Stereotyping architects is easy. Beyond the superficial wire-rimmed glasses, black turtlenecks and sport coats with elbow patches, architects are universally and fairly characterized as egotistical and arrogant. As a rule, we architects do little to discourage the stereotype. We dress the part, play along, and laugh at ourselves, all the while hanging on with pride as the imagery affords a certain distinction.
I suspect the apparent outsize ego of the architect is accurate, but also misunderstood. Fighting small battles, stubbornness, grandstanding, and winning arguments may all rather be signs of an undersized ego stemming from low self-esteem – coupled with a fear of losing, or even worse, being wrong. Success in many disciplines derives from and fuels the ego, and in most disciplines, systems abound by which to measure success. Hollywood has the Academy Awards, and business has Forbes Magazine and its lists ranking the wealth of individuals and corporations. And sports, well, scorekeeping was invented to track and compare accomplishments.
Architecture and design, however, inhabit an alternative world of subjectivity, and especially so for residential practitioners. While Architectural Digest publishes and even ranks the most famous amongst us, most small firms toil anonymously, endeavoring to meet and exceed client expectations through quality design and competent project management. To succeed at this requires more than an average ego.
Excelling as a residential architect demands an ego so superior that the pressure to win small battles or to be always right drops away. To collaborate, to work in the service of others, and to rigorously solve problems requires the self-confidence to listen, to assess complex and often conflicting criteria, and to divine insightful answers without arrogance and self-interest.
Like most sermons, the foregoing sounds easy. Hard work, experience and the constant pursuit of excellence are together the simplest prescription I know to attain confidence, and to have one’s ego grow from a stereotypical and superficially large ego into something greater.