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ARCHITECTS: It’s the Humans, stupid…

May 1, 2016

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Today a person pulled me out of the (unending) line at Starbucks to ask, “Are you Duo?” I, being near face-blind, was clueless as to who my inquisitor was, but stumbled “yes” – she blurted “you looked at our house 10 years ago!” (in a town 40 miles away.) They never built anything, but I went to their home, and simply listened and offered advice: human-to-human. I saw her upon referral from a woman I had built a house for, who was referred to me by another person.

Before that I awoke this morning to a note from a client enmeshed in an excruciatingly slow to finish project: “We love (more than love, whatever that might be) the house you created for us..”

Yesterday, Saturday, when most homeowners are available, I initiated the 5th project over 20 years for clients on the same house, and saw clients referred to me by other clients, then a family I had not seen in 12 years called me back for another go at their house – we laughed and chortled as if it was the last site meeting – despite a decade of complete radio silence (they, in turn, were referred to me by another human.)

NEWSFLASH TO ARCHITECTS: Humans are the reason architects architect.

But that is not the model architects yearn and are trained to value: the dream process is that the humans should want the architect, not the other way around.

Architects want to be wanted for Objective reasons: but almost everything that composes the design/build process is predicated on the exquisitely Subjective realities of a completely human reality: building a building. Ants design nests by hardwired instinct. Birds nest to lay eggs. Only humans want to love what they build. That includes the humans who use the thing built: not just the humans who happen to be the designers of the built.

But that is a messy business – opening up and embracing the users all up in our business. Architects are portrayed as thinking humans do not share an architect’s perspective, right? Well I do not share a doctor’s perspective until that doctor shares the facts, reasons and intuitions of the diagnosis. But thats a messy process. It would be so much easier to design something and have somebody buy it. Thats not a messy business – knowing the buyer is unnecessary if you are selling an object.

But in building, the buyers are necessary to create whats bought. Whether its architectural services or potatoes the user almost always pays. If you treat the buyer as a dupe to be sold, the humanity leaves the transaction. If the buyer is not so much in a check out line at Starbucks to buy your creative swag, but is sitting at the table sharing offerings all around the results feed off subjectivity to simultaneously reflect beauty and humanity.

The architectural press is filled to overflowing with the naming of names – of architects. The ads for this year’s AIA Convention are stark photo portraits: of stars – Kevin Bacon (who is playing music), Kevin Spacey (who is putting meat in the seats) and Rem Koolhaas (starchitect). Humans are presented as image to be desired, not as part of a messy process.

Has an actual client ever been used in an AIA ad campaign? Maybe, but not in my near face-blind memory.

Its easier to be clean, to blame the unbuilt on irrational, ignorant, stupid humans – just like the outcomes of government, religion or any “messy” process. The fantasy of money being dropped onto genius, with no human intermediaries save perhaps a design competition jury has a tinier potential for architects than me playing linebacker for the Giants.

Its not zero, as I have played linebacker. In high school. 43 years ago. Building a building without clients being part of the design process also happens. For maybe a hundred competitions a year. Out of the hundreds of thousands of buildings designed. With the winners selected from a pool of a few hundred starchitects out of the several hundred thousand active designers in the world.

But I still want, desperately, to play linebacker for the Giants.

Because I am human.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Penny Maher permalink
    May 1, 2016 7:16 pm

    We did finally get our “excruciatingly slow to finish” home that you designed for us completed! We have a beautiful home now and it was wonderful working with you. I had been following you through articles about your projects published in some shelter magazines, and I know I told you I was completely surprised when you were so willing to come to meet with us when I called! Thanks, Duo, you’re my hero!


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