The Analogous Architect

What are other ways to think about the architecture profession that might help it to bring new perspective to architectural practice and propel it forward?

Architects have long wanted to compare themselves with other professionals. They suggest, for example, no-one goes to a butcher for surgery but instead to a qualified doctor, or that lawyers charge by the hour so architects should too. That’s all well and good, but an analogy needs to be a good fit and lead to insight and I’ve never found those professional analogies overly helpful in furthering the consideration of practice or the profession.

It got me thinking that architects were more like chefs, thus making building designers cooks. It’s an admittedly imperfect analogy, but please stay with me. In consideration I got curious about how chef v cook might be defined and found this:

“A ‘cook’ is someone who has a good mastery of basic cooking/kitchen techniques and can follow a recipe and turn out really good food.

‘chef’ takes cooking to the next level by creating new dishes, new combinations of flavours, etc. Kind of like the difference between someone who can read music and play an instrument vs. a composer.”


I think most people would understand that to be a reasonable explanation of the difference of cook v chef, albeit with some wriggle room. The interesting thing is that fewer people would be able to make the same distinction between architect and building designer. Most architects, however, would argue that architects take their work to the “next level” and that there’s a distinct difference in skills and quality of service. It’s a disconnect between architect’s perception, the reality of their work and the understanding of an architect’s work outside of the profession.

Chefs are admired because they are able to tell a story about their work. They tell that story through their food, its presentation and all of the work they do in and around the creation of the food (its setting). It’s interesting to consider the setting because it includes other people in this story, the waitstaff, the maître d’, the sommelier and all those people that contributed to delivering a beautiful restaurant space (potentially including an architect). The story is not just about the food on the plate. Architects need to get better at telling their story and include others in telling that story. They especially need the story to focus on more than the building they deliver (the “food on the plate”). What’s more they need to understand what is valued by their clients and meet them where they’re at. We wouldn’t find an Italian restaurant in Chinatown, that’s not what the diners are there for.

I’m curious what else we might see and learn through such an analogy, one that for now is admittedly undercooked [apologies]. I know there are other aspects to this that I’m yet to touch on. Concepts around pricing and the story it tells. There are potentially interesting connections between the ability to access (and afford) a chef driven high end restaurant and/or architects, versus cheap local diners and/or building designers. For now these ideas are just in the test kitchen.

The key aspect here for me is what might the profession learn from such an analogy, one that’s substantially about a difference in skills and how architects might tell a better story around that (which is in itself a skill).

Picture by Taryn Elliott on Pexels [cropped]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach. I help architects rethink their practice and support them as they uncover better ways to work. I’ve worked in architecture for over 25 years, and I ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I believe improving practice takes asking hard questions and deep listening.

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