The Architect’s Ego

Bob Borson —  June 20, 2013 — 26 Comments

The “Architect’s Ego” … most architects think it’s a birthright that comes with the license. If you’re a contractor, engineer or interior designer you’ve experienced it. If you’re a client – I’m here to tell you that you want it. Sounds surprising doesn’t it? Not to me, it makes perfect sense.

The Architects Ego

I had a great conversation with another architect friend of mine – we’ll call him “Dan” – and despite this conversation happening around 1:00am after an infamous Borson Holiday party, there was a 90 second stretch during that conversation that has come to shape how I go about my business almost every day since. Dan is an incredibly talented architect, fantastic design skills, and has a commanding knowledge and understanding of construction and deeply resolved and considered solutions to all problems, big or small. Dan asked me how I was able to get such great projects when he didn’t despite his obvious (and quite frankly award-winning) recognized talents and abilities. My answer was simple:

I like my clients more than my projects and they [the clients] know it.

I hadn’t ever taken the time to think about why I am so lucky, maybe it’s because I’m just one of those people. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to make people unhappy, maybe my own sense of self-worth is tied up in the approval of others (re: this entire website). I don’t know, all of those reasons probably have a bit of truth to them but until I spent two partially inebriated hours talking with Dan that night, I hadn’t ever worked it out enough to realize how simple it really was. I’d like to think I’m really good at all the architecture stuff people pay money for but I know that it’s the experience for the people I work with that motivates me and determines how I go about my job.

The very best projects are the ones with the best clients – the clients who are interested not just in having an architect solve their problem (there are loads of architects that can provide a solution to your program) but are interested in having an architect help them see the opportunities and potential of what a project can be that are beyond the clients imagination. It’s that sort of stimulation between the architect and their client that ultimately yields a realized project is one of the most truly rewarding aspects of being an architect. I don’t need my clients to agree with me but I want them to be a part of the ownership of the creative process and the final product.

Of course I have an ego – an architect’s ego – but I’ll be 46 on my next birthday and despite having been at this for 21 years, I’m just now getting started. That’s a long time to wait, to believe that you have what it takes do what I want to do as an architect without really putting myself out there, without having the shelter between me and some other names on the door. What are the defining characteristics of ego? Self-confidence? Arrogance? Self-assuredness? Certainly, but there are other characteristics as well. What about “Certainty” or “Resolve”? How about “Determination”?

Just like I want my contractors to have pride, and my engineers to understand gravity, I like my architects to have an ego. Without the ego, how will the client ever get pushed enough to engage on a deeper level other than just “I want 5 bedrooms and a media room”? As a result of that conversation with “Dan”, I never would have come to the conclusion that I like my clients more than my projects … and that is exactly why I will push them. I will ask them a million questions that they will answer, and they will think about things they haven’t thought about before, and we will all have a great time.

Cheers,

Bob signature.

 

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  • AsmaaFaris

    “Of course I have an ego – an architect’s ego – but I’ll be 46 on my next
    birthday and despite having been at this for 21 years, I’m just now
    getting started.”
    Thanks for giving me hope.

  • http://www.michaelbellarchitects.com Michael Bell

    Thanks Bob. Very insightful. I am of a similar vintage and our best projects are just as you say. In support of you view, we believe people pay for a feeling not a building.

  • Kinguitos

    Great piece, and very true to architects and pretty much any other profession. Too bad more than one will be missing your point.

  • Kartik Gala

    That’s a brilliant article

  • Mejaune

    Bob!!
    What a inspirational page for all us young architects out there!

    I am glad to be part of the ARCHITECT culture…
    You are a true inspiration!!!

    Many more great years or should i say great structures to come!!

    :)

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  • Brad Feinknopf

    Bob,

    I must say that I approached this post with trepidation ask was fearful of arrogance and, once again, your words are not of what I imagined but of what I believe. I am in agreement, most emphatically. I too love my clients more than my projects. I have often said that I live vicariously through my clients, if they win awards, get published, gain a new client in small part due to my efforts, then I have been successful. It is about the client and the relationship and the greater desire to do great work because you care. I will say, it takes time, maturity and humbleness to understand that and if we can have ego ( which we all do) and yet be humble, that is a great gift. BRAVO,

    All the Best,

    Brad

  • Christina Stephens

    Dear Bob, I know this is not related to the article at all but I just want to say thank you for ever creating this site.
    I emailed you a couple months ago with doubts on becoming an architect after reading some gruesome stories and the possible salary I may receive, but after finally being about to begin college I feel the urge to pursue architecture as opposed to a job with more money and if it weren’t for the way your website makes me feel about architecture as a career I probably wouldn’t chase my dreams and for that THANK YOU!
    :)

  • Tiwalola

    Never really looked at “ego” from this perspective. But my word, it makes perfect sense!!

  • parvenu architectural…

    engaging bob.
    nicely done.

    concurrence offered.

  • Builders Arizona

    cxv

  • Mark Mc Swain

    One of the true keus to the success of an architect firm as a business, is in finding, and embracing, repeat customers. The tricky part is that all clients ought to be steered towards seeing the entire firm (from 1 to 100+) as the desireable entity and not any one or two particular people within it.

    Which is the business side of things–it does not mean that personality does not play a part; it just means that, as with so many other parts of our “biz” there’s more to it than meets the eye.

    To my thinking, this is part and parcel to the vision of our firms as entities, as creations themselves that are greater, and will out-live us (if we do our jobs right, that is)..

  • Alexandra Williams

    As a consumer, if I don’t like the person I’m dealing with, I’ll move on. It’s about trust, not about genius. You have figured this out.

    • Thomas Streicher

      Be careful, “likability” isn’t a gage for competency. You need
      trust and genius, not one or the other. And just because you like someone,
      should you trust them? Trust and likability are not the same thing.

      • Thomas Streicher

        A clarification: from what I can tell from this web site I both
        like and trust Bob and relay like his work. I don’t want my general negativity
        to be misconstrued as a criticism of Bob.

  • Robert Moore

    You have described the project as a team effort and anyone can tell you when on a team its more important to work as a team member for the good of the team as opposed to being a super star. Of course will see if this holds true in the NBA finals tonight.

  • Thomas Streicher

    This article is the fantasy. What do you do with the client
    that says “I know what I want, just draw this so I can get a permit. That will
    only cost 500 bucks right?” that’s all that seems to be out there, at least
    around here. Or worse the ones that started construction with no permit and got caught.

    • Robert Moore

      I just love the ones that got caught and their explanation of why they don’t see any need for an architect.

      • Thomas Streicher

        And they never want to pay an architect and I don’t want to
        do this kind of work but I am starving

  • Kamau Munderu

    I don’t like reading but your posts are just fascinating and enlightening. I love your blog.

  • MarvinOne

    Thanks Bob. This week has been tough, thanks to a difficult client, I needed some motivation to keep going.

  • Sheldon Wolfe

    Unfortunately, Starchitects create the impression that architects care more about getting their work into magazines. I believe most architects do care about their clients, want to do the best they can for those clients, and want to produce truly good architecture. As is usually the case, the noisy, disruptive few get most of the attention. Good post, Bob!

  • Brian D. Meeks

    I like the idea of sharing in the vision. I’m sure, when the day comes that I need an architect to design my evil lair, it will be helpful to view it as a partnership. Sure, I can lay out the basics, Castle, number of towers, secret underground submarine entrance, ect, but I’ll want him or her (probably you) to come up with ideas I hadn’t considered.

    Of course, I want my evil lair to be green, but maybe wind power isn’t enough. The laser beams may also need tidal power and solar. I don’t know, but I bet you do. An infinity pool might be nice, but maybe some hidden machine gun turrets that could pop out if needed?

    The point is, I’m sure you’re right, having an architect who is talented and not afraid to make suggestions is crucial.