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Shaping the City

Press May Ignore Architects, but So Does (Almost) Everyone Else

By Roger K. Lewis
Saturday, October 30, 2004; Page F04

When buildings are featured in the media, often the architects responsible for their design and execution are not mentioned.

Architects regularly complain that their names do not appear in articles about their work. They assume that reporters and their editors, for some reason, consciously choose to disregard the architect's contribution. Unless an article or review specifically focuses on architectural issues, design authorship of buildings is frequently overlooked. And even when architecture is discussed, the architect still may not be mentioned.

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For example, the new glass-clad, energy-conscious National Association of Realtors' headquarters building on New Jersey Avenue NW, near the Capitol, was the subject of The Washington Post's "K Street Confidential" column earlier this month. While the generally laudatory report included color photographs of the exterior and described in some detail the building and many of its aesthetic and technical features, it never cited Graham Gund Architects, the designers.

Why don't architects get credit more often in the press? And does it matter?

The most obvious explanation is that journalists may consider attribution of design authorship irrelevant to a story that, while concerned with a building, is not about architecture per se. Others who are key to the process, including engineers and construction contractors, also may not be named.

In writing a business story about a building, or a story about public controversy surrounding a project, a reporter understandably may think naming the architect is not germane. In researching a building-related story, the reporter may never even learn the identity of the architect.

Even when the architect's identity is known, a reporter may decide not to cite the designer because the architect is not sufficiently famous or considered a star. This reflects an infatuation with celebrity -- and helps account for why design attribution may be left out.

Reporting on architectural authorship also can be tricky. Today, many large-scale projects are designed by joint ventures in which multiple firms collaborate. Often one design firm is primarily responsible for establishing the basic design concept while another firm, acting as the "executive" architect, prepares detailed drawings and specifications, based on the lead designer's concept, and administers the overall design and construction process.

From a reporter's perspective, who gets credit?

The lead designer is clearly the conceptual author, the creative generator of architectural form visible to the public. But the executive architect usually can claim credit for project realization, for refining and detailing the design, and for doing much of the heavy lifting required to produce contract documents, coordinate engineers and other consultants, obtain building permits, and watch over construction.

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