wisdom of a starchitect

A Starchitect’s Wisdom on the Profession

A few years back I attended Rafael Vinoly’s Training Program, which he so kindly hosted at the RVA offices. I was part of the first group as I recall, so RV’s teaching methods were a bit untested. However, the essence of the whole seminar (which lasted about 10 weeks or so) was unbelievably enlightening. During the seminar I kept many notes, which I thought I should share with you. Careful , my notes are raw and unpolished, so you might need to make lots of assumptions and stretch your imagination a bit to put them in the right perspective. Overall, however,I think they are extremely useful.



– We are here to try and explain the relatively universal tricks of the trade

– Craft is the know-how of architecture. Some form by which processes are applied to make architecture

– It is not about learning about metabolism, but learning about cooking.

– By imitating and following, you can develop your own skills

– Tendency: to confuse talent with knowledge

– the way through which you learn composition is extremely dogmatic, which is what this seminar will also be

– Craft is the direct process of working

– Craft in NOT art – Craft does not contain ideologies

– Art > Esoteric involvement of creator is what is important. Tertiary factors/ people do not matter

– the fact that it is a job makes architecture different

– The approach that perceives the client as a pain in the ass is not correct

Q: How do you build up a position in the profession as a whole?

–          When architecture was completely about the application of dogmas the rules were totally clear. And within them you will be worse or better than somebody else

–          Constantly compare the simplicity of the recipes.

–          The virtue of a technique is that it is perfectionable. A recipe is what it is.

–          We should be interested in buildings that concentrate ideas, not on ideas that need buildings to express them.

–          Architecture is nothing but an extraordinary exercise that is regarding to how a building performs

–          If you are not extremely demanding in controlling the composition, things fall apart

–          The process of architecture is all about referring to precedent.

–          Honesty in terms of what and how you refer, makes the difference.

–          The understanding of whatever we refer to is important. For example it is one thing to design using columns, and other classical element and another to understand the essence of classicism

–          You cannot be confused about your beliefs, about the world, about ANYTHING

–          You MUST develop your ideas, clarify them, and navigate yourself through the ocean of competition. If not, then the experience might be very frustrating.



Key Concepts

–          The essence of architecture is getting the job

–          When you get the job you must know how to handle it

–          Handling the job comes through a long process of learning from your mistakes

–          You must create the opportunities to learn, either by asking or by going for jobs.

–          Once someone somewhere gives you an opportunity, you must take it and use it. A) use it as an opportunity to learn, b) Use it as  a job (get paid). For example, in an office, learn 100% about the job you are asked to do. Keep challenging the job, but do not disprespect it by letting things fall apart. Find in the job something that will keep you learning/ moving/ working. The same with a real job. Find something that will keep you learning. Learn – Learn – Learn – and never forget what you learn. Nobody is going to “GIVE” you a job. You must chase it. You have to go for it as many times as you need to until you get it, and even if you do not get it, you will have gained work for your portfolio and experience.

–          Do not forget to always question the roots of a failure (of a non-success). Only through questioning can you reach an improvement

–          Do not forget that in the field of architecture no one knows anything and this important fact is what moves people that know something to higher places.

–          Knowing is EVERYTHING



–          The fact that it is a business says something about what we deal with: Money and Design.

–          Architecture is a Profession

–          Architecture is a Business

–          Speculation in architecture is important, yet we must be aware of the fact that it IS

–           Q: How are you capable to understand work when you have and don’t have it

–          When you get the job, reality has a demoralizing effect.

–          “The more concrete the stuff gets, the less spiritual we tend to perceive them as being”.

–          i.e. when you know how to plan the trombone, and have just to  blow.

–          Work is an effort that has to include pleasure in it by virtue of its concreteness.

–          The business today is money intensive.

–          WORK: The most important thing in work is getting it.

–          Only in work is there the ability to make.

–          The profession is polarized around the large offices or the classy boutique firms. Most firms are stuck in the middle.

–          In order to get a job you must lose MANY MANY jobs. The most jobs you do not get, the more you will get.

–          The getting of a job: Philistine operation – selling of what you have to offer.

–          Define your position clearly in the marketplace

–          Position yourself in the market in which you can aspire to get a job, and try hard and all the time, again and again, to get it.

–          HOW à Find the marketplace à Find the job that teaches, you what you need to know à Find a job – a job is a job that pays you à Whatever job you get make sure you place your energy in the right places à be selective: Climb the ladder but be very conscious of your resources, i.e. time etc, whenever you jump and start an office it’s risky.

–          Must get 10, 15,20 million a year in order to begin.

–          Know where and what work is

–          Learn how to get it

–          People try once and not twice

–          You need to learn to play a lot of instruments at the same time