The eyewear of Architects

Bob Borson —  March 3, 2010 — 22 Comments

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Architects and eyeglasses

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Why do visually impaired architects feel compelled to wear large, structurally pronounced eye wear? There is definitely a look that is assigned to architects:

  • Dress in all black, maybe a little white, and on laundry day monochromatic tones are acceptable (if you are not going out in public)
  • Carry a briefcase but only if it has a shoulder strap (Jack Spade is a good choice)
  • Have on your person at all times an assortment of felt tipped pens (because ballpoint pens are so bourgeois)
  • Wear large, geometric eye glasses
  • If your hair isn’t black, white or silver, consider getting it colored

This is the look and if you have it, people will never ask you what you do for a living – they’ll know.

I have never understood why the rank and file of such a purportedly creative bunch would choose to have their appearance so easily defined. We have been typed and categorized with minimal effort by the public at large. My wife frequently points out that as soon as an architect deviates from this recipe, they are terrible dressers. I used to dispute her opinion but it is becoming harder and harder argue my case when the evidence at her disposal is so readily available.

There is evidence to support that wearing such dominant glasses can help you “brand” your face by making you stand out and be more memorable. Sometimes the eyewear can become so ingrained into your look that this becomes the way you are defined. Use Le Corbusier as an example – it is impossible to think of him without those glasses. Phillip Johnson even had his signature spectacles made based on those worn by Le Corbusier.

I consider architects to be rational radial thinkers. In the simplest of terms, it is because despite having programming and building codes to contend with, our solutions are still partially judged on their aesthetics. As a result, we approach a problem with no set solution and start working and compressing towards the center to find a balance between the function and the form. A little take here, give a little there, back and forth, over and over until the balance that we seek has been found. Do architects take the same approach to selecting their eyewear?

Do architects who choose “architect” glasses consider  them sterile and functional or fashion accessory. With today’s modernist architects re-upping to the maxims of “Less is More”, I would have to say the former. Do they consider, hair or eye color? What about the shape of their face? Are the lenses thick so as a result, the frames are structural? How about a color other than black? (Gasp! – I can’t believe I asked that last question…I imagine someone from the AIA is preparing a letter reprimanding me at this very moment).

Most importantly, do they wear them when nobody is looking?

These are not unreasonable questions and if we were talking about actual architecture rather than the look that seems to define architects, I would expect that every architect would consider multiple solutions to all these questions.  Based on the evidence at hand, and I’m not entirely sure of this yet, but if your architect isn’t wearing glasses like these, they probably aren’t very committed.

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  • Peta

    Thankyou Bob. This is hilarious. I found your article after seeing 2 or 3 world class architects wearing almost identical Le Corbusiers on a BBC documentary and laughing every time they appeared. I wondered why they had such a herding mentality yet such determinedly unique creative genius. Ego? Anyway, I decided if I can ever afford an architect, I shall only select one with tasteful spex. x

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  • nathan

    i know a truly great architect who drives a cherry red audi wagon and wears cherry red glasses. mind = blown

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      my mind = also blown

  • Edgar Demello

    There’s no John Hejduk in those photos!

  • Anne Zscherper

    It’s not just the glasses, it’s the general style. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but there’s actually a book called “Why do Architects wear black?”, in which quite a few known and unknown architects (probably while wearing black ;) ) answer that exact question. Quite intriguing little read :)

  • Brett Wolfe

    i’ve never understood why people who want to be known for their vision, advertise the fact that they can’t see

    • Axiom

      I think it is a matter of perspective (HaHa). Glasses are a symbol of knowledge and are often associated with learned people. (Kinda reminds me of “Lord of the Flies” actually).

  • http://www.facebook.com/dorina.pllumbi Dorina Pllumbi

    Borromini with glasses … so funny!!!!

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  • Lamlani

    I LOVE ARCHITECTS…

  • Scott dq Knudson

    So true the irony of creatives being sheep. It shows in too much of our built environment and even the arch press, too! Luckily, you suffer no such visionary malady and thus can limit your conforming tendencies to black shirts, whilst I had to seek out frameless lenses, whether I wanted them or not, so I could tell myself I was being my own man, which only proves I am not! What to do?.

  • Greg Luce

    Pretty funny and raises excellent questions! But I love those glasses….. (I call ‘em Mondrian glasses; guess he had a bit of architect in him.)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That is a good name for them! 

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  • AFH Ryan

    You would have loved our glasses-wearing-architecture-tour! http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=881576900828&set=t.83124041295

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      looks like you guys had some fun with it that’s for sure

  • http://www.justpractising.com Su Butcher
  • Lucinda

    The only thing sadder is the poor builder that’s a wannabe and calls their architect buddy for eyeware recommendations – I wonder what builders are supposed to wear? Wouldn’t know – my builder thinks he’s an architect ;)

  • http://twitter.com/archihosk jay

    Just picture all the above architect heroes in Hawaiian shirts, khakis, and tinted gold-rimmed glasses.

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