what’s in a name – architect’s monikers

There is a recent, and growing trend that I find somewhat odd and certainly annoying.  It is the deliberate choice of odd and unusual names, and especially spelling, of architectural firm names.  Up until about 10 years or so ago, most firms of more than one principal simply used their names or intials as the identity of the organization. Actually, even longer ago, prior to WWII, architects used their full names as the office descriptor:

Shepley, Bullfinch       Holabird and Root       McKim, Mead and White

With the increasing size and ubiquity of multi-national firms it seems the old list-of-names gave sway to initials, and so in the post-WWII years up to about the 1980’s we get:

KPF     HOK     SOM     NBBJ    (at least three initials needed here)

Some creative folks liked to use the visually insistent ampersand, W&J, and that was even replaced in later years with the considerably hipper + sign, P+B+J.  (I actually worked one brief summer for P+B+J, which was Pearson, Bender and Jolly before the sandwich moniker and plus signs)

Some time in the 1970’s, possibly as a rejection of the notion of the hero architect of recognizable name, firms began to make up names.  The first I can think of was Superstudio, but a number of others quickly followed.  This first wave of nuevo names were usually actual words or close variants and often explicitly called out their collaborative studio culture.  In many ways this was not dissimilar to the wave of high-tech and pharmaceutical firms that adopted new words for identities to highlight their forward-looking natures and embracing of new technologies.

archimuse     archizoom      superstudio     archigram      morphosis       arquitectonica      coop himmelb(l)au

Of late, maybe because the availability of words without some negative connotations have all been used up, architects have been opting for unique and odd spellings to set themselves off from the crowd.  This is a particular affliction of Dutch architects from whom Mecanoo, OMA (“Office of Metropolitan Architecture”, not the principal’s names) and UNStudio are examples.

+31Architects     i29    NEXT    DP6   COEN!    B(h)uis    eneead    ArC    2Ton     3DIkon    SHoP    00:/     WHAT_

When I see so many of these names I do not conjure up the image of a new, hip design firm but rather of so many kid’s toys.

I probably have no right to kind of make fun of other architect’s corporate names when “M. Gerwing Architects” is so wrought with self-consciousness.  I have worked for architects for whom the company name made no mention of the team that actually made the projects and I have worked for a firm whose made up name could have been used for a new software product or anti-depressant.  But in all these places what has held true has been that the quality of work that came out of the office, collective or otherwise, was almost always the passionate and tireless effort of a real person.  There may have been many hands that helped guide the project, but it was always the experience, judgement and vigilance of a single person that has brought a good project into a building.  So M. Gerwing Architects is me.  I am the M.  No one calls me that, “M” is my own sort of joke – a laughing reflection that there is not a long string of famous architects named Mark.  M is me, more typically called “Mark”, the “markitect” or “Daddy”. But by any name when a project is in the office it is worked primarily by me, not staff, and anything good or bad that happens on the project rests with me.  I think people should hire architects, not architecture offices.  And certainly not typographic experimentalists.

(I am thinking of changing our firm’s name to:  <!> what do think?)

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2 thoughts on “what’s in a name – architect’s monikers

  1. Good article. I Agree!
    I’m Dutch, and because of many names here are similar and look-a-like it’s more difficult to keep up with what project is done by which architect…
    Succes M! 🙂

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