Mississippi Architect, June 1964: Who’s Building Is It?

In the June 1964 issue of the Mississippi Architect, editor Edward F. Neal picks up a similar theme to his editorial of May 1964, “The Language Barrier,” noting the disconnect between architects and their clients. In this issue, he re-prints a letter to the editor from a frustrated client whose architects wouldn’t build the colonial building he wanted. I wish Neal’s answer had been a little longer and more fleshed out, because I think many people have the same question as the client: why won’t my architect do what I want him to? Maybe some of our modern-day architects can lend their thoughts on this perennial question.

Mr. Neal concludes with this statement: “Truly distinctive buildings are seldom if ever the result of design by the untrained or of copies from the past.” Do you agree? Are reconstructions ever a good idea? When does traditional architecture become slavish devotion to the past? On the other hand, does slavish devotion to the present, i.e. current architectural styles and philosophies, also constitute a form of poor design? Is there a fixed line between the past and the present, or is it always moving? Deep thoughts for a short letter to the editor.


Architect’s or Client’s Building?

Dear Editor:

We propose to construct a small office for the permanent home of our company. We would like for our building to be distinctive enough that it will become a symbol of identification.

We have some very positive ideas about how this building should be arranged and how it should look. We definitely want a colonial building with columns at the entrance.

We have consulted with two architects of good reputation and each has declined to serve us. They say that it is their responsibility to design the building rather than to simply draw up what we tell them to.

Before we approach a third architect, we would like to have the position of architects clarified.

Should the architect design what he wants or what we want?

M. L. C.

Dear M. L. C.:

Fortunately there are no rules set up to control the design aspect of architecture. Each architect is free to design according to the dictates of his convictions. However, it is a rare case if he is granted license to design what he alone wants, to the exclusion of what his client wants. After all, the client has to state the program before the architect can go to work. Ideally, the results of his efforts should be what each wants.

More directly to the point, I have no doubt that you can find someone who will simply draw up what you tell him to, but I advise against it. I suggest that you go back to the first architect you contacted and ask for a design rather than dictating one.

If he is a good designer, and he probably is or you wouldn’t have gone to him in the first place, then he will not ignore your ideas and your dedication to colonial buildings. Rather, he will use your ideas in combination with his to develop your primary program requirement: “a building distinctive enough to become a symbol of identification” for your company. Truly distinctive buildings are seldom if ever the result of design by the untrained or of copies from the past.

Editorial Advisor


This article is reprinted from the June 1964 issue of the Mississippi Architect, with permission from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. View the full June 1964 issue of Mississippi Architect in a digitized format, or for other articles in this ongoing series, including the pdf version of each full issue, click on the MSArcht tab at the top of this page.

Categories: Architectural Research

1 reply

  1. This is so entertaining one feels one is back with Eric Hodgen’s novel, “Mr. Blandings Bulids His Dream House” or whatever it was titled.

    Could I offer another form of repartee? This one was forwarded to me by John Shiflet, a wonderful preservation craftsman who has had a hand with many a worthy old building. The poem is by the mail-order architect from 1910, Herbert C. Chivers (who also had a hand in a lot of actual buildings in St. Louis and elsewhere). While making his point about architects being needed, Chivers took a little dig at Elbert Hubbard and the arts and crafts group at Roycroft in New York:

    — Herbert C. Chivers

    He made a fortune buying lots,
    Converting them to pretty spots,
    And building pleasant homes to sell,
    For Roycraft always builded well.

    Substantial healthy, handy homes;
    With arches, gables, peaks and domes,
    Piazzas, oriels and handsome towers,
    Half hidden in the trees and flowers.

    Each house was varied from the rest–
    Like pretty women, nicely dressed.
    He scarce could hold a house til done,
    For at least two buyers sought each one.

    How Roycraft did it, none could learn;
    He was so very taciturn.
    When dying, Roycraft told his spouse
    The secret: “When you want a house,
    Secure an architect at once.”

    (He who hires himself, a dunce employs.)

    John refreshed my memory and literary taste with the following additional comments:

    As for Elbert Hubbard, I’m a fan of his. You probably know he started out with his brother-in-law at the Larkin Soap Company which provided coupons with soap products purchases redeemable for furniture. (I have a couple of Larkin pieces myself) Elbert was so successful with this project that he decided to branch out on his own with the Roycroft brand in (East) Aurora, NY. His communal artisan compound produced some of the finest Arts & Crafts pieces (even publishing books) until a few years after his untimely death. (with Hubbard being one of the S.S. Lusitania losses in 1915) The East Aurora site is being renovated as I understand for a musuem highlighting the Roycroft legacy.

    **** I did note the discordant ending and wondered if Chivers was not intentionally using “Roycraft” as a thinly veiled punch at the American public for following the latest fad: the Arts & Crafts movement. *****


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