Brain Pickings

The Architect Says: A Compendium of Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom from Iconic Architects

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Gehry, Eames, Le Corbusier, Fuller, Hadid, and more.

There’s something inescapably alluring about pocket-sized compendiums of quotes by great architects and designers — take, for instance, those of Charles Eames and Frank Lloyd Wright. Fittingly, The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom (public library) gathers timeless wisdom on design and architecture from more than 100 of history’s most vocal — and often dissenting — minds. What emerges, besides the fascinating tapas bar of ideas about the art and science of building, is the subtle but essential reminder that what lies at the heart of creative legacy aren’t universal formulas and unrelenting tents but perspective, conviction, and personality.

Frank Gehry (1929–) speaks to the power of ignorance and insecurity in the creative process, and echoing Orson Welles:

For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did, and I get the sweats, I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going — if I knew where I was going, I wouldn’t do it.

Hannes Meyer (1889–1954) offers a list of “the only requirements to be considered when building a house”:

  1. sex life
  2. sleeping habits
  3. pets
  4. gardening
  5. personal hygiene
  6. protection against weather
  7. hygiene in the home
  8. car maintenance
  9. cooking
  10. heating
  11. insolation
  12. service

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) reminds us of the joy of the analog:

Is anything more pleasurable to the mind than unsullied paper? The studious comparisons and selections of ‘stock’ in textures and colors of cards and paper?

Tom Kundig (1954–) stresses the importance of cross-pollinating perspectives:

I learn more from creative people in other disciplines than I do even from other architects because I think they have a way of looking at the world that is really important.

Thom Mayne (1944 — ) explores the relationship between simplicity and complexity:

Architecture is a discipline that takes time and patience. If one spends enough years writing complex novels one might be able, someday, to construct a respectable haiku.

Glenn Murcutt (1936–) voices something George Lois has since echoed:

We do not create the work. I believe we, in fact, are discoverers.

Le Corbusier (1887–1965) stands for the honesty of drawing:

I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies.

Jan Kaplicky (1937–2009) on creativity as subtraction:

It’s not a sign of creativity to have sixty-five ideas for one problem. It’s just a waste of energy.

Then there are the contradictions:

Some of them, of course, are but a caricature of the infamous architect arrogance. From Louis Kahn (1901–1974):

The sun never knew how great it was until it hit the side of a building.

Really? (At least he didn’t say “my building.”)

The Architect Says comes, unsurprisingly, from Princeton Architectural Press.

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