The problem with architects as artists

Architecture is its own discipline. Calling it art does not allow for the profession to flourish.

Many architects consider architecture an art. Not in a broad sense but in the narrow definition with architects as artiste and their buildings as artwork. It’s contentious and without the detailed explanation of my argument, my two cents worth is that there are artistic qualities to architecture but it is not art. That’s not, however, what concerns me here. What concerns me more is what the implications are in this type of thinking.

Running an architecture practice is a business and architects need to think like business people not artists. That’s not intended as a slight at artists, being an artist can be a business (and many are good business people), but it’s not commonly thought of as such. This artist mindset can be used as an excuse for business deficiencies in a practice. Suggesting, for example it doesn’t need to be profitable, pay staff properly, work reasonable hours, represent their client’s best interests and the like.

It’s thinking that premisses the artistic value of a project over all else. This can lead to over servicing and also to neglecting all the other important parts of design and practice.

It’s self limiting. Instead of opening up possibilities in their projects and practice, it undervalues the potential of broader but defined values. There’s value in recognising there’s an opportunity to specialise. This could be demonstrable expertise in architectural typologies, use, materials, sustainability, climate adaptation, and so on. Going beyond the artistic value of the project.

Architect as artist undersells and understates what an architect does. As I’ve written previously, Architecture is not just a matter of good design. The practice of architecture must be described in more sophisticated and detailed ways.

Ultimately, describing yourself as an artist can be a hiding place from doing the hard work of running a practice.


Picture by Henry & Co. on Pexels [cropped & edited]

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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