Whose House is it Anyway? Client or Architect?

This question is never asked out loud, but it lies just below the surface of every owner-architect relationship.  And the success of that relationship is always clearly revealed in the final completed house.  In a way, each house is really a memorial to this negotiation. 

From the perspective of the client, the house is usually viewed in very personal terms.  In their book, The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self, sociologists Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton quote a 63-year-old man and reflect on his comment:

“I’d say my home is my castle.  Even more than that, I’d say my home is church to me…to find peace and quiet and beauty with no static.” For most people the home is a church in that it is the place where ultimate goals can be cultivated, sheltered from the intrusions of public life.  (p.123, Cambridge University Press 1981)

For the client, that dream house where “ultimate goals can be cultivated” seems like a logical request to make of the architect.  Even I imagine my own next house in similar terms: as a place where time has stopped and where I always exist!  But clients must also understand that such visions reside only within their imaginations, and the architect has no direct access there.  Instead, the architect must approach every project in architectural terms, using architectural ideas and language.    

In retrospect, the entire history of residential architecture might be viewed as a tug of war between these two perspectives: the castle and the temple.  (Reread the quote above with this in mind.) The former represents the combination of human force and fantasy, while the latter captures the rational self and abstract ideals.   Isn’t it true that castles can seem creepy and unpredictable with their dungeons and secret towers while, by contrast, temples appear to us as more rational and ethereal?

In the end, every client and architect must come to their own joint understanding, and make the best house they can.  And those houses will cover a wide range from forts and amusement parks at one end to objects of art and theory on the other.  But it is important for clients to remember that architecture in its highest form originated in the temple, not the castle, and that the best houses are weighted toward values and ideals over fashion and amenity.

The Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio has been cited as the first architect to apply architectural principles previously reserved for sacred buildings to the house.  And so it should probably be no surprise that he remains one of the best architects at balancing these two programs.  In his villas, and my favorite is Villa Emo (above), the architectural language is rigorous, rational and self-referential.  And yet these villas are not churches.  They also tell the stories of his clients quite clearly.  At roughly five centuries of age, perhaps the longevity of his villas is the best argument for pursuing such a balance.

This question is never asked out loud, but it lies just below the surface of every owner-architect relationship.  And the success of that relationship is always clearly revealed in the final completed house.  In a way, each house is really a memorial to this negotiation. 

From the perspective of the client, the house is usually viewed in very personal terms.  In their book, The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self, sociologists Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton quote a 63-year-old man and reflect on his comment:

“I’d say my home is my castle.  Even more than that, I’d say my home is church to me…to find peace and quiet and beauty with no static.” For most people the home is a church in that it is the place where ultimate goals can be cultivated, sheltered from the intrusions of public life.  (p.123, Cambridge University Press 1981)

For the client, that dream house where “ultimate goals can be cultivated” seems like a logical request to make of the architect.  Even I imagine my own next house in similar terms: as a place where time has stopped and where I always exist!  But clients must also understand that such visions reside only within their imaginations, and the architect has no direct access there.  Instead, the architect must approach every project in architectural terms, using architectural ideas and language.    

In retrospect, the entire history of residential architecture might be viewed as a tug of war between these two perspectives: the castle and the temple.  (Reread the quote above with this in mind.) The former represents the combination of human force and fantasy, while the latter captures the rational self and abstract ideals.   Isn’t it true that castles can seem creepy and unpredictable with their dungeons and secret towers while, by contrast, temples appear to us as more rational and ethereal?

In the end, every client and architect must come to their own joint understanding, and make the best house they can.  And those houses will cover a wide range from forts and amusement parks at one end to objects of art and theory on the other.  But it is important for clients to remember that architecture in its highest form originated in the temple, not the castle, and that the best houses are weighted toward values and ideals over fashion and amenity.

The Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio has been cited as the first architect to apply architectural principles previously reserved for sacred buildings to the house.  And so it should probably be no surprise that he remains one of the best architects at balancing these two programs.  In his villas, and my favorite is Villa Emo (above), the architectural language is rigorous, rational and self-referential.  And yet these villas are not churches.  They also tell the stories of his clients quite clearly.  At roughly five centuries of age, perhaps the longevity of his villas is the best argument for pursuing such a balance.