Forget the Ivory Tower: Why architects need to play in the sandbox.


I have seen a lot of pro-architect pieces over the years, and being an architect myself, I am unavoidably and unapologetically pro-architect. Many of these "hire-us" pieces emanate from well-meaning trade organizations, their ubiquitous acronyms exuding credibility and professionalism. The articles, meanwhile, are the equivalent of 1950s-era neon signs screaming "Eat At Joe's!" or "World's Best Coffee!" The essence of these pieces is to push what was once common knowledge: "Architects create Architecture."

I run into many people who will quickly offer, "Oh, I've always wanted to be an architect!" But why is that? What is in the ethos of the architect that is so mysterious and alluring? Is it that we have a blank canvas set before us, ready to embark on a inspired journey of creation, partnering with you to forge a new reality? Sounds cool — but today's architects have had to major in pragmatism and minor in what lured so many of us to the profession.

The reality is that we have chosen a profession of play, where our best works are created when we tap into the childlike spirit that exists somewhere in all of us. Each project is different only in how vast or contained the playlot. Often my best clients are the ones who recognize the boyish sparkle in my eye, when I've stumbled onto something unique, and dash through the screen door to join me.

This profession stands on its importance to history, culture and art, but meanwhile, our audience is yawning. We've dressed up in a suit and tie, when our credibility is actually found in our play clothes. Like all good architects I recognize architecture's quintessential place in human culture, and yet I recognize that it's more rare than most of us realize. And it's fading fast!

Most of the world's population doesn't live anywhere near the ivory tower. The architectural greats are unknown to a culture that readily know the names of grown men throwing a leather ball on Sunday afternoons. Don't get me wrong: Sports are a great metaphor for exuberant life. What's wrong is we've forgotten that all of us play, and culture flourishes when we play together.

In marketing and sales, it's all about educating your audience, who may one day become your development partners. But we need to think about why they might decide to bring us to their table of influence. My answer? "Who wants to play?"



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