Monday, February 4, 2019


Rome's Temple of Venus and Roma as it looks today:
The statues did, in fact, get up and walk away.
In the year 121, that fun-loving Roman emperor Hadrian began building himself a grandiose temple to Venus and Roma based on his own design. When it was finished, he proudly sent the plans to the renowned architect Apollodoros, ostensibly to obtain a critique. Actually, Hadrian’s motive was to show the architect (who had once insulted him) that great buildings could be designed without his help. Apollodoros duly responded that the temple should have been built on higher ground, to make it more visible from the Sacred Way. He also made a snarky comment regarding the excessive size of the seated statues, saying they would surely bash their heads on the ceiling if they stood up from their seats.

Hadrian, who reigned over
Rome from 117 to 138:
Now I'm really mad. . .
To Hadrian’s chagrin, he realized that the architect was right on both counts and that, worse yet, it was too late to rectify the blunder. His solution? Simple—he had Apollodoros killed.

It might have turned out better for everyone if Hadrian had consulted a good architect before his mistakes were, as it were, carved in stone. That lesson is just as valid today: Even if you don’t want to hire an architect to draw your plans—and there’s no law that says you must—at least consider hiring one for a few hours to critique your work. Yes, it will cost you a few hundred dollars, but you may well save thousands—even tens of thousands—in return. Here are some of the ways:

Mid-century bathroom: Should you take a
sledgehammer to it, or save some money
and sell it like it is?
•  An architect may be able to save you money using “design by subtraction”.  Surprisingly often, eliminating parts of a project will actually improve it. For example, I recently did some consulting for the rehab of a lovely but poorly-maintained home from the 1950s. Among other things, the owner was planning to rip out an entire bathroom, complete with its original fixtures and tile work, because he
felt its shabby appearance would be a hindrance to resale. In fact, the bathroom just needed some diligent stripping and cleaning to regain its appeal. Moreover, to a buyer interested in a home of that vintage, having the original plumbing and lighting fixtures in place would prove far more attractive than any modern replacement. Net savings: a cool twenty thousand dollars.

•  A good architect—and I stress the word good—can guide you toward a truly timeless solution. Of-the-moment designs, such as those espoused by many designer magazines, quickly grow stale and result in a loss of resale value over time. A skillful architect can distinguish between the timeless and the trite, and can steer you away from gimmicks that’ll be an embarrassment in a year or two. 
No, this is not a black-and-white photo. Consulting
with an architect might dissuade you from using
faddish color schemes such as this one.
•  An architect’s experience  can often turn design mountains into molehills. While you may already have already spent weeks wrestling with a design problem that seems insoluble—say, an awkward kitchen arrangement—chances are your architect has already dealt with that same problem a hundred times over. He or she may well be able to suggest a solution right on the spot. In particular, you might wish to seek advice before choosing paint colors. Color fads are notoriously short-lived—as the scads of moldering, gray-on-gray-on-gray paint jobs from the Aughts will demonstrate.

•  Lastly, remember that what you build will be standing for a long, long time;  in retrospect,  springing for a few hours of advice will seem like a bargain compared to living with a spate of permanent errors. Just ask Emperor Hadrian.

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