Interpret or Express?

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Exactly how an architect designs – that is, develops a plan and creates a physical object that has visual coherence and impact – can take one of two approaches.

The architect can interpret the values and history of the organization in his or her own vocabulary. The results can be brilliant – or disappointing if the architect’s personal vision is out of sync with the organization’s mission, programs, users or the budget. Examples of failures, and successes, of this approach are all around us, often touted as “masterpieces” even when not meeting the needs of the client.

Or, the architect can give expression to the institution’s mission. This is very different from interpreting the mission as it requires a less dogmatic notion about developing the architect’s personal style or vision and a facility for choosing the right architectural idiom for the particular client and project.

A successful expression of an organization can be just as dramatic and appropriate as an interpretation. And without the tension that often exists between an architect and an organization during the design process as the architect stoutly defends his vision and the organization fights for theirs.

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