In 1957, at the age of 90, Frank Lloyd Wright famously said: “Any man who really has faith in himself will be dubbed arrogant by his fellows”; the same man is responsible for some of the greatest and most iconic pieces of American architecture in history.
Lloyd Wright could be considered one of the very first ‘starchitects’, stealing the limelight in the early 20th century with his distinctive ‘Prairie Style’ houses, ‘Organic’ designs, and his often controversial and opinionated personality. For many, this perceived arrogance and brash temper has become the typical vision of what an architect is, even today.
There’s no doubt that Lloyd Wright had a very clear and distinctive vision that set him apart from many other architects of the time, this vision is just as strong and as clear as its inception many years ago and can be seen in any of his 500+ projects that still stand. He believed so strongly in these ideals that he founded The School of Architecture in Taliesin to carry on this style of thought and mentality, passing it on to the next generation.
Architects are often criticized for their hubris and overwhelming sense of self-importance more than members of other professions. However, this is not always the case and not necessarily their fault. Architects in the spotlight like Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry (to name a few) give the profession a less than desirable reputation of vanity and egotism, where the everyday Architects across the globe working in offices end up taking the wrap for them.
Now, this does not dismiss that there is an arrogance problem within the profession as a whole. Bad habits get passed down from teacher to student and so on. The source of this issue is within the way that aspiring architects are taught and the impression that gets placed upon the profession by society. Not much can be done to tame the ‘starchitects’ in the media and their agendas, but change is feasible in the architecture schools that currently breed this mentality.
Even in his education Lloyd Wright did things his own way. It’s unknown if he ever graduated from high school and he earned an honorary position at university, where he studied part time for two terms before leaving without taking a degree. It is strange that a man who never achieved a university accreditation would go on to found a certified architecture school. However, from this we can see the influence Lloyd Wright would have on the attitudes in architecture schools for years to come. One apprentice recalls how Lloyd Wright was ‘devoid of consideration and ha[d]s a blind spot regarding others’ qualities. Yet believed that a single year in his studio would be worth any sacrifice.’ From here on many schools adopted a similar attitude to that of Lloyd Wright forming the basis for what architecture school would eventually become.
For an architect, school requires a healthy dose of ego in order to navigate the constant barrage of critique (read: criticism). No idea is safe at the hands of your tutor or panel who had to endure the same gauntlet that you do. For many this rite of passage sits at the heart of architectural education and can form the skills and confidence required to be successful. However, such acquisition of these skills can come at the price of unwanted by-products such as the aforementioned arrogance and big-headedness, as well as cause architecture school to run rife with poor mental health due to students experiencing a noxious level of stress that their work is simply not good enough.
Over the course of far too many years, aspiring architects have gotten knocked down again and again only to get up to have any remaining semblance of self-confidence and dignity crushed. This process of having to pick yourself up over and over results in a very thick hide, people misconstrue deep insecurities about their work as overconfidence, arrogance and cockiness. In an environment where no one believes in your designs, you must fall back on yourself to try and stay afloat and many don’t, falling victim to the overwhelming tidal forces of an education that they pay for.
No student should ever feel embarrassed or ashamed about a project that they have poured their heart and soul into. The current approach and philosophy towards architectural education is archaic. The instruments that we use have evolved with the times, so why can’t the antiquated and outdated way of teaching evolve too?
If an education is ‘worth any sacrifice’ why don’t we begin to let go of teaching bad habits and attitudes, sacrificing those in favour of an up to date, healthy relationship with architecture?