural ambitions. But in December, she closed the doors to the firm founded by Luisa Kreisberg in 1984, choosing to go to work for Santiago Calatrava, one of the firm's star clients. Since Calatrava hardly needs help gaining name recognition, Whitaker will be able to focus on managing his image and helping to run his business (now largely based in Manhattan). Which means that tips for getting young architects press are no longer her stock in trade. So on her last day at Kreisberg's offices in Chelsea, she sat down (on the only thing left, a computer) to talk about how architects without Pritzker Prizes on their résumés can become better known.

One thing young architects can't do, of course, is hire firms like Kreisberg, which can charge $5,000 per month or more for representation. That's the catch-22: Only the most successful architects can afford the publicists whose job is to help them become successful.

Over the years, I've met with many architects who I knew couldn't afford to hire me. I'd give them lots of free advice.

The first thing I'd say is, send out regular mailings, maybe two or three a year, with photos of your work. And I don't mean e-mails. For one thing, the color has to be perfect— you're trying to make your work look really good. Your list should include every journalist you can think of—you can get their names o. magazine mastheads—and anybody you've already done a project for. You want your former clients to know you're still open for business.



It's OK to publicize losing competition entries. In the architecture world, everybody understands that losing a competition is no great shame.



In fact, entering a lot of competitions is another way to get your name out. Someone may remember that you lost, but had a good idea.

Try to do as many public projects as you can. Restaurants, in particular, are a good way to become known. First, all of the customers will see your work. Second, lots of publications that don't cover architecture do cover restaurant openings. And third, restaurants have P.R. budgets. And the best way to get P.R., if you don't have a lot of money, is to piggyback on your client's budget. I've represented some very well-known architects—not Calatrava—who have never spent a penny on P.R.; the client always paid the bill.



Whatever kind of project you're doing, it's a good idea to talk to the client in advance about whether you'll be allowed to publish. Otherwise, you may have a hard time publishing residential projects—homeowners may have privacy concerns—or even jobs for corporate clients who don't necessarily want shareholders to see how much money they've spent. Still, at the end of the day, you have to accept your client's decision. One sure way to lose a reference is to publish behind a client's back.

Word of mouth is the most important thing in landing clients, but publicity can spark it. People have short memories, and when they're putting together a list of architects for a project, it's going to be the ones whose names they've seen or heard in the last few weeks or months.



Get friendly with journalists but don't plague them. Journalists need information, and they rely on people coming to them, as long as you don't overdo it.


ALSO SEE THESE RELATED NOTES FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS:
2. Use stratagies of a publicist to get in the news
17. Blow your own horn!
28. Say you are an architect

Source: ARCHITECT MagazinePublication date: February 1, 2007
By Fred Bernstein
http://www.architectmagazine.com/industry-news.asp?sectionID=1006&articleID=433344

Sunday, December 23, 2007

30. Who will define "good architecture" in your work?

This post is based on the premise that what the client and general public's view of what is good architecture, is often times not the same as what the famous architect view of what is good architecture.

In becoming a famous architect you will inevitable have to make a choice in which constituent your design will pander to. Otherwise you can place your design somewhere between these two polarities.

Daniel Lebiskind tends to side with the idea of making architecture that communicates with the public, while Peter Eisenman tends towards communicating to the architectural elite.


This debate played out between the two at the end of the World Trade Center competition which Lebiskind won.

Eisenman's team, was a member of one of seven semi-finalist in the competition. His team, which included Richard Meier & Partners, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates and Steven Holl Architects, proposed creating a five-building matrix arranged at a 90-degree angle and connected by three aerial bridges.

"The project was doomed from the start," Mr. Eisenman told 100 students and faculty in Princeton University's McCosh Hall. "We submitted our credentials and truly we never thought we'd be selected."

Mr. Eisenman blamed New York City officials for turning a serious architectural competition into a popularity contest based on public opinion, and he criticized the media for oversimplifying each team's plan.

"The biggest mistake the city made was asking anyone to vote on such a project," he said. "The media condenses projects and doesn't show anything but images."

Believing his team had developed the most creative, meaningful plan but disappointed it did not reach the final round of competition, Mr. Eisenman hopes to continue promoting its original concepts.

Most of all, Mr. Eisenman laments what he described as the overall failure of the World Trade Center competition. "I think it's sad for New York and sad for the country because the idea posed a lot of hope and not a lot of answers," he said.

Eisenman won't discuss Libeskind by name, but there is no love lost there. He says the New York competition was set up with too much public input -- from families of the victims, the Port Authority, the trade center leaseholder and from the man in the street.

"You can talk to the public, but I don't think they should say what is good art or music" Eisenman says. He has seen the designs sent to him by "Joe Everyman," and they're as heavy-handed as the artwork after Sept. 11 that depicted a crying Statue of Liberty, a reminder of why you should "never pander to popular taste."

"You're dealing with an important memorial," Eisenman says. "How do you make those decisions so you don't get kitsch banality?"

It's a dig at Libeskind, of course, who has made himself accessible to everyone, and who has said, "The public is always right."

Lebiskind's response is "Architecture is a public art, it's not something done in private for private reasons, it has to reach the public, and part of the art of architecture is also language. it's not just some sort of container, some abstract piece of glass and concrete, it is part of communicative system, and we understand old traditional buildings because they signal to us, things about our culture. The same thing is true for new museums, they have to signal the connection between that past and in the future."

In an interview he was asked " You say that, but it is easy for me to think of architects as people who cater to private indulgences and the fetishes of the rich."

Lebiskind's response "Well I was not one of those architects, I have no aspirations to do that kind of architecture because really architecture is what is common between people, and what a contribution it makes to the viability of a city, and to civic space. After all, the pleasures and the celebratory dreams that we have, have to do with the environment we live in, and we might as well make an inspiring environment, an environment that is more than just a shallow façade of something inauthentic, and deal with the problems that we have."



Interviewer: Now what about this common image we have of the architect as a kind of solo visionary. What's the role of the collaborator, of the client, or of the community as a collaborator in these projects, should they just go away and wait until the architect who knows what he's doing has finished the drawings?

Daniel Libeskind: That's a very old-fashioned and very nostalgic view of the old architect, the master who's sort of sitting contemplating and making some models and imposing things on a society. I think the contemporary architect is an architect who is able to be engaged with a client, with the public. Certainly architecture is a communal art, no one person can build a building, you need teams, you need workers, you need people, you need engagement, and of course the building is not built for its own sake, it's built finally for the life that will take place in it. I often point out to my clients that the building is not finished when the building is finished, it's only beginning its life. For the next 30, 40, 50, 100, 150 years, which is what will be exciting and vital for the people who will use it. So yes, it's a collaborative art, it's an art of teams, but that doesn't mean it's a mediocre art, that doesn't mean that it's diluted to the lowest common denominator, it's to raise the art form of architecture, so that it is communicating to our deepest aspirations.



Friday, December 14, 2007

29. Take a lesson from Thom Mayne




Notes:

  • Architecture is a public act: What is architecture really? It is taking our world view, how we exist, how we deal with each other in a civil society, and it concretizes it, it makes it permanent, It makes it evident. The social act and the aesthetic act comes together
  • Architecture can only finally be about our social space: connections between people, a public space, the connective tissue.
  • The development of a young architect as you mature moves from something that is conceptual to something that is more connected to the realities of our political, cultural, social, economic world. As it (projects) increases in scale specifically your strategies your tactics your methodologies has to become more resilient more compatible with the vast contingencies that all architects have to deal with.
  • Architecture as an art form is different from painting, sculpture, literature, and music in that it is inescapably connected to reality; it requires huge investments and includes an agreement with a client.
  • Film and architecture share quit a bit; the same economic and development forces that push the main stream film industry would be parallel to what takes place in architecture.
  • The films that I am interested in are just about only on the outside of the system in a way. For years I thought I could only work as an outsider, outside the main stream, outside the traditional notions of the larger architectural forces that come outside of large firms.
  • The Transition to Fame: First you are published, ( I did a project for a school in 1972) someone else looks at it and you exist. Someone goes "oh, more of these exists". Slowly people begin to see you as representative of something that exist in Los Angeles. Someone else comes along and say "thats the LA school!". They group 6 of us and that gets published. All of a sudden now you are part of the LA school. 10 years later you done a few more things, and you are known clearly among the academic world and in the architecture world as an innovative office that is providing ideas for the rest of the profession. Then something else happens; a certain building and then things take off.
  • I like architects, I am proud of my profession, I am honored to be in this group of people
  • Produce something that demand inquires, that is not status quo. It doesn't mater if people like it or dislike it. The question is does it stimulate you. The horror is to do something neutral. Thats the failure.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

28. Say you are an architect








ALSO SEE THESE RELATED NOTES FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS:
17. Blow your own horn!
19. Promote your name or loose your fame.


From an AIA recruitment flyer via http://lifewithoutbuildings.net/

Friday, November 30, 2007

27. Brand Your Self

Branding is one of the most important aspects of becoming a famous architect. A good branding strategy gives you a leg up on the Hobsian Battlefield.

What exactly is branding you ask?

It is your promise to your potential clients and others what to expect from you. It is based on how you perceive your self, really who you are, and want to be.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.

The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:

* Delivers your design philosophy clearly
* Confirms your credibility
* Connects your target prospects emotionally
* Motivates potential clients & the public
* Creates a loyal following

The foundation of your brand is your mystique: Your architectural style or philosophy, the types of projects that you go after or attract, your persona, your presentation & publicity style, your clothes, signature, your glasses, your personal idiosyncrasies, everything. It extends to every aspect of you.

Defining your brand is like a journey of self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:

Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one?Are you the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can't be both, and you can't be all things to all people. Some will call you a genius others will hate you. Get used to it! Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target clients want and need you to be.

Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages.

Star Architects are every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. Lets take a look at the grand daddy of them all: Le Corbusier. Here are some of the things that were consistent about him that created the Corbu Brand.


Clothing: The glasses, & the bow tie


Persona: intellectual, artistic, scientific



Logo Identity: signature, modular


Graphic Identity: cubist vocabulary



Philosophy & Architectural identity: machines, concrete, radical



Publicity Style: writing manifestos & books, lectures, power networking


To be a celebrity architect you must be a brand.

Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors -- or your colleagues. What would your colleagues or your clients say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait? NOT LE CORBUSIER'S

Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value?. Ask yourself: What do I do that I am most proud of? What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about? If you're going to be a brand, you've got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, that you're proud of, and most important, that you can shamelessly take credit for.



ALSO SEE THESE RELATED NOTES FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS:
8. Develop a Mystique
9. Fight! Its a Hobbesian war
10. Pay attention to your glasses

Thursday, November 15, 2007

26. Fake It 'Til You Make It !

This is an open appeal to those of you who have gone on job interviews and said that you knew much more about .... lets say AutoCad, than you actually do. After you got the job, you went home with a book and studied the basics. When you went to work, you really learned how to do it on the job.

That's called faking it till you make it for beginners!

What I am saying here is to take this to a whole other level. To become the Famous Architect, you will need to create an illusion and mystique so grand that the whole world looking will believe you. You need to become a kind of a magician-al-a-con-man.

To illustrate my point, take a look at this clip from Catch Me if You Can. This is based on a real life magician-al-a-con-man.





His formula: Study the industry, learn all the lingo, the body language, the attitudes, all the trappings and outward appearances like an actor preparing for a role. Study, study, study and then put on the performance of a lifetime.

In this clip below, look at how he manages to communicate using "industry terms". Just marvelous!




An outsider listening to this conversation can not understand what the hell is going on. That's the point! you are in a club, and like any club or fraternity you have secret code language.

Compare this to famous architect Peter Eisenman. He uses a lot of "industry terms" Listen for catch words like "Radical", & "Disturbance".



These are big "industry terms" there are lots of them, study them and learn them.
If you cant find any more of these words in the dictionary, be creative, make some up or look realy deep into the dictionary for almost defunct words. As long as it sounds interesting and obscure it's fine. Peter Eisenman uses some like "interstitial" and "Canonical", learn those too.

After you have begun to master this game you will find that you are no longer faking it. This is because you have made it! You are left with two choices. You can either tell everyone how easy it is to climb up the ladder like a "monkey" or you tell them that a monkey has no brains and can not climb ladders. If you are a true "Hobsian Warrior" you will tell them that a monkey at a type writer will produce gibberish. Discourage, Discourage, Discourage: More space at the top for you.

In this next clip, notice how Eisenman immediately maintains control and dominance by positioning himself above the rest of the Jury. He looks at his nearest subordinate Professor Wolf Prix, and directs attacking questions to him. Prix was suddenly thrown in the position of defending his teaching methods; like a stuttering kid in front of his school teacher. Brilliant!

A big part of the illusion is creating a sense of authority. You talk down to people, yell if you have to. The Famous Architect lets everyone in the room knows who is in charge when he enters. Students are of the lowest rank and must be spoken to accordingly (if you have to speak to them at all). Notice how Eisenman speaks about the young architecture student, she is referred to as "the Student" and is not spoken to directly. She is spoken about in the third person case, as though she was not in the room and compared to a monkey.







If you keep people intimidated and on their heels, they will be too busy trying not to look stupid in front of you to question you!

This is a classic technique used by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie. Look at how he swindles doctors into submitting to his authority.






The real life Frank Abagnale was only 17 years old when he pulled this off. His actual formula was slightly different though. Instead of intimidation and redicule, he used charisma.


Frank used humor to cover the fact that he lacked the basic knowledge of a pediatrician. If he didn't know something or was asked an uncomfortable question, he would joke about it and skirt around the issue, often leaving the actual details of the work to other resident doctors. His wit and humor worked well for him. It successfully covered his ignorance, but at the same time also earned him a reputation as a jovial, if eccentric, doctor who was much liked by the hospital staff.

He used the same formula to become a lawyer. If he wanted to play the role of an architect, he easily could. So my dear architects, use what ever suits you, there is no shame in faking it.

Just be careful, but not too careful! When you follow this path look for the writings on the wall;"Peter Eisenman wuz Here!"







By Conrad Newel,
Staff writer
NOTES ON BECOMING A FAMOUS ARCHITECT
Liberating Minds Since August 2007

ALSO SEE THESE RELATED NOTES FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS:
8. Develop a Mystique
17. Blow your own horn!
21. Get it Straight! Famous Architects are NOT Gods

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

25.Take a lesson from Paris Hilton


Interview: Alex Bogusky, an ad guy who definitely doesn't shy away from controversy.
He often touts a maxim: "Our basic philosophy is we're going to take a brand and make it famous."

Bogusky is chief creative officer of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a Miami- and Boulder, Colorado-based ad agency that has made a name for itself with its unique, irreverent style. Its portfolio includes TV spots like Volkswagen's "unpimp your ride" campaign as well as more unorthodox Internet campaigns like the Burger King faux tabloid drama about "The King" and his affair with model Brooke Burke. The magazine Creativity once called CP+B "the most polarizing ad agency on the planet." It has drawn big clients like Nike and Domino's but has also been savaged for its digital resurrection of the late popcorn icon Orville Redenbacher and for a commercial that featured a suicidal man who decided not to jump off a building after learning there are three Volkswagens priced under $17,000. The automaker later pulled the ad.

How do you take a brand and make it famous?

You start to think about the brand as a person and do some things to personify it a little bit. You can do things with a brand that are very playful and can exist in pop culture the same way that celebrities do. We wanted the Burger King to actually do things a real king would do. He dated Brooke Burke for a while. We actually had paparazzi photos of the two of them riding horses at the beach and at Lakers games. That stuff got leaked out and wound up in People magazine and InStyle.

Has there been a time when you watched a celebrity drama play out in the tabloids and then translated it into a commercial project?

(unlike some people see here) Paris Hilton is some sort of branding genius. She inspires me because of her constant reinvention and her ability to stay center stage without offering too much. People would be shocked to know how intelligent she is and how calculated everything she does is. Not only shocked--it would ruin her brand. If you believed it was all premeditated it wouldn't work.



Do you know her personally?

No. I've never talked to her about these things. They did an episode of her show in our agency a couple of years ago. I was too terrified to even approach her.

Celebrities gain fame by being controversial or provocative. Is that good for selling a product?

Celebrities are like that--they're polarizing. If you're not polarizing then you probably don't stand for anything and you don't have a very powerful brand.

Those "unpimp your ride" Volkswagen ads you did last year with Helga, the white leather-clad dominatrix frau, generated quite a bit of controversy.













I think it's a healthy sign. It tends to start off negative but end positive. Think about what pop culture is--it's kind of the leading edge of our culture and where we talk about where we're going next. If you're going to have something that really resonates in that conversation, it has to be on that leading edge [where] we haven't decided yet.

How does personifying a brand help the creative process?

It allows you to think about the story of the brand and the narrative of the brand in more of a longterm way. How does the conversation evolve? To me, Madonna is a genius in branding. There was very little difference between Madonna and Cyndi Lauper in that first year they broke on the scene. They both were like city girls with some of their underwear on the outside. Cyndi Lauper musically was great and really talented, but as those reinventions occurred she didn't keep pace with Madonna. Madonna was always able to evolve to keep people interested. Brands need to be that way too. They can't lose the essence of what they represent but they've got to continue to surprise and delight you.

Is failure to entertain the kiss of death?

I tend to not think about it as entertainment. You can't just entertain and slap a logo on it. The work you do has to be about what the brand is about. You have to be interesting and you have to be surprising--that tends to be entertaining.


Where do your best ideas come from?

I wish I knew. We tend not to trust too much in the "aha!" moments. Trust in the process and just keep churning it. It's not very glamorous like it might be in a movie about advertising. It's much more like mining. You've got lots of people doing their work, others culling through that work tying to find the gems. There's a lot of just dirt and a few gems.

In politics, we sometimes elect political candidates based on likeability more than capability. Will consumers choose a lesser product just because they prefer the personality of the brand?

Recently with Volkswagen we changed the name from the Golf back to the Rabbit and saw a really big increase in sales. We did some nice advertising, but I think the name change was probably a bigger deal than the advertising. You can have a relationship with a rabbit--it feels more like your buddy.

Is there a dark side to this focus on pop culture?

I was watching or reading something the other day about how we like faces to represent ideas. I don't remember which Roman emperor it was, but he realized that when the empire got so big he couldn't reach all corners they minted the coins with his face on it. That face became a very powerful symbol because we tend to be somewhat tribal still. With the advent of so much media, so many celebrities, and so many celebrity websites and magazines, those faces wind up meaning a lot. The problem is those aren't necessarily the people who should have all that meaning and responsibility...It gets dangerous, not so much right now, but as you continue to extrapolating it out--what does this become? Fame is what runs things. It is sort of concerning.



ALSO SEE THESE RELATED NOTES FROM PREVIOUS WEEKS:
3. Use popular culture as your subject
7. If you've got "it" use it!
15. You have to work at it

From FastCompany.com October 2007 By: Kermit Pattison , original title: "What Paris Hilton Can Teach You About Branding"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

24. Marry an Architect



WHEN Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio joined a team of architects to design a master plan for a temporary exposition on Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, the couple, husband and wife, soon discovered that they had a major disagreement with the others over a pavilion.

Ms. Diller and Mr. Scofidio wanted to build right on the water; the rest of the group thought it was too risky. In the end the couple splintered off from the team and developed a water-soluble structure — a swirl of fog, mist and water — that seemed to hover above the lake’s surface like a cloud. Their design carried the day.

“Ric’s and my typical alignment produces a power bloc,” Ms. Diller said.

While every married couple’s dynamic might be considered unique, Ms. Diller and Mr. Scofidio are representative of a broad trend of husband-and-wife collaboration that is changing the traditional definition of architecture partnerships.

The list of couples is growing, as architects break off from big firms to go into business with their spouses. Dan Wood and Amale Andraos. J. Meejin Yoon and Eric Höweler. Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge. Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas. Laura Briggs and Jonathan Knowles.

Like partners in any other architecture firm, married couples design together, make business decisions together, meet with developers as a team and travel to building sites in tandem. Interviews with some couples suggest that it can be tricky. There are the perceptions of the outside world to contend with: the idea that men are muscular masters of tectonics, and women, glorified interior decorators. There are the strains of heavy travel and long days while working and living together, and the potential for design arguments to escalate into marital power struggles.

But on the whole, married architects suggested, the married relationship is a plus for the architecture, allowing for an unsparing candor that takes the work to a higher level.


“We rely on critiquing each other to death, a kind of Ping-Pong,” said Ms. Andraos, who founded Work Architecture with Mr. Wood in 2002. “When we agree, we know that it’s good. “

She cited a space they designed for an exhibition last summer on Pier 40 on the Hudson about public spaces for recreation. Ms. Andraos thought of creating a sloping platform divided into five separate spaces: the Cultured City, the Fun City, the Healthy City, the Connected City and the 24-Hour City. Mr. Wood came up with what they called “the wiggle”: an undulating wall under the platform to define the spaces.

For budget reasons, the entire platform was deleted, leaving the wiggle exposed. She proposed making the wiggle out of fabric and hanging it; he suggested cuts in the fabric to create entrances and views; and then she suggested striping the fabric, with alternating panels for video and text. “This is really how we work,” Ms. Andraos said. “It is a back and forth where ideas don’t exclude each other in an either-or, with a winning scheme and a losing one, but rather where ideas build on each other to the point where one of them surfaces as the big one — almost taking the lead — allowing for the others to be nested within it.”

Yet Ms. Andraos, who at 34 is six years younger than her husband, admits that it took time to develop the confidence to assert herself as his professional peer. They met in 1998, when Mr. Wood was working for the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas at his Rotterdam headquarters; Ms. Andraos took a job there a year later. “I was more self-conscious at the beginning and more insecure,” she said. Today the two are so inextricably linked in their thinking that associates at their firm refer to them as “Danamale.”



Although Billie Tsien is now a major name, she has dealt with some traditional skepticism. She met her husband, Tod Williams, in 1977, when, fresh out of architecture school, she applied for a job at his firm. He was 11 years older, just coming off a divorce and playing the field. They started dating six months after she joined the firm. Both worried that as a result she would never be taken seriously.

“Of course that was a huge obstacle,” Mr. Williams remarked.

“And I don’t know that it’s totally overcome,” Ms. Tsien said.

And there are the stereotypes about men’s work and women’s work. “There are things people have preconceptions about that we permit to be reinforced or that we fight,” Mr. Williams said. “A perfect example is interiors. Personally I think I’m as good at fabrics as she is.”

Ms. Tsien is drawn to the more elegant silks and wool fabrics; Mr. Williams said he likes “the long hairy rugs that might at first glance seem to be a matted animal.” When they travel in India, Ms. Tsien homes in on the saris while Mr. Williams prefers old multicolored remnants.

“Sometimes a client may be more comfortable with Billie or me,” he added. “But absolutely know: If you want it built, it has to be both of us.”


Ms. Yoon and Mr. Höweler adopted the strategy of jointly running two firms to allow Ms. Yoon to carve out a separate identity. While they share credit as Höweler & Yoon Architecture, she takes on separate commissions through the aptly titled MY Studio — creating, for example, “White Noise White Light,” an interactive installation for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in which she inserted a luminous grid of flexible fiber-optic stalks into a public plaza at the base of the Acropolis.

“It is harder for a woman to get equal credit for her work in a husband-and-wife team,” Mr. Höweler said. “Oftentimes people just assume — particularly in academia — that the male partner runs the office while the female partner teaches.”


For the architect Denise Scott Brown, who wrote a stinging critique of sexism in the profession three decades ago, the recent advances of female architects are notable if negligible. She cited the rise of Zaha Hadid, who has reaped major commissions around the globe over the last 10 years, as an example of progress. Ms. Hadid is the only woman so far to take the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honor (in 2004).

“They went for 23 years before finding a woman who fit their criteria for great architecture,” Ms. Brown said. “I think their criteria include being a man.”

Although she has collaborated with her husband, Robert Venturi, since 1960 on projects like the Seattle Art Museum, Philadelphia Orchestra Hall and the influential book “Learning From Las Vegas” (1972), Ms. Brown had to stand by as he was singly awarded the Pritzker in 1991.

Mr. Venturi “made a full-blown attempt to say this is not fair,” she said. But he did not turn the prize down.

“When you are the wife as well as the partner, people typecast you,” Ms. Brown said. “You are the handmaiden. Your husband is the design genius, and you’re allowed to be the preservationist or the planner — something less — and the notion that creativity can reside in two minds is impossible.”

To some women, going into business with a husband may seem like a regressive way to win parity in a field that remains largely dismissive of their sex. But Ms. Diller takes a philosophical view: “There were so few of us and it somehow fortified us, established a more acceptable context for us to practice. If I had been on my own, it probably would have been tougher.”

That is not to say it was easy for Ms. Diller to begin her career by collaborating with her husband. In 1975 she studied under Mr. Scofidio; he was about 40, she was 21. They started dating about a year later, moved in together in 1979 and became professional partners in 1981.

She worried at first about carving out her own turf and proving herself on her own terms, so she made a point of asserting herself. “I was very tied to authorship,” she said. “I wanted my thing to be my thing. It’s the same issue that made me uncomfortable about sharing a bed and sharing a bank account.”

Although she soon grew self-assured, the outside world was less quickly convinced. When the couple traveled to Japan on a project, for example, clients routinely addressed and deferred to Mr. Scofidio.

“I would start to pull back,” he said, “in order to make it clear she was also important.”

Today Ms. Diller tends to be the one who speaks publicly on their many prominent projects, including the redevelopment of Lincoln Center, the High Line project on the West Side of Manhattan and the new Institute of Contemporary Art on Boston’s waterfront.

“Liz is the intellectual engine and mouthpiece for the partnership,” said Mr. Höweler, who used to work for the couple. “Ric takes a more quiet, background role but also provides the stability and more of the technical detailing and fabricating know-how.”

What people often don’t grasp, couples say, is that there is no rigid division of labor in these partnerships. Each may tackle different elements of a project, but the crucial conceptual work results from a constant exchange. The project keeps evolving until it is hard to tell where one picked up and the other left off.


Ms. Hoang and Mr. Bunge, partners innArchitects, keep two blackboards in the dining area of their Flatiron district apartment so they can jump up from the dinner table to draw. At the young firm Obra, Pablo Castro describes his alliance with Jennifer Lee as “a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week architectural commando unit.”




They often discuss design strategy deep into the night “until one of us passes out in the middle of a sentence,” he said. “The next morning, as soon as she opens an eye, Jennifer can pick up and complete the thought without missing a beat while I struggle trying to remember what it was we were talking about.”

This approach served them well in competing in the P.S. 1/MoMA Young Architects Program, where their courtyard canopy of curved plywood shells and polypropylene mesh won a design competition last year.

Their differing backgrounds — for Mr. Castro, Argentine; for Ms. Lee, Korean — play subtly into the dynamic. When the two designed a friend’s house on Long Island, he said, she approached the project as “a collision of cultural propensities: Asian respect for tradition and veneration of one’s elders — hers and our friends — clashing with Latin American mistrust of authority and propensity toward disorder — me.”

The wry result was a crescent-shaped house that curves in on itself, “defining a center that is nonetheless empty,” he said.

Compromise — or at the very least sensitivity to the other’s design sensibility— can be vital in the smallest of projects. While Ms. Tsien and Mr. Williams have worked together successfully for more than 20 years on major projects like the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan and an expansion of the Phoenix Art Museum, it was a 40-foot-square bathroom in their own apartment that nearly caused a conflagration.

Mr. Williams always designs spaces with two ways out; he focuses on movement and doesn’t like feeling trapped. Ms. Tsien thinks of space itself as art and looks for places of refuge. They enclosed the tub on two sides to accommodate her and left it open to the living room on another side to satisfy him. At his initiative the shower stall has two access points, and Ms. Tsien embedded a square of Irish moss marble in the wall that she calls her own “private garden.”

A marriage frees up architects for this sort of productive conflict, couples say, given that they can dispense with the niceties and say what they really think. At the same time, Ms. Diller said, “if design partners had significant irreconcilable differences, it would lead to a professional split.”

Over the last two years Mr. Scofidio and Ms. Diller’s coupled template has been tested by the arrival of a new partner, Charles Renfro. Diller & Scofidio has become Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, appending a third voice with equal clout to their tight husband-and-wife alliance. “It’s kind of a couple and a gay guy,” Ms. Diller said.

“What used to be a symmetry based on a personal relationship is now an asymmetry,” she mused. “It created a destabilizing condition that is actually good for the work.”

From The New York Times on April 22, 2007 By ROBIN POGREBIN, original title: "Couples Who Build More Than Relationships"

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

23. Make your own big Break

Search all you want, there is no magic formula for fame and fortune.

The truth is, big breaks don't just happen; people make them happen--through hard work, networking, courage, passion and even pain. And as much as modern culture has glorified the notion of the "big break" ( American Idol, anyone?), lasting success has less to do with singular, transcendent moments than it does with incremental progress and unflagging grit.

"We romanticize the idea of a big break, but they aren't always this wonderful, positive thing," says David Dotlich, senior partner at Portland, Ore.-based Delta Executive Learning Center. "Sometimes it's [about] a big loss."


click on image for lager view

rather than wait for his big break, real estate mogul Larry Silverstein built his empire brick by brick. He began his career in the 1950s by converting a Manhattan industrial shack into an office building. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing in the beginning," he says. Indeed, it took myriad deals over five decades to get where Silverstein, 76, is today. "You have to stick with it," he says. He'll need every bit of that conviction to pull off his finale--rebuilding the World Trade Center site, into which he sunk $800 million the summer before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

click on images below for lager view







No matter what, when lady luck comes knocking, you'd better be ready to pounce. Just ask rising actor Michael C. Hall. It took three years after graduating from New York University's Tisch School, but Hall got his break when he met director Sam Mendes at a musical workshop. At the time, Mendes was directing Cabaret on Broadway . When the actor playing the "emcee" stepped down, Mendes called Hall to try out for the role.

By that evening, Hall was practicing with the choreographer, and within days he was on Broadway. Hall has since landed cherry gigs on Dexter, airing on Showtime, and HBO's Six Feet Under. "With that job [in Cabaret], I felt like I crossed some sort of threshold," he says. "Everything that happened beyond that was in this realm I never considered."

Clearly, some industries are tougher to crack in a big way than others. In the entertainment industry, getting any job--no matter how small--is considered a break. "There are myths in our business about the actor who is discovered at the lunch counter," says Michael Taylor, chair of the vaunted film and television division at the University of Southern California. "What's more likely is a combination of luck, timing and who you know."

click on images below for lager view





Barbara Corcoran knows about spinning loss into opportunity.

The founder of The Corcoran Group, New York City's largest residential real estate agency, owes her rise to a painful event: breaking up with her boyfriend . Back in 1973, he lent her $1,000 to start a real estate agency , and took a 51% stake. Seven years later, he ran off with the company's secretary , ultimately giving her full control of the company.

"Thank God, or I never would have been in business on my own and learn I could stand on my own two feet,"

got the idea by now ?


Talent and tenacity notwithstanding, having the right friends helps, too--as pop star Mariah Carey can attest. While working as a backup singer for Puerto Rican performer Brenda Starr in 1988, Carey met Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola at a party. As a favor, Starr gave Carey's demo tape to Mattola. After a listen, he bolted back to the party to track Carey down and sign her on. Good move for everyone: Carey's first five singles hit the Billboard Hot 100.



Big breaks can also sneak up on you, even as the rest of the world seems to crumble. "A lot of times, people get their big break and they don't know they're having it," says Dotlich.

Take legendary talk show host David Letterman. The late-night funnyman broke into the business with a flop. After a string of guest appearances on second-tier sitcoms and game shows, Letterman landed a hosting gig for a comedy pilot called The Riddlers. The series was a bust, but Letterman got noticed by the higher-ups at The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He soon became a regular guest, and the rest, as they say, is history.

No, life isn't fair. But with a little effort, you can boost your odds.


From www.forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/2007/10/15/letterman-mariah-carey-ent-sales-cx_mf_1015bigbreak.html
by Maureen Farrell and Lisa LaMotta, original title: "How They Got Their Big Break"


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Friday, October 26, 2007

22. Put out your work for recognition & awards

It’s always difficult to be a young architect. But Françoise N’Thépé and Aldric Beckmann, founders of Paris-based firm Beckmann-N’Thépé, say the challenges are especially acute in France, due to a strongly established hierarchy and a conservative outlook on experimentation, especially toward those without much experience. “People don’t want their money to be spent by ‘amateurs,’ ” says N’Thépé. The situation is even more difficult for her, since she is a woman and a minority (she was born in Cameroon). “Yes, I sometimes feel myself as an exception,” she says.

N’Thépé studied at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris (she originally wanted to be an interior designer, but amazingly she signed up at the wrong school!), where she studied with French architects Odile Decq, Paul Virilio, and Frédéric Borel. She worked for French/German firm LIN. Beckmann, born in Paris, studied at the Ecole d’Architecture Paris la Seine, and worked for architects François Seigneur, Will Alsop, and Jean Nouvel. The two met at Seigneur’s office, where N’Thépé was freelancing.

Their first big break came when they won the Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes Award, a major prize organized by the French Ministry of Culture, in 2001. The requests and contacts that came after this allowed them to formally start their new firm the following year.



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From Architectural Record original title "Exceptional in Paris" By Sam Lubell; http://archrecord.construction.com/archrecord2/design/0709/BeckmannNThepe.asp

Friday, October 19, 2007

21. Get it Straight! Famous Architects are NOT Gods

One of the most dangerous things we are encouraged to do is idolize the famous.



Yes, we need to have role models; however, we must never idolize them and even more importantly, we should minimize the number of role models we have that are famous. Why so? Because we can be fooled into thinking that we cannot live up to their reach, cannot be rich and famous, cannot be great like they are or seem to be. Each and every one of us can be great! No exceptions! All we have to do is believe in ourselves and act upon our best intentions.

Rosa Parks, now famous for her determined civil rights activism, was once just another concerned citizen and took many "baby steps" before she was able to move into the role of a leader. Each of us owes others and ourselves the commitment and action required to grow and develop into the greatness within us. And, as Nelson Mandela so eloquently noted, that greatness is not just in some of us, it is in all of us!

When it comes to famous movie actors, we find some very interesting examples and role models. One of the finest young actors today is Edward Norton who was born August 18, 1969. He received the Oscar nomination for his brilliant portrayal of an altar boy accused of Murder in "Primal Fear" and went on to deliver fantastically in as a neo-Nazi in "American History X". Norton was raised in Maryland and is the grandson of famed architect James Rouse. But the thing that is most important about Norton is that he is a graduate of Yale. He didn't just drop out and go to Hollywood and become famous. He worked hard and long at developing his craft. You will find that many of our best actors are highly intelligent college graduates.

Yes, some actors are connected. Gwyneth Paltrow's mom is stage and film actress Blythe Danner and her dad is producer Bruce Paltrow and one of the close family friends is Steven Spielberg---none of which hurts. However, she has developed her skills through dedication and hard work and that is why she won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in "Shakespeare in Love". Besides the connections and hard work, why is she so successful? She says that: "I just do things I think will be interesting and that have integrity." I firmly believe that the road to greatness for each of us lies along that path. Engage yourself in what is interesting and has integrity and it will be hard for you to go wrong.

As President Theodore Roosevelt one said: "Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

To be able to work hard at work worth doing, to do that hard work in an area that interests you, to do work that has integrity….ahhhh…..so wonderful. But don't assume it will be easy, or that it will come to you quickly. Be ready to stay the course, to live with questions unanswered, to have faith.

As R.M.Rilke said: "You are so young, so before all beginning, I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

From Dr. Chuck Frost's web page http://www.mtsu.edu/~socwork/frost/crazy/famous.htm. Essay originally titled Being and Becoming Famous.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

20. Unite and Conquer

AT the end of February, when Studio Daniel Libeskind was named winner of the design study on the future of the World Trade Center site, it was only the latest sign of the degree to which celebrity has come to dominate high-profile architectural practice. Mr. Libeskind prepared his scheme with the help of a 27-member architectural staff, not to mention engineers, photographers, landscape designers and a ''slurry wall consultant.'' To judge from the way he and the press have treated his design, though, he might as well have created it by himself, working in the sort of cloistered isolation we associate with painters and novelists.

But famous architects and their publicists may not want to celebrate yet. It turns out that while the solo-star model won the ground zero battle, it may be losing the war. The list of finalists named in December also included several teams who joined forces for the occasion, including Think, led by the New York architects Rafael Viñoly and Frederic Schwartz, which survived along with Mr. Libeskind to the final round.

That model attracted criticism during the Modernist movement and again in the 1960's as a counterculture ethos seeped into architecture. The critique continued among a small group of architects who came of age in the 1970's -- including the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who made collaboration with other architects a rhetorical priority early in his career -- and among husband-and-wife partnerships, like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown or Ricardo Scofidio and Elizabeth Diller.

An earlier generation of collaborative firms, like the famous London-based Archigram, whose collapse began perhaps not coincidentally as it began to land actual commissions in the late 1960's, were essentially, and sometimes vehemently, anticommercial. The new collaboratives are filled with ''hard-core entrepreneurs,'' said Christopher Hoxie, 34, who works at KD Lab, a New York firm whose Web site says its members are ''intent on exploring the blurred boundaries between architecture, graphics and film.''

''When we formed in 1999 there weren't many firms like ours,'' said David Erdman, 32, a partner in a firm called Servo, whose four founders met while studying architecture at Columbia. ''Now they seem to be all over the place.'' In fact, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Triennial that opened this week in New York features the work of a Detroit collective called Co-lab as well as the New York firm Collaborative.

Some of the young firms, like the New York-based SHoP/Sharples Holden Pasquarelli, have stuck to pledges to avoid using unpaid interns, remembering their own anonymous toil at firms with famous principals. And in a nod to Mr. Koolhaas, who calls his Rotterdam firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture, there is now an alphabet soup of young firms with intentionally anonymous or bureaucratic-sounding names, from Architecture Research Office to Foreign Office Architects.

Mr. Koolhaas, in fact, stands as a one-man symbol of a profession torn between lone and collective models of practice. He often speaks of himself as an avatar of a shift toward cooperation. ''If I pride myself on one thing, it is a talent to collaborate,'' Mr. Koolhas told The New York Times in 2001.

On the other hand, Mr. Koolhaas remains without a doubt one of architecture's brightest individual stars, with name recognition exceeded perhaps only by Frank Gehry and a handful of others. And his recent efforts at collaboration haven't been particularly successful; plans for a hotel on Astor Place in Manhattan, conceived with the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron for the design maven and hotelier Ian Schrager, fizzled out last year. Mr. Kennon said: ''Rem talks a lot about collaboration, but at the end of the day he isn't that interested in actually doing it himself.''

He is not the only one. The process of collaborative architecture raises potential problems among clients and architects alike. Some clients demand a signature design that reflects an individual inspiration, or simply prefer working with a single contact. Others worry that too many cooks will spoil -- or water down -- the proverbial broth.

''Some clients think that's what genius is -- the lone visionary,'' said Richard Fernau, who runs a firm with Laura Hartman in Berkeley, Calif. ''But compromise is fundamental to the profession.''

Others, though, doubt whether a fully collective design process can ever produce a great building. Mr. Riley of the Museum of Modern Art said: ''Ego is very important in architecture. Imagine a movie without a strong director, with all that goes into it. If the sound person, the lighting person, the cinematographer, if they all had an equal voice, imagine how awful it would be.''

The new collectives have taken a variety of forms. While some designers favor an incubator model, with several firms, under one roof, collaborating on an occasional basis, others have set up networks of one- or two-person offices in several different cities. E-mail, mobile phones and Internet-based design tools make the dispersal possible. Servo, for example, has micro-offices in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm and Zurich. ''Instead of single authorship and branded identity, we're trying to develop multiple authorship and flexible identity,'' said Servo's Mr. Erdman.

The experiments in collaboration at ground zero reflected a recent movement in the field away from solo practice and in the direction of collective endeavor. Among architects in their 20's and 30's ''there has been a nearly permanent shift toward various kinds of collaborative practice,'' said Terence Riley, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art and a member of the panel that considered more than 400 ground zero entries.

These days, young architects are forming collaborative firms right out of architecture school; many don't even consider jobs with traditional firms, where they worry they will have to spend years designing bathrooms and closets.

''Part of the collaborative spirit among younger architects is that they're seeing what's required to compete in a profession dominated by fame and by track record,'' said David Rockwell, who worked with the Think team. In an effort to gain notice, he said, young architects -- emboldened because they can first support themselves with computer-based design work -- are banding together.

Mr. Riley added that the ground zero teams, rather than setting the stage for a new model of practice, instead offered evidence that an existing trend among younger designers was ''trickling up'' to the field's more established figures.

One of those ad hoc teams, a collection of six midsize, computer-savvy firms called United Architects, has decided to keep its group intact. Greg Lynn, one of the team's founders, said that the United members will maintain their individual firms but work together on selected projects and keep open a group office, staffed by two full-time employees. United has already been shortlisted in a competition for a commercial complex in Frankfurt.

''The real discovery of this whole World Trade Center process, even more than our scheme, has been United Architects itself,'' said Kevin Kennon, a member who runs his own practice in New York.

A tension between individual vision and teamwork has long been palpable in architecture. And for every Frank Lloyd Wright or Norman Foster, there have always been countless firms run as equal partnerships. But ''for a certain generation -- Richard Meier's generation, say -- their idea of architectural practice was centered around the idea of the sole practitioner,'' Mr. Riley said. ''A number of them had partners, but there was always a clear distinction made that one was the designer and the other partners worked on other issues'' -- that they were partners in a business sense but not a creative one. ''The inference was that the way architecture is best made is when an individual is confronted with an architectural problem and comes up with an individual solution.''

Indeed, most of the best-known architects in this country and in Europe have spent the bulk of their careers alone at the top of a firm's pyramid. They have carefully cultivated themselves as one-man (and occasionally one-woman) brands. Mr. Viñoly, no slouch in the brand-name department himself, described the ruling approach as having developed out of ''this 19th-century notion that a building comes from one man's head.''


ivi Sotamaa, 31, a partner in Ocean North, which has small offices in Helsinki, London and Oslo, said, ''We founded our firm as a sort of test, to see whether you could use new technologies to practice architecture in a new way.'' The firm is at work on projects ranging from ceramics and furniture design to urban planning; its partners, who include Mr. Sotamaa's sister Tuuli, 28, earn revenue from teaching, grants and consulting as well as architectural commissions.

Mr. Sotamaa said Ocean North's partners were eager to avoid a ''traditional architectural process, where one person has a vision and sketches it out and then everybody else works toward that vision under his guidance. I wouldn't call our setup anti-hierarchical, exactly. But the hierarchies shift from project to project.''

Young as he is, Mr. Sotamaa is already a veteran of the new approach, having helped found an earlier, slightly larger version of the collective in 1995, when was 23. That may explain the somewhat jaded way he talks about the firm's history. ''At first we had a totally idealistic sense of collaboration,'' he said. ''But we've learned the hard way what you can and can't do with new technology. We make extensive use of the Web and all its design possibilities, and we keep the design process open and flexible in the early stages.'' Usually, he said, a single partner will take charge of a design as it nears completion. Mr. Erdman said Servo worked much the same way.

Mr. Sotamaa, for his part, doesn't shed that world-weary tone when it comes to discussing the World Trade Center collaborations, especially those, like the Dream Team composed of Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, Peter Eisenman and Steven Holl, that were made up of architects who had rarely worked with other strong-willed peers. It is a tone that seems to reverse the natural order of things -- the tone of a fresh-faced veteran giving advice to a rookie in his 70's. ''I was skeptical at first that architects of that stature and that generation could collaborate,'' he said. ''If you haven't worked that way before, it can be difficult. It's taken us a lot of time, a lot of trial and error.''

Still, he said, with only a trace of condescension, ''the bottom line is that I thought it was fantastic that they were willing to give it a try.''


From The New York Times; originally title Goodbye 'Fountainhead,' Hello Kibbutz By CHRISTOPHER HAWTHORNE April 27, 2003

Saturday, October 6, 2007

19. Promote your name or lose your fame.




If you believe, as many people do, that the Sydney Opera House is the most famous piece of architecture to be produced in the 20th century, then it follows that the man who designed it, or most of it, Jørn Utzon is one of the most famous architects of that century, nothing less than a genius.

Yet Richard Weston, author of a new book on Utzon, points out that the architect has a relatively low public profile and many architectural historians have neglected his work.


This is perhaps because Utzon, unlike most major architects, has no set predictable style, no school of followers. Nor has he aggressively pushed his views into the public realm as other famous architects have. Not for him the celebrated marathon public lectures of Buckminster Fuller, or the short pithy catchphrases of Frank Lloyd Wright. And indeed for much of his life he has resisted being written about.

The first book to be produced with Utzon’s full co-operation has been written by Professor Weston from Cardiff University’s School of Architecture. And it’s size and considerable weight is the first indication that it’s credentials surveying Utzon’s life and most important work.



Utzon
Author: Richard Weston
Publisher: Edition Blondal 2002
Distributed in Australia by David Messent Photography
Available from Sydney Opera House and the architecture section of good book stores.




From http://www.abc.net.au/rn/czone/stories/s709532.htm. "the comfort zone" with Alan Saunders

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

18. Make it Different

There is one thing that the work of celebrated architects has in common. I am not referring to the fact that their buildings are necessarily more beautiful than those of their less-acclaimed colleagues (in any case, that is not always true), nor that serious architects generally imbue their designs with loftier aspirations than everyday builders. What I am thinking of is something more obvious: that most buildings designed by acclaimed architects, whatever else they are, are different.



What I mean is not merely that they are different one from another, but that they stand apart -- they embody an air of detachment from the world around them. This isolation can be the result of the form of the building. There is nothing else in New York, or indeed in any other city, like the dumpy spiral of the Guggenheim Museum. Sometimes the difference is the result of structural leger demain, like the odd, reverse-stepping facade of the Whitney Museum; or Edward Larrabee Barnes's I.B.M. Building, on Madison Avenue, which looks ordinary enough, until one notices the gravity-defying corner, floating unsupported over the sidewalk. Frequently, famous architects just have the opportunity to do things on a bigger scale than anybody else. Arthur Erickson's Law Courts in Vancouver, B.C., are located under a glass roof, which could be described as a sort of greenhouse, but a greenhouse 350 feet long.


Some buildings startle us with unorthodox materials, such as chain-link fencing, lead-coated copper, or raw plywood, all of which have appeared in Frank Gehry's designs. James Stirling is particularly skillful at the shock effect. No one who has ever seen his Staatsgalerie,

in Stuttgart, Germany, will forget the hot-pink balustrades, as thick as wurst, or the acid-green floor of the entrance hall; the crazy-quilt work of the front of the recently completed Clore Gallery, in London, is equally memorable. Antoine Predock's designs have often used color to effect; the exterior of the United Blood Services building, a blood-donor clinic in Albuquerque, N.M., is startlingly, but appropriately, red, and a pueblolike apartment complex, also in Albuquerque, achieves its major impact from its unusual polychromy.

A striking difference between most works of architecture, and, say, your local K Mart, is that the architecture usually costs a lot more. There is nothing like expensive materials, exacting workmanship, custom-made fittings and elegant appointments to create an atmosphere of exclusiveness. It is the architectural equivalent of the "thunk" you hear when you close the door of a luxury sedan. What sets a luxury car apart from the econobox is also the way it is put together, what automobile devotees call good fit. In buildings, too, there is good fit.

It was Mies van der Rohe who is reputed to have said, "God is in the details." The origin of this statement, like that of his other well-known aphorism -- "Less is more" -- is obscure; no one is sure exactly when he said it. It would be interesting to know the context. Was the famous architect answering a question, and, if so, what was it? For example, had someone asked him about his design for the Illinois Institute of Technology chapel -- the one that resembles a boiler house: "Professor van der Rohe, where is God in this building?" Or had the question to do with his consuming, almost obsessive concern for precision and exactitude in building construction?

Probably the latter, for what characterized all his buildings was the careful and studied way in which they were built. There were no accidents; every corner, every meeting of materials, every point, inside and out, was specially designed to be a part of an esthetic whole. No detail was too small to be pondered. When the British property developer John Palumbo engaged Mies to design an office building on London's Mansion House Square (it was to be his last commission), the first communication he received from the architect, who lived in Chicago, was not a preliminary sketch but a parcel containing brass door handles and travertine ashtrays. "Is this what you had in mind?" queried the accompanying note.

The architectural consequences of such fastidiousness are impressive, but they can also be disconcerting. Whenever I go into a Mies van der Rohe building I am slightly intimidated. I feel like an interloper in another world, one that is flawless, unequivocal and absolute. A perfect world for perfect people.

Mies's influence has waned since his death in 1969, but in one sense, at least, all contemporary architects are Miesians, for all share his overriding preoccupation with perfection. Whether they are modernists, post-modernists, or deconstructivists, their buildings exhibit the same desire to bring every facet of the building under their esthetic control, and the same tendency to reject conventional ways of doing things for specially designed ones that carry their personal stamp.

Mies van der Rohe designed his window frames the same way he designed his structures, using standard steel profiles, welded together, which made the windows appear to be an integral part of the building. Le Corbusier, seeking a different effect, often set the window glass directly into a groove in the concrete wall, thus doing away with the window frame altogether, and producing the unexpectedly rustic impression of an opening cut directly into the wall.

The work of Louis Kahn derived much of its impact from a careful articulation of the joints -- the location of every brick was predetermined -- which sometimes makes his buildings look as if they were the work of a cabinetmaker rather than an architect. An interior by Richard Meier achieves its minimalist impression because the designer has ingeniously done away with most of the moldings and joints that occur in ordinary rooms, which enables all the surfaces -- walls, ceilings, soffits -- to blend seamlessly into a sculptural whole. The simplicity is deceptive; in fact, such subterfuge is both difficult and expensive.

It seems to me that this emphasis on the minutiae of construction is something modern. In the past, architects relied on craftsmen and builders to carry out their work, and did not concern themselves with inventing new construction details. Of course, buildings had details, but at any particular time these did not vary a great deal since they followed strict conventions. Ornament, not construction, was the way architects dealt with the joints and junctions.

When the modernists banished ornament from architecture, they were obliged to replace it with something, and construction details became a new type of decoration. In time, this technical adornment became more imaginative, more personal, but also more precious, and fussier. Beauty had been re interpreted as mechanical perfection.

There is some indication that this situation may now be slowly changing. With a renewed interest on the part of some architects in figurative ornament, there is no longer a need to adorn the building with unusual and peculiar details. The recent work of Michael Graves, or Robert A. M. Stern, for example, achieves its chief architectural impact through decoration and the ornamental treatment of surfaces rather than from finicky joints. The forms and colors may be unusual, but the technical bits and pieces, more often than not, are ordinary. The result is that their buildings, while losing nothing in originality, are also more familiar. They may not be perfect, but then neither are we.

From The New York Times; "It Seems That God Isn't in the Details, After All" By Witold Rybczynski