top of page

4 Things I Love About A Great Architect

If you’ve ever had a chance to work in the shadow of a great mind, you know how special it is and what an honor. I’ve had that chance before and I’ve read about architects that command admiration. In my estimation, I M Pei fits in that category. I’ll talk about him in a minute. There are 4 things that make for a great architect in my estimation. Here they are:

They’re great listeners.

A while ago, I read a story about Jackie Kennedy’s quest to find an architect to help her with the renovation in the JFK Presidential Library. She met with all the greats, Louis Khan, Frank Lloyd Wright. In the end, IM Pei, a young architect who was little intimidated by the size of the project, but went for it anyway was her choice. Among the other well-known reasons she picked him, I read she also liked the fact that he listened to her. All of the other architects, accomplished as they were, did not show her they cared about her vision.

A great architect is able to see the vision of their client and create a design around it.

They’ve developed a signature style

I’ve had the privilege of working with such an architect. They’re beyond having to learn great building practices and have honed in on a unique style that is all their own. One that pushes design principles out of stagnation and inspires people to think differently. But just as a good designer of a product does not shock the public with a design they’re not ready for, a great architect knows how to slowly introduce the public to the style philosophy.

Let me explain.

I heard a lecture a year ago about design and innovation. An example was given about Apple computers. At the time, people were using those old big, bulky, boxy computer monitors with separate towers that were extremely slow. Steve Jobs wanted a computer and monitor all in one and as small as he could make it.

Steve and Apple knew they would never convince the public to embrace the computers they sell now unless they broke their design into phases and slowly brought people along to their way of thinking. Apple’s ability to envision technological design that is beyond what people know in the moment is one of the things that has made them so successful and separated them from the pack.

A great architect will do the same.

Recently I heard an argument by architect Eric Reinholdt that basements were no longer needed. There are some good points to be made for slab on grade foundations that he and other architects prefer. However, it will take the Apple strategy to convince more people that basements are no longer necessary. And to be honest, many people see the space basements provide below ground as valuable real estate and may never want to give them up. So convincing them to abandon the basement will take some convincing.

They have a great reputation among contractors

Years ago, I worked for an architect who took great pride in the reputation he has built among contractors. So often I hear a level of competition between professionals and tradesmen that is counterproductive and can lead to costly mistakes or delays in construction. Bottom line is, satisfying the client is paramount and whatever they communicate to the team can be result in smooth adjustments and stay on schedule or it can lead to conflicts that will end up in court.

I realize it’s not always possible, but it would be much better to stay out of court. One key to making that possible is by taking our reputations seriously. That doesn’t mean we will always do things perfectly. It means that we become known as people of integrity, honesty, and transparency.

My first business as an architectural drafting service years ago brought with it a series of lessons that I have never forgotten.

Once I was asked by my former employer to work on a project for him. When it was time bill him, I accidentally double billed. It was a few weeks after he paid me that I realized my mistake. I called him up, told him about the mistake and let him know when I would reimburse him for my clerical error.

Some would shake their heads at me and say I was wrong. But that is how much my reputation means to me. I don’t steal and that, to me, was theft. I made a mistake in my accounting, but I came clean right away and rectified it upon the next pay installment from another client. I did this because developing trust was more important to me than the immediate reward of a few extra dollars.

They design they’re business to think beyond architecture

I keep thinking about the entertainment industry and how they have capitalized on talent. I remember when the term “triple threat” was first used to describe an actor. No longer was an actor considered successful if all they did was act. They also had to sing and dance. And if they can sell a product, that’s even better.

Back in the 1990’s (just after I graduated high school) I found it almost impossible to find a job with a firm because of the lack of work. The building industry had crashed and projects were hard to find. Many architects were taking up new ventures like designing furniture in order to stay in business. Then, it was considered a necessity for survival.

Some architects have been innovating and branching out of the profession as part of their practice for years. But times have changed. There is a movement among architects to create multiple streams of income through sometimes unrelated ventures. Now, to think beyond the profession is an incredible asset and can only improve your design capabilities.

Architects win when they pursue ideas outside of architecture
53 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page