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The image of the architect.

The architect's profession must have been designed by a committee; like a camel, the job is a pastiche of seemingly incompatible elements. Is the role that of an artist, working in three dimensions on a monumental scale?

Or is an architect essentially a manager, catering to the needs of the owner, the tenant, and the local government, while obtaining the cooperation of the structural engineer, the building unions, and interior decorators? In this collection of essays, Andrew Saint describes how the architectural profession has struggled with these conflicting requirements and, in the course of this struggle, has indulged itself and been saddled with various identities.

Saint starts with the romantic image of the architect as supereminent artist and hero, directing the lesser arts of painting, sculpture, and the crafts to fashion civilization's greatest achievements. This romantic notion has its roots in the imagination of writers, starting with Goethe in the eighteenth century, awed by the beauty of medieval Gothic cathedrals. Saint also provides an excellent analysis of the errors of historians of medieval architecture, firmly identifying the biases of both the romantics and their opponents. While Saint sides with neither and offers no new interpretation of the origin of Gothic architecture, he provides a valuable perspective.

The illusion of the architect as artistic genius has been surprisingly persistent, finding its way into the practice of architecture as well as the history. Saint observes that modern architects, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright, have promoted the illusion because it is so useful in enhancing their reputations and bullying their clients. Ultimately Saind finds that this deception is simply a tool in the architectural profession's historical preoccupation: justifying its existence and gaining control over all building. While there is truth in what Saint says, the depth of his pessimism is better understood if the reader keeps in mind his introductory admision that he takes a Marxist view of history. Saint looks first for and appears always to be satisfied with a financial motive. Thus, he overlooks the many architects who are altruistically motivated or who design buildings solely for the joy of achievement.

Saint also describes the formation of the architectural profession in the nineteenth century: the emergence and operation of large firms in America, such as Adler and Sullivan, and McKim, Mead, and White; the origin and fate of the German Bauhaus arhitects, with an expose of Walter Gropius; and the big business of today's architects, exemplified by John Poulson in Britain and John Portman in America, for whom form follows the buck, not function. Each essay is thoroughly researched and excellently written, providing fresh insights into the history of business of architecture. Saint is a wonderful storyteller who delights in detail. He introduces most of his essays with an architectural vignette from fiction or the past. These strengths, give his writing vitality and his research a thoroughness that makes it convincing. His book addresses the much-neglected subject of the individuals and businesses that parctice architecture and should provoke additional research along similar lines.

Is the architect an artist or a manager? The profession has yet to answer this question. Perhaps because neither answer is correct, Saint concludes that the profession is still not soundly established.
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Author:Quinn, Michael C.
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1985
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