|Ayn Rand's Howard Roark character, here|
portrayed by Gary Cooper in the Warner Bros.
film of 1949:
The poster boy for architectural ego.
That’s a complaint I hear all the time. When you look at how architects are trained, and how they go about seeking a reputation, it’s no surprise that we’re so lousy at pinching pennies. The truth is that the very meaning of life for most architects is rooted in self-expression: we want our work to stand out from everyone else’s. Alas, since a unique design costs more than a generic one, that self-expression usually comes at the client’s expense.
Why are architects so motivated to be different? One reason is intrinsic to humankind, not just to architects. For many of us, shaping a building in the intellect and then placing it in the physical world is our way of saying, “I was here. This building is part of my legacy. It’s one reason my life mattered.” And obviously, we’d like our legacies to be memorable, not mundane.
|Sydney Opera House, architect Jorn Utzon's undeniable|
tour de force, was budgeted at $7 million in 1957. By the time
it opened in 1973, the cost had ballooned to $102 million,
an increase of more than 1400 percent.
From their first day in school, students are praised for coming up with the unique, the extraordinary, even the bizarre. Minimal emphasis is placed on budgets and other real-life encumbrances, on the theory that they might impinge on the student’s budding creativity.
|A copy of Progressive Architecture magazine|
dating from around the time I was a student
at UC Berkeley College of Environmental
Design. Getting onto this cover was the holy
grail of architectural practice, and for many,
it still is.
In the face of this relentless urging to be creative, most architecture students naturally come away with a sneaking guilt that any design that’s less than stunningly original isn’t worthy of the name architecture. The result is that, for the rest of their careers, many architects aren’t satisfied with a simple solution when a complex one will do. In other words, schooling teaches architects how to make buildings expensive, not how to make them affordable.
|A sure way to be forgotten: "Nice Little House|
Comes In On Budget".
Hence, a simple addition or even a garage is trumped up into the architect’s personal manifesto, driving up the client’s cost to no practical gain.
It’s not hard to understand why architects overbuild, when publication provides the only real way to achieve a measure of notoriety. After all, it’s a rare architect who gets acclaim for designing something simple and inexpensive.
Picture the screaming headline: “Nice Little House Comes In On Budget.”