Archive for March, 2011

Success is typically defined as one’s attainment or measure of social status, achievement, and profit compared to others. Success for an architect can be an allusive as we belong to a profession and there is an added dimension of ethics in practice. As practicing architects and businessman we are responsible to make a profit, attain business, sustain our business, and provide compelling work for our firm. As a practicing architect and registered professional we are ethically responsible for the work we do and how it affects the built environment and ecology of the site.

The purpose of this research document is to present a definition of success for an architect and establish a lexicon of descriptors for measuring success. What is troubling is that architects never seem to be completely satisfied with their own work and look to other famous architects as successful. There is also the saying that “an architect only becomes famous after he dies,” which held true during the mid-twentieth century and to some extent still today.

Architectural Success in Professional Practice

There are four definitions/types of success for an architect and architecture practice that are discernible:

  1. The measure and impact one has on the built environment. Architects like Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn defined a generation and movement of architecture. Even today we can still see what these architects have achieved in the work of others. The architect that directly affects how we perceive architecture through their own works is a successful architect.
  • Achievement
  • Game Changers
  • Icons of an Era
  • Defines Architectural Movement2. A person or practice who has won many competitions and designed many focal points of major cities. This type of success can be measured on how known architects such as Gehry and Zaha are known outside of the architecture profession. These architects have yet to define a style or movement of architecture, however they have won prestigious projects and are willing to experiment with style that other people admire. Admiration is a key measure.
  • Recognition/Status
  • Winner/Prestige
  • Quality of work attained and designed3. The size and growth rate is another metric of business success. Attaining profitable success can be measured by size of firm, stock price, and income statements of the firm. These measures are looking at the functional health of the firm to sustain itself and be able to produce work. There is a very casual causality between health of the firms financing and other definitions of success, although it does tell us that whatever the firm’s strategy is, its working to sustain it.
  • Profit
  • Size
  • Firm’s Health
    4. The ability to create a better future through ethical/accountable design that fulfils a personal need and population wants. As our world becomes more aware of the fragility of the ecologies we occupy, successful design is measured in what level of LEED has it achieved and what is its ecological footprint. Optimizing design helps reduce the monetary upkeep and leads to more ethical design. Architects that consistently have a track record of sustainable design and projects that are less likely to fail are thus more accountable to the profession.
  • Personal Achievement/Fulfilment of Self Needs
  • Ethical Design
  • Honour
  • Accountable

In all these categories we need leaders and champions of the profession to fulfil these definitions. Leaders make meaning and create a coherent culture where success is obtainable through well defined goals. Success is defined in architecture as all four of these traits either together or separate and imbued in people and firms we see as successful. We use intuition to define who is successful without really defining for ourself what makes someone successful. Architects are by nature design thinkers and rely on our ability to imagine and create frameworks to develop buildings. So it seems natural that until now we have relied on our intuition to define success.


Social Comparison Theory by Leon Festinger states that people tend to seek to evaluate their performance based on others so it makes sense to compare the definitions of architectural success with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in figure one. Still most important is the self-actualization found in the fulfilment of good work. The architecture profession is a place of creativity and morality that feeds right into those high level needs. From casual observation it seems though most professionals look at the health of the firm and recognition more highly. Are these because they are the lower fruit on the tree so they are readily attainable. I have read in Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman’s In Search of Excellence that we commonly place more emphasis on the easily attainable goals and less priority on those high level needs that will give us longer lasting feelings of success. This is obviously a problem to further explore.

Whichever definition of success we look to attain, there obviously needs to be a way to measure and analyze it. However I do not want to leave this analysis at only a look at the rational quantitative data, I want to take the intuitive leap, that move that makes us so creative and discuss how to strategically plan out a career or take an existing business to a more meaningful and fulfilling high level success. I have already listed some descriptors of success that we can look for when analyzing current people and practices, now its time to discuss measures.

Measures of Success in Professional Practice

For each definition of success we will use the most rational quantitative data available to measure.

  1. For achievement, we will count name association to an architectural movement. We will ask how often do we find other architects mimic signature architectural moves.
  2. Recognition will be measured in number of awards won, major competitions won that were sponsored by professional associations and books written about the architect or firm.
  3. Health will be measured by looking at profit statements, size, and growth of firm.
  4. Self-actualization will be the hardest to measure and will require digging into media and professional recognition articles that describe their achievements, intuitively when a firm or person names appear often then we can credibly seek further input from those firms and people that have reach a level of fulfilment to be considered successful.

Using this measure and lexicon of descriptors we start to quantitatively see who is successful. From there we must make the intuitive leap to how these people are successful. Some time has been spent on leadership theory, strategic marketing, managing service firms, and innovative business intelligence. All this research leads me to believe that success can be an ingrained culture and spearheaded by a design/leadership champion. That is where my research is moving to now with and after a little bit of fumbling around articles on innovations I have realized that there are many markets, models, and strategies of innovation. I think that the future innovation discussion will revolve around a loose-tight framework for innovation in architecture. We can develop methods and approaches that allow our creative minds to populate with ideas and strategy of achieving it.


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