The Architect Says

One of the most famous quotes in the architectural world is Mies van der Rohe’s exclamation, “Less is more.” This quote, along with his style of a minimal framework to express a “skin and bones” style of architecture, has helped a generation of architects try to justify design moves and explain architectural ideas. It can, and will, be forever uttered by a boss, a studio professor, a juror, and probably by each of us at some point in our architectural career to help sell an idea. A less common, seldom used phrase has also been said about architecture, which is Venturi’s claim that “Less is a bore,” which was apparent in his exploratory design style. So, who is right?
Fortunately, architecture is a field in which both can be right. Big name architects can claim brilliance to their own work through a series of simple sketches, parti diagrams, or even quotes. Whether the design is a simple, modernistic cube (less), or an overwhelming and quirky design (more), they need not overly indulge their design process; we have to simply take their word for it as we read about it in Architecture magazine.

Unfortunately for the majority of us, we are not big name architects. The chance of any of us getting to that level is slim, at best. We must prove to clients, coworkers, bosses, peers, and so on, every design move we make, and what makes it good design. Furthermore, I would be willing to bet that the majority of us architects and aspiring architects design by the basis “form follows function,” to which Richard Rodgers responded “form follows profit.” Form following profit is quite possibly the rule we all follow, at the very least, subliminally. In this field, and this day and age, instead of hearing “why” to explain a design idea, we will probably more often hear “how much.”

The purpose of this month’s article is not to downplay great designs of some of the big name architects, or say that we should all be following what an architect said 70 years ago; quite the contrary. It is to try and get readers to think of how and why they design the way they design. You should challenge your peers, coworkers, and superiors on what makes good design, and should expect to be challenged when you think you have a good design. You don’t need to use dated ideas to define yourself as designers, but rather define what makes your design relevant now. You can, and should, show your clients how your design is profitable for them, if that’s what they want. You should be able to have a rebuttal if a seasoned architect or studio juror smugly tells you “less is more” because, well, they might be wrong.