Friday, March 28, 2008

44. Warning: Architecture is Politics, so be Good

Being an architect is not very different from being a politician if you think about it.

Both are always responsible to a constituency if only on a moral level. In the politician's case its the general public in the area that they represent. In the architects case its the public who use the building and will interact with it even if they just walk by it.

Both are dependent on and oftentimes instruments of the rich & powerful. For architects we are dependent wholy on our clients for our income. While politicians get paid for their services as elected officials they usually dont get elected without the contributions of wealthy donors.

We are both criticized for being sellouts, whores, puppets of the rich, and so on when we fail to protect the public against the profit motivated interests of the rich developers. Its a tough place to be, having to choose between your career and the interest of the common good. For some it is an easier choice than for others. For architects like David Childs, its do what the clients want, its my career fuck everybody else. With others like Lebbeus Woods, its the other extream. You build nothing except on paper, but at least you have your morals. For most in between its a delicate balancing act.

The parallel goes even further if you consider the architect famous. Also, like politicians Famous Architects are constantly under scrutiny and held to much higher standards than the rest of us. For politicians, a laps in judgement like having an extra marital affairs, or use illegal drugs that are so common place among the public are grounds for ending a career. For Famous Architects, one leaky roof can become a blight as legendary as the legends themself. Never mind all their other meritable acomplishments. The less famous in our profession are guilty of much worse but because we are not in the spotlight we can easily let it go. We only have to answer to our own guilt and self standards.

Before you start promoting yourself, you had better make sure that you are more than talented. You had better be able to take a few punches, harsh and unfair criticism, and intense scrutiny. You had better be able to come back from a fall. The fame game is NOT for the faint hearted. You had better make sure that you are more than interesting, You had better be good.

By Conrad Newel,

Liberaing Minds Since August 2007

Friday, March 21, 2008

43. Make the Most of Your Business Card

Everyone knows Networking Rule Numero Uno – Don't go out without your business card – although I'm constantly amazed by how many people don't bring their cards to professional events. (Some kind of self-sabotage, I think.) Your card plays a major role in your prospect's first impression of you, and you don't often get more than one chance.

David Salanitro, owner of San Francisco-based, Oh Boy, A Design Company, has an interesting take on business cards. He believes they're essential, yet disposable, and he spreads his around like paper samples. "They're not keepers. They're scraps of paper that you throw at people. Their purpose is to create a first impression, over and over, to be there at the right moment, not to be kept as an heirloom." Here are a few tips from Salanitro for making the most of your business cards:

1. Hand them to people when you meet them for the first time. They'll remember your name better if they see it. Develop this as a reflex and don't be shy if they don't automatically reciprocate. Go ahead and ask for their card. It will help you remember their name, an invaluable marketing skill in itself.

2. Give them to people every time you meet them, not just the first time. This will avoid any embarrassment in case they forget your name. It doesn't matter if they don't keep the card; it will have already served its purpose.

3. Include one in everything you send out — intro letters, invoices, FYI's, article tear sheets.

4. Carry them everywhere you go. Put a few in your wallet, especially for those unexpected marketing moments when you meet someone with their guard down, standing in line at the bank or post office.

If networking is the most effective marketing activity – and it is – then your business card is your networking ticket. (In fact, Salanitro's card looks like a theatre ticket.) So whether you're walking the dog or taking out the trash, but especially when you are in work mode, always carry your cards with you. You just never know who you're going to meet and what they're going to need.

By Ilise Benun
from The Art of Self Promotion #23

Saturday, March 15, 2008

42. What is architecture?

This week I went through a selection of interviews by some famous and slightly famous architects. As I read, I looked at how they defined architecture during the course of these interviews. Below are some excerpts from those interviews where they answer the question "What is architecture?" . Though they are all taken out of context, it gives a candid insight into how they think about architecture and what they believe it to be.


I think architecture is about ideas in the first place. You don’t get to design until you have an idea. That idea has to be somewhat comprehensive. There’s always a client asking for a building. If you’re an architect, you’ll design the building. But if you’re a dutiful architect, you first have to question why the building is required. The architect has to take responsibility to participate in the rationale of the building and not just to design. The architect can either say we don’t need this building and walk away, or maybe we need a different kind of building. That’s why I don’t have a lot of clients.
Architecture requires the critical questioning of many things—it’s not just a thoughtful carrying out of a client’s wishes.

architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, by definition. But, as a multi-disciplinary field, our ideas have to be comprehensive; I think architects – at least those inclined to understand the multi-disciplinarity and the comprehensive nature of their field – have to visualize something that embraces all these political, economic, and social changes. As well as the technological. As well as the spatial.

I wrote some years back, architecture is a political act, by nature. It has to do with the relationships between people and how they decide to change their conditions of living. And architecture is a prime instrument of making that change – because it has to do with building the environment they live in, and the relationships that exist in that environment.


Architecture is handcraft. Architecture is art. Most of all architecture is framing human life. With architecture comes a great responsibility of trying to understand the human nature.

I’m convinced that architecture has to be functional, durable and beautiful. Furthermore it’s very important to me that my architecture reveals a clear and understandable concept – tells a simple story. I don’t believe that “less is more”, but I enjoy when simple and beautiful geometrical shapes solve all challenges in a project. Architecture doesn’t have to be difficult and I don’t think that innovative architecture has to look like something exploded.


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 concertizes it, it makes it permanent, It makes it evident. The social act and the aesthetic act comes together.

Architecture is a public act: It can only finally be about our social space: connections between people, a public space, the connective tissue.


Architecture is a sensuous art, because it is perceived with the senses.
If you like a house or an inner space, perhaps a living room or a church, it is something you feel, not something you think. Of course, the mind comes into play too, as it is through experience that we understand how buildings work, and so there is a certain empiricism at work. But the most important thing is emotional understanding. This cannot always be rationalized or summoned at will. It is often just there.

Architecture is partly based on the sense of touch. Materials used in architecture are the equivalent of notes for the composer. I work with all materials, and like them all. The interest lies in finding ever-new ways to put the notes together – to achieve a specific final sound.


I consider architecture a discipline, not a profession. Considering the classic periods of architecture, architecture was more or less confined to the sacred and political power. Architecture represented a spiritual device and now it is considered that it should merely ornament our lives.

For me architecture’s role is to elevate the profane with the sacred. If you succeed in making architecture, the sacred has to prevail. That means that in the most profane or the most pragmatic program, the program always has to succumb to this period of the sacred whether it is a small house, a cathedral or a temple.


Architecture seems to be entrenched in two equally unfertile fronts: Either naively utopian or petrifying pragmatic.

We believe that there is a third way wedged in the no mans land between the diametrical opposites. Or in the small but very fertile overlap between the two. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective. In our projects we test the effects of scale and the balance of programmatic mixtures on the social, economical and ecological outcome. Like a form of programmatic alchemy we create architecture by mixing conventional ingredients such as living, leisure, working, parking and shopping.


Architecture is formed by forces outside the architect's control, You're at the mercy of endless vagaries. There is the constant back-and-forth between the intended idea and the reality.

Architecture is the most materially cumbersome and geographically fixed form of cultural expression. How can it represent a moving target, such as new media or other urgent cultural and social issues?

SCOFIDIO: Architecture is everything technology is not: inert and geographically fixed. The best role for architecture, outside of smart design, is to be a supple shell for the continuous updating of the building's nervous system.

Architecture is nothing other than special effects. With Blur, the technology was extensive, expensive, and very complicated--both hardware and software--but our intention was to sublimate the technology into only and simply effect. It was like a magic trick. A great effect that took a lot of artifice--and few asked how it was done.

Architecture carries with it an external program. We do, however, always find ways of integrating our independent agendas into the program and the work.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

41. Take a lesson from Lebbeus Woods

There are two types of old people in this world. There are the ones that always seem to say: I am too old for this shit. They wave their canes at technology and look at younger folks like they came from mars. They talk about the past like it was the golden age and they demand respect because they feel entitled to it. I wont mention any names, but we all know someone like this in our lives.

Then there are the ones that really believe in their hearts that they are younger than any 5 year old. They will out run you and out wit you in a heart beat. They are people like John McCain (this is not an endorsement in any way shape or form), Malcom Forbes, and Louis Kahn who became the Louis Kahn we all new when he was in his 50's. (pretty eclectic list aye?) I have to grudgingly also admit my mother-in-law is one of those people, she is old but she can wield her lap top almost as good an any 20 year old.

This brings me to Lebbeus Woods. I happened to look at his website the other day and was really surprised in a pleasant way. You see, for me Woods was old school in my mind. I associated him with a generation of architects from yesteryear. So when I saw what he was doing today, (like I mean now) I was impressed. His was not an old HTML site that you would expect. It was flash based, it had sound and video clips, it had graphics that were consistent with the architecture that we have come to know as distinctly Lebbeus Woods. It was like the old guy was reborn in the 21st century. He even has a regularly updated blog with some pretty interesting stuff that you all should read.(be sure to check out his wickedly sharp critique of the notorious Rem "Delirious Dubai")

What Woods have done really, is reinvented himself, particularly he has upgraded his publicity machine. The idea of reinventing oneself during the span of a career is not entirely new to the celebrity in architecture. Recalling Frank Lloyd Wrights own illustrious life, he managed to reinvent himself about three times in his long career. Staring with ornamented work under Louis Sullivan at the turn of the century and evolving to a seamless flow of modernism with the Guggenheim. Every time he was counted out as an old washed-up, he would burst back like a defiant phoenix. I believe it was with Falling Water that brought him back for the last part of his career.

As much as I respect and admire the Danish elder statesman of architecture, Jørn Utzon, I have to constantly point him out as the shining example of what not to do as far as fame goes, especially in this context. He is the guy that seems to have gotten it all in terms of fame falling in his lap in his young career. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with it or did not like the spotlight, but we have seen in this previous post how he seems to have deliberately thrown that precious capital out the window.

I am sure there is more than one lesson in here for all of us: Change with the times, you are never too old, get your publicity. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions, better yet write it here in the comments below.



Sunday, March 2, 2008

40. You gotta wanna be like YOU

Do you remember that movie the mask?
Jim Carry tries on this mask and he becomes a crazy exaggeration of himself with supernatural powers. The concept of the mask is that it pulls out certain aspects of a its wearer's personality and amplifies it to the max. So if you try it on, and I tried it on, or anyone else on the planet for that matter tried it on, you would always get a different super hero.

In becoming a famous architect or famous at anything for that matter, the people who are most successful are the ones that seem to have found this secret mask. And they have kept it hidden until now. Well I have found it and I will share it with you. but don't tell anyone else.

The problem with most architects is that they want to become Le Corbusier, or Loius Kahn or Mies or whoever. So they go out and get their glasses, they trace their work, and even try to copy their mannerisms. The only way to become either of these people is to have their parents make you and even that's a long shot. If you have siblings you know what I mean.

The simple and most effective way to become famous is to desire to become"YOU-to-the-max". That right! You put on a super mask and super size the greatest thing about you. That's what the others did.

So what's the secret of the mask?

It all comes down to this. A single stupid dumb question.

You go in front of the mirror and ask:

What's great about me and how can I make this better?

I know this sound too simple, better yet, it sounds too geeky, too nerdy. In fact let me give you some advice on how to read this blog. click here

Ask this question in every aspect of your life. In your work, in your play, in the way you dress, everything.

What great about this project, how can I make it better?
Whats great about my this?
whats great about my that?
Just keep on going

This is why they call architects optimists.
If you cant do this leave architecture and do something else.

Anyway, yada yada yada, nuf'said.

Until next week, live famous and be happy.