Thank you for your editorial. I have pondered this question quite often while watching even more mainstream programs like This Old House and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, wherein the presence of the architect is quite lacking. While our thoughts and opinions can be esoteric indeed, our voices need to be heard in a plain and straightforward fashion.
One of my mentors in college, the late John Hedjuk, was as plainspoken as they come, with a heavy Bronx, N.Y., accent; however, his message was always quite profound and poetic. What you suggest is certainly possible. It's up to us architects to regain the ear of the general public. We will all be better off in the long run.
Andrew M. Fethes, AIA
Andrew Fethes Architects, PA
I think you're absolutely right about the way many architects speak about their designs. I think architects can very much improve on their way of communicating their design ideas. Making the explanations too esoteric creates a distance between us and our clients, as well as others. There's no reason we can't speak about our work in terms that most everyone can understand. That will make us more accessible to the public in general. I'm sometimes frustrated listening to other architects speaking about their work and trying to understand what they're saying.
If I, an architect, can't understand them, how is the general public going to? What kind of message are we sending?
Ed Kaplan, AIA, NCARB
San Francisco, Calif.
Architects are almost never depicted in a positive way on television. Think Wilbur Post on Mister Ed or Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch. The profession is played for comedic purposes. Even on the most popular home show, This Old House, the architect is shown in maybe the first two episodes and then disappears from the project. They are never shown as being involved throughout the building process.
We need a show that will depict the profession in reality, with all the pleasures of the design process, client difficulties, and even some of the building disasters. That might make for good television.
Lee H. Levey, AIA Architect
Although I'm not technically an architect, I have spent the last 20 years creating interior environments, predominantly as a designer for Steelcase.
We recently finished a major addition to our own home that embraces as many relevant attributes that I could harvest from my career. I love to explain it to the host of people who have stopped by, but I actually like to listen to my wife and kids explain it, because their insights are so simple, raw, and honest. They aren't burdened by historical perspectives or haunted by visions of what could have been without the shackles of budget.
I find it interesting that in Hollywood, the architect is one of our most beloved leading characters. We enjoy an esteemed place in the forum of public opinion. We seem to embody the romantic ideals of intellect, sensitivity, creativity, and a touch of organic ruggedness. The deck is so clearly stacked in our favor, why the abysmal carry-over into real life?
I hesitate to say it, but it seems to me that architects often feel the need to express their ideas in the most lofty language they can manage. It's almost as if, by appealing to the ivory towers, our words and deeds become worthy. The problem is, it simply doesn't play well when we're trying to reach a broader audience. Show me an architect who can talk about his work with a "Jimmy Stewart" knack for elegance and simplicity, and we'll be back in the game.
Shhhhhhhhh. Keep the secret! Don't tell other architects that most clients are not only not impressed with "archi-talk-ture," they frequently have no idea what the architect means with some of the industry terminology he or she throws around. When asked why our firm was selected for their project from the list of potential other firms, our clients repeatedly mention the "clear communication style" that's so different from our competitors.
I want the other architects to keep using the impressive vocabulary we learned in school (like calling windows "fenestration"), and I insist that our staff—particularly those fresh from architecture school's studio presentations—avoid "talk-i-tecture" with clients.
Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto Architects
I read your editorial with extreme pleasure. I even printed it out to show a couple of builders why they're shortchanging themselves by not hiring trained professionals to perform their design work, and why we can save them money in the long run and actually design homes that will be more profitable and salable for them.
As a side observation, I haven't seen you mention the advantages of also using certified building designers who are members of the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD). We are the residential design specialists, and AIBD is the only national professional design organization that caters to the needs of residential designers. This is not to say that residential designers who have the proper qualifications are better than registered architects. There are many architects who belong to AIBD and benefit from the advantages of membership.
Steve Allen Shard, AIBD
I agree with a lot of the statements you make in your editorial. In most cases, the general public respects architects but are not really sure what they do or how they do it. They know we all draw—which, in my opinion, is the easiest part of our job. What they don't know is that we can save them money in designing a well-built building. Simplifying structure, energy-efficient materials, and so on are the hallmarks of what great architects can do.
You ask why an architect needs a layperson to speak of their designs. It's simple: in some cases architects get so wrapped up in what they have done—the parti, the concept, historical references—that they forget who they're speaking to. In any presentation, it's always advised to know who your audience is and speak to their level. The audience of HGTV is, for the most part, the general public—many are college graduates, but many have absolutely no understanding of architecture whatsoever. That being said, the architect needs to do what the spouse does—convey the design concept in simple, easily understood terms.
Prior to going to college, I was tested for a "free education." I was born with two fingers and two toes missing from each hand and foot, respectively. That entitled me to a "free education" in the state of Ohio. The tester conveyed to me that the psychological profile of most really good architects is that they're introverts, people deeply concerned with their craft. Good speakers are not introverts, for the most part—neither am I. One can think of several well-known, renowned architects who can get their message out. Bob Stern, Richard Meier, and Michael Graves come to mind immediately. Until the architects whose work appears in your magazine and on these TV shows can communicate on a level appropriate to the audience, then I'm afraid the spouse will be the spokesperson for the architect.
Greg Burke, AIA, CSI, NCARB
Gregory John Burke | ARCHITECT, Pa
Vero Beach, Fla.
Thanks for the challenge for architects to communicate.
Many of my compatriots seem to have been born in Lake Wobegon, the mythical village created by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion, where you're shy and don't draw attention to yourself, let alone speak for yourself. Others have confessed they don't want to be in the public forum for fear of offending a potential client. Sad.
But there's another challenge. While I'm not shy of the microphone, I'm struck by how difficult it is to find a microphone. Shows and publications don't include architects, as they represent a poor advertising revenue source. While we may recommend certain materials, we don't benefit financially by using that material. When one of the old house shows came to town looking for projects, we were rebuffed in favor of contractors and suppliers of tools and building materials that represented advertising revenue.
Yet, somehow we, as architects, are still commissioned to do design work. So we must be able to sell/communicate something. Now, how do we make the big leap and be interesting enough to have a microphone in hand? [Does it take] a combination of big ideas to inspire and details one can touch? Enthusiasm and excitement of creating isn't always photogenic, but it has been done.
Arlan Kay, AIA
I just read your most recent editorial about television house shows, and I'm glad to know that someone feels the same way I do. I, too, am addicted to these shows and look forward to catching the two you mentioned if my cable provider even carries them. The ones that are most available to the public have similar problems. I am a regular viewer of This Old House and, in general, I think it does a pretty good job of conveying the value of having a good architect involved in its projects. The problem, I think, is the rare general contractor or carpenter who has the apparent design savvy that those guys are portrayed to have. I wonder how much the architect is involved beyond the initial planning and document stage on those projects? They could stand to be a little more forthcoming about that little detail.
Even worse is the now popular Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which tells the public at large that these "fabulous homes" can be done in a week without any apparent involvement from an architect. Those of us with a trained eye can see the relative set design/"wow factor" mentality of most of those projects, but I wonder if the average layperson can see the relative lack of design quality, or if they think this is just wonderful. If, as I suspect, the latter is true, this is setting up some dangerous expectations for those of us who make our living promoting good design.
Keith A. Logsdon, AIA
Michael Willoughby & Associates - Architects
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Speaking as a former television news anchor and reporter with almost 30 years of experience, I quite agree with your recent editorial.
Knowing how to handle the media and get your point across quickly and easily isn't brain surgery. We only have to look to some of those who ran for national office this year to make that point. With that being said, once you "get it"—how to handle the media, what they really want, and, most importantly, what interests their viewers, listeners, and readers, you can make a national name for yourself in a matter of months and probably in today's climate wind up with a show of your own. This is especially easy to do on the Internet, where the thirst for good content is just a bottomless pit, and a mere mention on a very successful blog can hurl you into Internet stardom.
I will say that being able to do video interviews without looking like a "deer in the headlights" or any other type of interview without boring people to death is really pretty easy if you follow a few simple steps. One of those steps is certainly to learn to talk in "sound bites." It's easier than one might think, with a little training and explanation of what's expected.
I feel architects should demand their rightful place among those calling themselves "home show" experts and be fully media-trained to deal with any interview situation. Some of these shows would go a long way to increase their credibility by providing an architect's perspective and certainly their point of view, because they are the "real experts" when it comes to the "bones" of a structure.
I fully agree that what played in Peoria years ago still plays in Peoria today—we haven't changed that much. We all still like a compelling story and a really compelling storyteller. Most people are always eager to hear someone's opinion or point of view, if they can successfully communicate that thought in 30 to 60 seconds.
I found your editorial quite entertaining—they usually are. This one in particular hit home. Communication amongst architects, as well as designers, isn't lacking. The language of architecture is well-ingrained in the educational years to which that system tightly adheres and professes to imbue into up-and-coming architects as a special language to separate itself from the masses. This has been, I feel, a drawback of many institutions still hanging on to a notion of elitism which promotes architecture and design. Times have changed dramatically and yet, the institutions still lumber along like old behemoths waiting for a resurrection as they keep gasping their last breaths.
It's true that the language is very different from that to which the common folk can relate, but on the other hand, it's also the institutions themselves that propagate this disparity. So what to do?
Listen to oneself and communicate on an understandable level—How else would you be able to market yourself successfully to all? Isn't architecture and design, after all, the embodiment of clients' wishes and needs, which we answer and extrapolate to give back to them?
There's one beautiful example of this: Dr. Michio Kaku, a physicist who has several shows on The Science Channel. He relates quantum physics and physics theories, scientific anecdotes, and universal explanations in a most down-to-earth way that's very inviting and not elitist, in very understandable language that isn't dumbed-down in any way.
This is communication that needs to be taught in the institutions. That's where it begins.
I've enjoyed your editorial, which reminded me of the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. One of the houses featured was in Toledo, Ohio.
I teach at a local tech college, and the Extreme Makeover house was a topic of my Architectural Drafting Class 1. Some of my students are already in the construction field and have worked on the house. In a very lively discussion, many of the students said that, although the house is for a good cause, the remodel was inappropriate for the family and the neighborhood. I noticed that on this show, it was more about the designers working on individual parts of the house and no true architect of the whole. Thus, you have a house out of proportion to the neighborhood and one in which the family was mentioned in the local paper as saying the house was too big for them and that they liked it better when they could see each other more often and share the living space.
ITT Technical Institute