Architect=Client

Dan Salmon explains the rationale behind asking architects why they design for themselves.

October 1, 2007

“So, what is this little digression all about?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s all about Edith Farnsworth. For those of you who don’t know who she is, she’s the one who had the idea (and let’s be honest, it turned out to be the wrong one for all involved) to employ Mies van der Rohe to design her house. It’s pretty well known these days that her reaction to the house was an overwhelming desire to take to Mies with a combination of sharp and blunt instruments. Seriously, take a look at the place sometime. Although it may be recognised as one of the greatest contributions to modernist architecture, it isn’t somewhere to live — it’s a human exhibit with hydronic heating. I imagine that various toothed animals in the surrounding forest approached it in a similar way to how we might approach the fish tank in the foyer of a Chinese restaurant.

So what do you do to make the relationship between architect and client less like Woodstock ’99 and more like Woodstock ’69? Well the easy answer would be to allow people to design their own houses, wouldn’t it? Give ’em a computer with AutoCAD and tell them to go for it. That way, people would get exactly what they wanted, and would only be able to blame themselves for things that went wrong. In addition to this, architects could then spend more time doing the things they really wanted to do, which as we all know, is the fruitless entry of competitions followed by the excessive consumption of alcohol (and in some cases vice-versa, but let’s not name names).

We all know of the notoriously incompatible relationship between architect and client, but what happenswhen the person seeking to build their own home is actually an architect by profession? Do they trust themselves with the job? What happens when there is no need for compromise? Architects have the means to design their own homes, and we have to assume that they also have the ability. Plus, theoretically they don’t have to pay anyone for it (except the therapist. But that’s years down the track).

This is all very well, but there’s still gotta be someone to blame when stuff goes wrong. So when an architect wakes up in his meticulously designed house and discovers that his teenage daughter’s bathroom has a lovely view of the next door neighbours’ teenage son’s bedroom (and again, vice versa), or, when moving in, that she can’t get the fridge up the angular stairs to the kitchen, do they ignore this and continue to call themselves genius, or does they stare at the mirror each morning and curse their own idiocy?

And this is what Architect=Client is all about. Sitting architects down and asking them to be objective about their own work. What works? What doesn’t? What did they plan for? What do they look at and think “Man, I’m brilliant”? What makes them want to take to themselves with a combination of sharp and blunt instruments?

For the first issue, we interviewed Paul Morgan at his Cape Shanck House. Incidentally, we’d like to thank him for his time and intellect. So, without further ado (and there’s been quite enough ado if you ask me), we present Architect=Client. Enjoy.

Dan Salmon

Dan Salmon is a failed architect and occasional media commentator from Melbourne, Australia. His interests include community radio, cheap dumplings, and the music of Thom Yorke. He is one of the editors of POST Magazine.

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