We we're recently asked our thoughts on the questions "What makes a great architect? And do they have a responsibility of keeping a project within budget?" by reader Adam Marquart of offbeathomes.com. These interesting questions were raised specifically in regards to Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many to be the greatest American architect of all time, who was also criticized for being over budget on plenty of projects. So what makes an architect great and is minding the project budget a factor?
I'll state right off the bat that none of us at PrairieMod are architects--we're all designers and make due with having a vast appreciation of architecture. That said, we do study and visit a lot of architecture from all walks of life. What we've realized is that truly great architects appear to have principles guide their art and ideas. For each individual client that hires them, they creatively consider the multiple facets of what a home is, isn't and potentially could be. Yet, no matter how unique each individual commission might appear, the principles they adhere to are constant. Principles are at the heart of separating the good from the great. Case in point--the infamous Mr. Wright.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a larger than life personality that is now more myth than man. The stories of his spending habits, his ego, his womanizing--they all have some truth to them and they make for interesting tour gossip. While they are part of what made him uniquely human, they are not what continues to make him pertinent for today. The greatness of his work is often sidelined for people by the side-show aspects of his personal life. While one could focus on the faults, we have also read and heard just as many positive stories from former students and current home owners of how he was easy to work with, how considerate he was to project costs, and how sensitive he was to his clients needs. He was human and made plenty of mistakes, but he understood the principles of what people fundamentally yearned for and tried to reshape the architecture of their lives to answer it.
As a great architect, he listened to his clients and gave them not necessarily what they asked for, but what each of them fundamentally needed. He would have each client give him a detailed report, not only of the topography of the site where a house was to be built, but also on the type of life they led. What were their interests? What did they aspire to? How did they live? A great architect designs buildings that makes their clients lives better, richer, and more beautiful--not just stoically functional or for a builder to maximize their profits. He spoke to peoples dreams and inspired them in ways only the best artists can. As an architect, Wright did it better than anyone and this is why he is still considered the greatest American architect--even in the almost 50 years since his passing. People may think his wild designs or the way he pushed the technical envelope qualifies him as being great. Engineering and design tricks only go so far. That doesn't qualify an architect is great...just audacious. To be great, one must push the envelope while considering the people involved and how their lives will benefit as a result.
Did he (and many other great architects) always do it on budget? No. Do architects (heck, any professional for that matter) have a responsibility to come in at budget for a job performed? Yes, with a but. This is not always a cut and dry answer. There are always extenuating circumstances that come to bear and art is not always an easy thing to nail down on a balance sheet. The people who searched out a great architect like Wright were looking for something better, something beautiful. What they got by hiring Wright was a work of art to live in and enjoy everyday of their life. If they only wanted a house on-time and in-budget, they could have had any number of the banal, lifeless ones that litter the American landscape. So don't feel too sorry for the clients--many times they knew what they were getting into to. Instead, one must consider the price with the service or product delivered. What Wright's clients got for their money was immortality (we'll always remember the Robie's, the Jacob's, the Winslow's). Can anyone put a price on that? Many grumbled, but more would not take back the opportunity to work with Wright for anything. In that sense, the greatness of the architect is shared and reflected in the greatness of the commissioning clients.
These, of course are just our thoughts on the subject. We'd love to hear from anyone who'd like to share theirs. Thanks again to Adam for the insightful questions and be sure to send any others anyone might have to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.