[Originally published 1st quarter 2002, in arcCA 02.1, “Image Mirror.”]
One thing I’ve noticed, working on this issue of arcCA, is that most people don’t know any architect jokes. Even most architects don’t. There’s that Monty Python sketch, the one with the rotating knives. Otherwise, it’s pretty slim pickin’s.
I don’t know why. We’re certainly funny looking; the eyewear alone should do it. And the shoes.
Maybe people don’t understand us well enough to make jokes about us. Maybe we seem so downtrodden that people can’t bring themselves to poke fun. Maybe the kinds of things that go wrong with buildings are too terrible to laugh about; or else they’re too quiet or too technical or too gradual to prompt a punch line.
We did, however, turn up one joke, and it’s a good one:
There’s a big line at the Pearly Gates, moving really slowly. Folks are getting restless. All of a sudden, this old guy with long hair and a long beard and a T-square under his arm wanders up to the front of the line and just walks in.
A fellow eight or ten people back in the line objects: “Yo! St. Peter! What’s up? We’ve been standing here for hours, and you let this architect just stroll right in!”
To which St. Peter replies, “Oh, that’s not an architect. That’s God. He just thinks he’s an architect.”
Jokes about architects may be hard to come by, but opinions about us aren’t. arcCA has asked twenty or so people from diverse walks of life to tell us what they think of architects and the architecture profession. Their responses are collected in “Perspectives: Looking In from the Outside.” While some of the respondents dress us down for unrealistic attitudes or inattentiveness or even callousness, I was pleased, surprised, and not a little bit humbled to discover how much people value our idealism. As Jonathan Arons, Chair of Astronomy at UC Berkeley, puts it, “Architects are those people who get to remind us again and again of the wonders of the ideal. The more of that reminder, the better.” Perhaps we need reminding, as well.
We have bracketed the “Perspectives” with “United Cab no. 118,” a report on an “undercover” assignment, sussing out public perceptions of architecture from the driver’s seat of a cab; and “A Note on Value,” a sobering anecdote from Michael Benedikt, who took the AIACC audience by storm at last year’s Monterey Design Conference.
We have also added a new feature, “Under the Radar,” in which we profile a recently completed building that has escaped the notice of the glossies.
“’To me the window is still a symbolically loaded motif,’ drawled Cody” is by Glen Baxter, whose many books include Atlas, Jodhpurs in the Quantocks, The Impending Gleam, The Billiard Table Murders, The Wonder Book of Sex, and Blizzards of Tweed. It is reprinted here with his permission.