Are Architects Artists?

Architects produce drawings that become part of the built environment and as such we are sometimes compared to artists, especially when the end result is a provocative piece of architecture. Is this a fair comparison and if so does this apply to all architects? How do architects see themselves?

One way to determine if an architect is an artist is to examine the portion of our work that can truly be considered "artistic" - the Schematic Design phase of our work. If one considers that Schematic Design accounts for about 1/3 of our total billable work, and billable work accounts for approximately half of what we do in the office, then one can say that 1/6 of our work is "artistic" in nature. That's not a very favorable fraction of time spent being artistic. The other 80% of our time is spent doing code research, taking field measurements, detailing, drafting, marketing, accounting, interviewing - all very unartistic pursuits.

Let's try a different approach. After all, one could argue what makes an artist is not the type of the work that's being produced but how one sees one's surroundings. What is an artist? An author, a painter, a sculptor, a musician? Anyone who's curious about they're surroundings and takes action to investigate should be called an artist. This is where we stand as architects in our practice and it's this approach to re-thinking our environment that we're trained to do in school. Maybe some architects loose it along the way or become jaded and disgruntled but I feel within the office of Element 5 Architecture we strive to be critical of every project that is in the office - as well as those outside the office. Life is not limited to one's immediate surroundings and interests.

What do you think of this idea? Can you have an artistic approach to life a non-artistic profession?

Consider this part one in a continuing discussion on art and the artist's life. Next post we'll look at lessons learned from Austin Kleon's book "Steal Like an Artist".

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