talking about architecture

architecture, like all professions, has its own lingo and terminology.  There are the technical and descriptive terms of buildings and spaces, like “soffit” and “return” and “reveal“.  Then there are the terms of architectural theory, which may be words which in the context of architectural language, have significantly different meanings than in common usage.

Then there are a whole class of words and descriptions that architects are really loath to use.  These tend to be terms used frequently by laymen but that are sure to raise the hackles of architects.  Words like “pretty“, “cozy“, and “cute“.  Any architect faced with their work labeled with one of the terms would cringe.  We are entirely too serious, too beholden to a couple thousand years of architectural history and precedent to design buildings that could be described as “pretty”.

If terms such as this are applied to our work, we architects think that all the study and thought for a given design is being reduced down to a purely aesthetic, and mildly flippant, judgement of “taste“.  We think we are beyond questions of  “taste“.

Well I don’t have museum directors and the architectural cognescenti as clients.  For the most part, my clients are regular homeowners who want more than a standard builder model house.  They use the dreaded words of taste because they are normal people who have not spent a few decades both refining their ability to describe things and they have not become so overly-sensitive to this set of taboo terms.  I admit to being a bit shocked and maybe even a little disappointed when one of my projects was described by a client as “pretty“.  Now, with a couple of decades of architecture practice under my belt, I am more than pleased to hear this as the compliment it is intended to be.  In fact, I use these terms as well now as a way of describing spaces or details to my clients.

Sticks and stones…

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