Architectural Blatherations

How to Become a Famous Architect without Building Anything

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The Good Oil

To be a good architect, you must have a modicum of talent and many happy clients, pleased with your buildings. You won't be able to pay your bills, otherwise. To be an internationally famous architect requires no clients at all, and certainly no buildings. All you need are rich parents and indulgent patrons. You really must check out Notes on Becoming a Famous Architect, a blog by persons unknown.

You Just Have to be Fabulous

Zaha Hadid
Dame Zaha Hadid, being absolutely fabulous.

Consider that Dame Zaha Hadid, one of the most lauded and famous architects of our time, was lauded and famous before she ever built so much as a brick sh*thouse. She received her first paying commission for a real building after 25 years in the business. At the age of 61, with a miniscule 25 buildings to her name, Her Majesty the Queen made her a Dame, the equivalent of a knighthood. At the of 61, Frank Lloyd Wright had over 200 buildings to put on his resume. Like many others of the greats – especially the postmodernists – Dame Hadid's reputation was based on images, not real-life.

Being a famous architect requires little contact with reality; only an indulgent benefactor who will pay your bills year after year. You can spend many a happy decade entering international competitions, which you never seem to quite win. With the right connections, though, you can have your drawings published in the right avant-garde magazines, books and sites, thereby garnering the fame you so rightly deserve.

Why you don't want to win a competition

The last thing that you as a potential genius wants is to win a competition before you are forty and your patron's money and tolerance has run out. Oi vey! Then all the problem fairies will appear, fairies who never before set a foot on your pristine drawing board or screen.

You've spent your life designing self-indulgent fantasies. Now you actually have to make one come to life. Whoa! That means dealing with people who actually have to work for a living-not something you are used to. Are you ready for it?

You probably won a competition in a country you've never set foot in, so you have no more idea of local building regulations and customs than you have of quantum mechanics. You have to listen to an endless parade of local politicians. The client actually works to a budget, so you have to deal with his or her constant meddling in your expensive genius. The sad fools who certify building health and safety are so arrogant as to tell you how to distribute toilet facilities, or how much car-parking you must have, or that your creation must satisfy fire regulations. What pish-tosh!

And then there is the actual builder! My God, what a vulgarian!

No: the best place for you in an international competition is to come second.

Zaha Hadid's Plan for International Fame

Here is our simple plan for international success:

  • Have rich grandparents. First-generation wealth is no help. The vulgarity of mere money must be transmuted into a class position, and that takes at least two generations. You must have class! Then your parents will happily indulge you when you ask them to pay for the years (or decades!) of hefty financial support that you need to…
  • Study at the right hip school, such as the AA, Harvard, or Yale. While there you will…
  • Refine the exquisite tastes and habits that will mark you forever as one of the culturati. And your parent's and your school's connections will enable you to…
  • Get into the most-talked about practices. You won't have to design any real-world buildings, of course: just hang around and absorb the vibe, spending your time drinking Klingon tea with your boss on his many international junkets. You can then use these connections with the Epstein-set so that you can…
  • Meet the right critics and editors, who will talk about you, and publish all your drawings for architecture that no one actually wants built. While you are waiting for that to happen, you will…
  • Return to teach at the hip schools that taught you. There you can earn a living with minimal effort, since your own unbuilt works will be the ready-made basis of all your courses. True, the salary will not be huge; but since most of your income derives from your wealthy parents or trust fund, that really does not matter.

The rest of your contemporaries have a family, a credit card bill, and a mortgage: if they don't please clients by designing real buildings and so get a real income, they are in deep doo-doo. Not you! You've never seen a credit card bill or a mortgage statement. You have no idea how much your helicopter and private jet flights cost. Your assistants take of all that.

Take a look at the play or film Six Degrees of Separation. If that is your family background: settle back, relax, and play the game as you innately know how to - you are already on your way. Rich parents and friends will help you tide over the lean years (which can stretch into decades) while you wait for your first prestigious commission.

With money behind you, you can spend decades as a dilettante. How many architects could afford to wait to receive their first commission until 44 years of age, the age at which Dame Zaha's first design was actually built?

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