Tuesday, July 12, 2011


At some time or other, you’ve probably wondered why architects take on those strange, pompous-sounding triple names, right?  You know: Edward Durell Stone, Royal Barry Wills, William Wilson Wurster, Edward Larrabee Barnes.  I don’t think architects adopt three-part names to sound pompous;  I think they do it because their first and last names alone would seem too short or too dull.  I mean, how memorable is Edward Barnes without the Larrabee? 

Of course, the most famous triple name was that of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose family, due to some strange consequence of being Welsh, did more than their share of triple-name-juggling.  Wright received part of his mother’s maiden name, Lloyd Jones--why only part, I don’t know--as well as the last name of his father, William Russell Cary Wright.  After that, things got shorter, but not any clearer:  Wright’s eldest son, also an architect, was just plain Lloyd Wright.  Get it?  Neither do I.   

Triple-whammies aren’t the most curious names in architecture, however.  There’ve also been a whole plethora of repeating monikers, from the famous Greene & Greene (the Craftsman kings) to Rapp & Rapp (the brilliant movie-palace-meisters) or Keck & Keck (postwar Chicago Modernists).  Other nepotistic firms, like San Francisco’s Reid Brothers, simply called a spade a spade.

Then there are those serendipitous couplets that seem unnaturally abundant among architects.  For example, the firm of Reed & Stem, whose name sounds like a snack for pandas, helped bring us New York’s Grand Central Station, while Oakland’s Fox Theater harks from the chronocentric office of Weeks & Day.  San Francisco’s City Hall, of course, was whipped up by the scrumptious partnership of Bakewell & Brown. 

There have also been a few, well, unfortunately-named architects, from the English landscape designer Henry Hoare, to Boston’s Gothic Revival master Ralph Adams Cram.  Still, the grand prize must certainly go to that unlucky 18th-century French architect, Eustache Saint-Fart.

Some architects packed so much horsepower they only needed one name:  Imhotep, Calicrates, Michelangelo.  At least one, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, didn’t find his real name arty enough, and so invented his own: Le Corbusier.

For a while during the Seventies, there seemed to be a lawyerly belief among architects that the more partners you had in your firm’s name, the better.  Hence, venerable offices that started with one name--say, Walter Ratcliff--grew into impossible clunkers like Ratcliff, Slama, and Cadwalader.  My former employers, the relatively mellifluous Reynolds & Chamberlain, briefly transformed themselves into the utterly unmanageable Reynolds, Chamberlain, Leaf, Ruano, Mowry.  No wonder business slowed down.   Then again, some architects, like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, didn’t have any partners at all, and still had five names.

After the laws forbidding architects from advertising were eased in the Seventies, firm names seemed to get more image-savvy.  You began to hear more hip names like Ace Architects and SITE, or else touchy-feely ones ending in Group, Collective, Collaborative, or Partners.    

Personally, as an architect whose name is rythmically mundane yet impossible to spell, I sometimes yearn for a handle with a little more firepower--something punchy and staccato, like I. M. Pei. I mean, bang-bang-bang--if I had a name like that, maybe I’d be designing skyscrapers too, instead of sitting here writing this.

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