Architect or Starchitect?

The other day we received a referral from a friend who told us that her son and his wife wanted to remodel their home but were afraid to call an architect “because they know what they want to do and don’t want to be talked out of it by an architect”.  Wow! We had never heard of that concern before.  We discussed it in the office and realized it might be a misperception that an architect will come into a project to impose a specific style that the client may not desire.

The term “starchitect” is used in our industry to refer to architects that have a particular style that is reflected in their designs. They may be famous, or be a principal of a major architectural firm with name recognition, or they might just be a locally-known architect who has established a reputation.  Some are admired as, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright, whose Prairie Style is recognizable and cherished.  Others are known for designs that make a statement and insist that their design is unquestionable as an “artistic vision”. This is the kind of architect that might scare away some clients.

Architects may inadvertently contribute to the problem by showing off glorious photos of their biggest and most design-intensive projects on their websites.  Would you, as a potential client, feel a little intimidated if all of the projects displayed looked far more elaborate than what you have in mind for your project?

The fact is that most architects work collaboratively with their clients, incorporating the client’s ideas and requirements into the finished design. Bringing their own experience and sense of style to the project, the architect will give it the customization that makes the building stand out as a quality creation.  On a continuum of architectural design, a client may want very little creativity or a great deal of creativity to be evident in the project.  Usually, the bolder the design, the higher the cost of the architecture, as well as the cost of construction, due to the customized features.  So, it is not just about interesting design, it is also about the budget for the project.  You should consider where you want your project to be on this continuum.

Even if you have a big budget for your project, be upfront about whether you are willing to have an architect design something in his or her particular style.  Don’t let a “starchitect” take you down a path that will be outside your comfort zone.  You can look at examples of an architect’s work to see if the designs are similar to your taste.  (Architects will be happy to provide you with portfolio examples of their work.)  Don’t hesitate to ask point-blank whether you will have input in the design process, and whether or not the architect is receptive to your thoughts about the style and features you want for the building.  If you get a sense that he or she is not receptive, you may want to seek a better match.

We hope that potential clients don’t shy away from hiring a talented architect just because they think they already have their design figured out.  An experienced architect will be able to take your ideas and assess where they are a) feasible, b) cost-effective, c) fit local ordinances and code requirements, and d) whether they can be improved upon.  It is the most effective way to get what you want!


Lorianna Kastrop
Vice President,
The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

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