vogue architecture

So as the discussion continues about magazines like Architectural Record and their Swimsuit Issue – Record Houses, I have had a few additional thoughts as I read the ongoing online debate. Again, I am not condemning the publishing of these particular houses outright. I am asking questions of relevance, appropriateness and net results of bringing value to the profession. My recent pondering came from a discussion with my mother in law (not an architect) who likened the portrayal of unusual houses to the frequent shock effect of the fashion industry. We have all seen the runway models strut their starved long-legged selves down the runway with the most shocking (and awfully uncomfortable) latest fashion lines. Although creative and oddly “cool”, we all know no one will ever wear these clothes, but these artistic expressions will be simplified into some one-off dress that a wealthy person will wear once before sending it to auction. The rest of us will shop online, at the mall or sadly, Wal-Mart.

Let me be clear here. If you want to build something unusual, go for it; it’s America! I may even design it if you hire me. This is not the real issue in my opinion.

However, is this what the glossy magazines are going for when they select these houses?  Let’s isolate our potential grievance here between the glossy magazines aggrandizing only the unusual, unlivable and ridiculously expensive houses and these houses simply existing for whoever commissions them. Can we liken publishing these houses to fashion magazines publishing their clothing lines on “Photoshopped” models that desperate teen girls will never look like?

I have dozens of books on unique houses. To be honest, I like them. These houses are fun to peruse and perhaps dream about, but according to a great comment on my last blog post they are “not likely to influence any purchases or decisions.” This architect goes on to comment by questioning the AIA’s publication’s motive for their position. Are they trying to distinguish themselves from trade magazines? Architectural Record themselves acknowledge that “we are drawn to those sexy, dangerous houses” in their recent editorial titled “Domestic Seduction.” Is this just another Madison Avenue trick or are they truly advancing the profession of architecture? We need to be clear to distinguish what the real issues are here. They are not about style, size or form.

So again, let’s discuss this with civility, but passion. In an era when we cry of marginalization, who is doing the marginalization? Should we leave Architectural Record alone and let them publish the new, innovative and houses “that capture and reflect the state of architecture at a distinct moment in time?” Should our universal value as architects be represented in another magazine or medium where the average person can see how we CAN design better housing that is still livable? Have we been unfair with the glossy magazines or do they have accountability here to represent a broader spectrum of the profession? What do you think?

vogue architecture

3 thoughts on “vogue architecture

  1. A.D. says:

    Lee, I respect that rather than simply objecting to the selections in the Record Houses issue, that you are posing a question in a respectful and thought-provoking manner. I wonder if much of the antagonistic response to the Record Houses issue, by us architects, is a bit of an over-reaction. I’ve followed the AIA blog as well, and am particularly perplexed by the suggestions that these are indicative of the public’s view of architects, and therefore are detrimental because they are not realistic or indicative of what the public really wants. Really? Does the general public really seek out Architectural Record as the sole, or even primary example of the offering of our profession for housing design, and is therefore dissuaded to seek us out as a result? And in fairness, Record profiles houses throughout the entire year, and they’re not all ‘otherworldly.’ Is there a solitary representation or typology of our ‘universal value as architects?’ I think not, nor should there be. I would suggest that our universal value as architects is in fact represented by the diversity of the structures and spaces that we design.

    Ultimately, it is the client who accepts or rejects the design, and the Record Houses have clients who have obviously accepted them. Certainly those clients who seek out an architect have some basis on which their selection is made, and clearly, one of the most obvious attractions is examples of work completed by that particular architect. So, I doubt that a middle class client w/ a modest budget would seek out a Daniel Libeskind, and perhaps there are many wealthy clients who wouldn’t either for subjective reasons. That doesn’t make him a bad designer, or a poor representation of the profession for those of us who may never have his opportunities. We are a diverse lot, and that’s a good thing. My innate design aesthetic is modern / contemporary; however, I don’t find the need to trash work that is not of this typology – to put it down to raise myself. Nor am I averse to designs that seem ‘unrealistic.’

    Like yourself, I also have dozens of books on unique houses, and I likewise like them. I actually love them, seek them out, and am inspired by them. Some of them I don’t understand how they effectively function, or are able to pass code, etc.; however, I don’t find them detrimental to our ‘universal’ value as architects because we have to operate in the real world, just as these projects had to. I will say that I do not believe that form has to be sacrificed for function, or vice-versa – they go hand-in-hand. The best definition of architecture that I’ve ever heard was the following: ‘Architecture: The design and construction of beautiful buildings and spaces suitable for human habitation.” This was articulated while I was in college by a professor whom I hold in high regard. If we design highly functional structures that are aesthetically uninspiring, we’ve accomplished little. If we design beautiful sculptural structures that are non-functional, then we’ve accomplished little. Personally, I can’t see myself being fulfilled having to sacrifice either.

    I mean, if we’re not the visionaries, then who? I don’t aspire to be a licensed architect (I’m not there quite yet) so that I can design what everyone is accustomed to. I don’t think you force a design unto a client; however, I don’t find it objectionable to show them how you can meet their objectives for function and cost, without designing something uninspiring. I would go so far as to say that is our gift, and I don’t find a need to apologize for it. My professional quest is to show the non-elite client the value of beautiful and inspiring design, while rejecting the cookie-cutter offerings that far too many of them accept. To show them that beauty can be functional and affordable. Does that vision make me arrogant? Out of touch w/ ordinary peoples needs and wants? How does a client know that they don’t want something that they’ve never seen before? If designing unique structures (that work for our clients) makes us out of touch, what then makes us architects? Design is ultimately subjective – again, our vision is our gift, it doesn’t make us arrogant or out of touch, the client has the final call.

    I don’t think that there is any one publication that encompasses “our universal value as architects,” nor does there need to be. And parenthetically, if I may say so, I find Residential Architect to be an exceptional example of a magazine that profiles inspiring contemporary design that one would be hard pressed to deem unrealistic or outside the scope of ordinary peoples needs and desires – it is actually my favorite magazine. We are a diverse lot, and that’s a good thing, and we should promote ourselves accordingly in the context of promoting our profession. Because I don’t see how one can simultaneously knock the cookie-cutter ideology that we all despise, and representations that admittedly are not practical for a wide swath of clientele, yet no less relevant for the purpose for which they are intended in response to the choice of their clients. Times are tough for us for certain; however, I believe we should be confident enough in what we have to offer that we appreciate our diversity.

    So yes Lee, I believe we should lighten up on Architectural Record and their Houses selections. There is no solitary reality when it comes to design.


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