Architects and The Architect

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In “The Architect,” Miles Moss’s clients react to his design for their house. (trailer)

A soon-to-be-released movie called The Architect has ruffled the feathers of the community of architects. The movie portrays architects stereotypically, as we have come to know them. As an architect, the main character is arrogant, vain, egotistical, holier than thou, looks down his nose at his own clients, and resists others’ resistance to him and his work by issuing clichés.

This I gather from the trailer of The Architect, which accompanies the article “No Joke: Upcoming Movie The Architect Is a Disaster for the Profession,” by a columnist who styles himself “The Angry Architect,” on the website Architizer. The trailer is pretty damning. But if it is any consolation to individual architects, the movie is not really about architects in particular but architecture in general – or what it has become and is today.

Architecture today – or rather modern architecture, the default stylistic template for most of the profession – is arrogant, vain, holier than thou, looks down its collective nose at the public, and resists opposition to it and its work with clichés. To the limited extent that individual architects reflect the cliché, responsibility lies with a salient fact about their work: it is very often ugly, or alien to common perceptions of how houses and buildings should look. From its contrary attitude, which the profession wears like a feather in its cap, flow the situations that result in the clichés spouted by the architect in The Architect.

“Often,” says protagonist Miles Moss, played by James Frain, “the opinion of the client must be disregarded for his own good.”

“I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do,” Moss tells one of his clients, who replies, “Because it’s their house?”

The individual architect working for one of the many firms struggling to acquire clients let alone satisfy them rarely reflects this sentiment. Many modern architects work hard to put a happy face on the junk their profession expects them to produce. But those clichés perfectly capture the attitude of the profession and its establishment toward the public. The public dislikes modern architecture, so modern architecture disdains the public.

Clichés and stereotypes arise and capture the public imagination because they tend to reflect and reinforce existing attitudes. Though many architects who practice modernism fail to fulfill the stereotype, they suffer because the architectural establishment reflects the stereotype and is indeed responsible for it. The American Institute of Architectus is having a hard time connecting with the public, and that makes working in the field harder for the architects it represents. “The cliché, c’est moi” could be the AIA motto.

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Wings episode “Goodbye, Frank Lloyd Wrong, aired in 1995.

The Architizer columnist regrets that architects are in bad odor these days. This movie trailer calls to mind the 1995 episode of Wings, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wrong,” where a famous architect gives a newlywed couple a wedding present of a design for the house they want to build, which turns out to look like the numeral 7. The plot revolves around whether the bride or groom should tell the architect they don’t like it.

There is another movie called The Architect, made in 2006, about what happens when a public housing project designed by the film’s protagonist incites higher crime and dissolution of the tenant families, which causes problems in his own family. The film evidently harks back to the infamous Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis that was torn down just a couple decades after it was built. (Pruitt-Igoe was by Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect who designed the World Trade Center.) I have it in my Netflix queue.

Fortunately for architecture, architects, their clients, the public and the world, this is easy to change. Unfortunately, architecture has become a cult, to use a mild term, and the establishment has every reason to resist change, and all the power it needs to avoid the intervention that is required.

“The Angry Architect” at Architizer has every reason to be angry, but his (or her) thoughts on architecture lead him to misunderstand those reasons. An informed public can be part of the cure, and the film is a source of truth, intentionally or not. Let’s hope that the box office receipts of The Architect run very high. The world would be much better for it.

The Architizer piece by “The Angry Architect” links to “From ‘The Fountainhead’ to ‘The Simpsons’: 10 Fictional Architecture Mock-Ups in Movies and TV,” many of which I have never seen (including the Simpsons’ spoof of Frank Gehry). My Netflix queue is sure to grow! But one of the mock-ups on the list is City 2000, the architect’s Corbusian concoction hated by his daughter and confusing to his sexy second wife in the 1960s British film Beat Girl. I wrote about this long ago, and I will try to repost it.

Hats off to Kristen Richards for running the Architizer material on ArchNewsNow.com.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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One Response to Architects and The Architect

  1. Pingback: Give modernism a beating | Architecture Here and There

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