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.
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 to 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 would never 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.