It didn’t build itself.

“Every building has an architect.” (originating author, unknown)  I sit on the AIA Denver Board with Nan Anderson where she serves as both the 2012 Vice President and the chair of the Public Affairs Committee.  And while Nan can’t take credit for the quote, her Public Affairs committee is engaged in a fantastic public awareness campaign around its’ premise.  In short, anytime an architectural work shows up in print without credit being given to the architect, the author of said article will receive a postcard, thanking the writer for the media mention, but also kindly reminding him or her that the referenced building didn’t build itself.  

While I (begrudgingly) understand that an everyday beat reporter may get caught up in the myriad details of a particular story and neglect to mention the design team that made the project a reality, I was appalled when I read an article published on that mentioned only three members of a design or construction team for the entire slate of the ten projects that the article highlighted.  That’s right, a 70% failure rate.

As designers, we love when our work gets published; especially when it is published for all the right reasons.  However, as a member of one of those overlooked design teams in this article, I find it infuriating when our years of hard work go un-credited.  I challenge any of you to find an article where a song is mentioned without the artist, or when a painting is discussed without a nod to the painter.  If you find them, they are few and far between.  But alas, in architecture, we are denied credit more often than it is given to us.  As an industry, we must regard our work with no less importance than any other artistic endeavor, and demand credit accordingly.   

So to author Jon Walton, consider this your friendly post card.  Those building, yes all Top Ten Net-Zero Buildings mentioned in your article, do have architects.  Here is a quick rundown of who is responsible for what on the seven projects that were not properly credit. 

No. 10 – The Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies was designed by William McDonough + Partners.

No. 7 – The Omega Center for Sustainable Living was designed by BNMI architects. 

No. 6 – The Darla Moore School of Business was designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects

No. 5 –  Pusat Tenaga, Malaysia’s Zero Energy Office was designed by Ruslan Khalid Associates.

No. 4 – The image identified as NYCTech is actually a conceptual rendering produced by SOM.  The firms of SOM, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, OMA, Morphosis Architects, Steven Holl Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson have all been named as finalists for the project. 

No. 2 – The Pearl River Tower was designed by SOM

No. 1 – The Research Support Facility (RSF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory was designed by RNL. 

To author Jon Walton, I say the following.   While I am sure all of the firms listed above are grateful for the recognition and honored to be listed in your Top 10, please remember to give credit where credit is due.  All of these buildings have not only architects, but design consultants of all varieties, sustainability consultants, contractors, owners and a dozen other groups that my word count will not let me enumerate.  Speaking for myself, I spent four years of my professional career as one of 100+ team members that made the RSF project a world-class reality.  Give my office a call.  We would love to tell you about all of the project team members that helped make our project the world-class facility that it is.



3 thoughts on “It didn’t build itself.

  1. Nathan: You are right on in your thinking in this article. Architects need to be acknowledged just as much as every artist in music, art, and every other artistic venue. Here lies the problem. Every building is designed by an architect, not a firm. When you actually hear a credit for a song, an art piece, poetry, a book–each has behind it an artist. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few firms where the key figure in fact is the architect, the reality of architecture is that it is group sport, and in the end, the unspoken members of the firm, not the firm itself, did the work. When Steven Holl does a project, he always gets his name mentioned because he, the person, gets credit for being the artist. Another example is in film. Was it a film by MGM, or was it a film by Steven Spielburg? The point here is that the individual always gets the credit. But when it is an RNL, an SOM, or any number of corporate firms, who really was the artist? Was it the lead designer, the project designer, the project manager or the Principal in Charge? Or was it the firm, with its many participants who put in years of work to bring it to reality.

    I have had this conversation for decades with the press. It is their contention that mentioning the firm that did the work is catamount to giving commercial recognition which is sold, not given freely. So, in the case of architecture, the press has yet to recognize that there is artistic authorship that must be recognized and credit given. So here is the rub. When a song is played, the artist must be mentioned, but when the song is mentioned by name in the press, the press is not obligated to mention the artist. What we are dealing with here is copyright laws, not artistic recognition. In my past endeavors to get this changed, a few reporters have learned and have changed their ways. John Rebchook, formerly of the Rocky Mountain News, and now a freelancer, always gives credit. But unfortunately, the editorial boards of the papers specifically state their policy to not include the architect who designed, nor the contractor who built, but they do mention the developer who is creating the project when one is involved. This is because the developer has made it happen while the architect merely took the developer’s vision and carried it out–or so they believe! The answer here is that we need to be more protective of our intellectual copyrights. We must have to fortitude to call the press with printing a picture of the work without giving credit is in fact copyright infringement. We need to get our work past being seen as a commodity and instead, as the work of an artist. But to do this, we need to get past the firm speak, and really give credit to the individuals who made the project happen, and the artist who created the idea. Credit is given for human interest, not corporate interest, and it is the individual who is always featured. The disadvantage for architects everywhere is the need for recognition of the practice first, then the figure head, and finally the people who contributed.

    • Nathan – I could add that “Every photograph of a building was created by someone”
      So while we’re jumping on the bandwagon for the protection of intellectual property, you might notice that there was a 100% failure rate in crediting the photographers who created the images. Granted, several of the photographs in the article are arguably not what I would could high-end examples of the genre but nevertheless, they were created by somebody (and most likely not the architect).

      Architectural photographers, like many creative individuals, are increasingly being separated from the ability to derive value, even if that just means association through visibility, from their professional endeavors. The easy and encouraged (by those who according to the law, do not have the legal authority to do so) sharing of my photographs is proving a serious detriment to my income.

      While the world at large may have taken a keen interest in seeing free to air examples of sustainable architecture, I have been developing a rather inescapable interest in sustainable architectural photography.

      I agree wholeheartedly that architects, whether as individuals or as corporate entities, should be credited alongside their work. I would hope that your readers would consider just as valid, the same level of recognition being accorded to the creators of the images that represent the architects vision.

      Tim Griffith FAIPP ASMP APA
      Architectural Photographer

      • Tim,

        I always appreciate an intelligent and thoughtful response, and yours scores on both accounts. In my office, we work with several local photographers to document our work here. Our PR people are always extremely careful to credit the image with who created it, but I must admit that I have seen some of those same images published without credit to the artist. Stating the obvious, one of them was included in the article I was responding to with this post. Like you, I trust that our readers understand the importance of giving credit where credit is due, even in such everyday actions as pinning images on the wall for design inspiration. Google and Photoshop may make it easy to reproduce these images, but they don’t absolve us of the responsibility we have as consumers to use them within the confines of the law and to give the creator the proper credit that is due.

        On a side note, thank you for discovering this post, and I look forward to more “conversations” with you in the future.

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