My Ego Trip (Pun Intended)
Talk About It
Storytelling: My Ego Trip (Pun Intended)
In my almost 60-year career in architecture, I have been privileged to be exposed to some of the most successful and accomplished architects both in the U.S. and internationally. I have been asked to share some of my experiences and potential brushes with ego in this brief article.
To set the stage for my background, I have worked on projects with architects Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA; Thom Mayne, FAIA; Gyo Obata, FAIA; and landscape architect Peter Walker, FASLA. I also have worked with up-and-comers like Brad Cloepfil, AIA and Marlon Blackwell, FAIA. Additionally, I have met, conversed with, or spent time with the likes of I.M. Pei, FAIA; Arthur Erickson, Hon. FAIA; William Caudill, FAIA; Frank Welch, FAIA; O’Neil Ford, FAIA; Frank Lloyd Wright; Louis Kahn, FAIA; Serge Chermayeff, FAIA; Buckminster Fuller, FAIA; Cesar Pelli, FAIA; and Richard Neutra, FAIA.
First let me say that, for the most part, these personalities that I have met, heard, or worked with have all been gentlemen, intellectually bright, confident, perfection seekers, and in many cases … quite humorous. The only case of what I would consider a flagrant ego was in my brush with Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1956, several of my architectural classmates from (then) Texas A&M College drove to Norman, OK, to hear Mr. Wright speak at the OU campus. We had an accidental meeting with him the afternoon before the evening lecture in the student center. He was sitting with a professor and a student, so we invited ourselves to join in as we were excited to hear what he had to say.
In the short time that we had with him, he managed to deride the poor professor into leaving us with some sarcastic remark concerning the veracity of the prof’s stories about tornados. Then he continued on to diss Dallas (he had come through there on his way to Norman) and then asked us, “Why do you think you have to go to school to be an architect?” Other than that it was a fine meeting. His lecture was fascinating, by the way. I believe it was his last before he died.
Individual impressions from my brief or extensive associations:
- Gyo Obata, FAIA—Quiet, reflective, very polite, quick conceptualizer, and good collaborator with colleagues.
- Cesar Pelli, FAIA—Very comfortable with anyone, charming accent, accomplished designer.
- Peter Walker, FASLA—Very articulate, brilliant mind, huge experience of great projects. Great fun to watch him and Renzo Piano interact.
- Brad Cloepfil, AIA—Young, bright, articulate, very confident, great future.
- Marlon Blackwell, FAIA—Up-and-coming young designer/educator, mostly small but jewel-like projects.
- Thom Mayne, FAIA—Brilliant thinker, inexhaustible energy for his age, future thinker.
- I.M. Pei, FAIA—Masterful designer, articulate and polite with everyone. Has left our planet a better place.
- Arthur Erickson, Hon. FAIA—Gold Medalist from Canada, sweeping projects, polite and respectful to all.
- William Caudill, FAIA—“Aw shucks” personality, master conversationalist, innovator of architectural practice, great organizer. Turned his stuttering into becoming a world-class communicator.
- Frank Welch, FAIA—Urbane, socially adept designer, photographer, and writer. At advanced age, still knows what’s going on in the world.
- O’Neil Ford, FAIA—Flamboyant, witty, created Texas Regionalism, only one I know who had peacocks in his yard. He also liked our parking lot at Henderson & Partners which was full of MGs, Porsches, and even a Morgan.
- Frank Lloyd Wright—Indescribable ego, giant personality, created some unforgettable projects.
- Louis Kahn, FAIA—Masterful designer/thinker, reserved, somewhat shy even with students.
- Serge Chermayeff, FAIA—Wonderful with students, very approachable and giving.
- Buckminster Fuller, FAIA—Holy mackerel! What a mind! Wear-you-out kind of energy.
- Richard Neutra, FAIA—Sophisticated, international, open to students, urbane Californian.
My most extensive experience with greatness was with Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA during the design and construction of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. Renzo turned out to be extraordinary in so many ways. He was charming to everyone, gracious, quick, and extremely talented. He would say things like, “This project has ten thousand stones and I have kissed every one of them,” then laugh, and say “No this is true!”
He would make his design points by holding out his hand to an associate who would quickly hand him white cards and a “Shorty” 7B lead pencil (much like a surgeon and nurse would do). Then, he would draw a quick sketch of what he was wanting to share with his audience. Only on two occasions did he ever show any tendency toward egocentric behavior, but it was worth the “price of admission” to watch.
Renzo had a monumental exchange of differing points of view with landscape architect Peter Walker over the garden design one evening. No blood was shed, but it was quite a clash of titans for those of us who were in attendance. The second was a show of temper when his request to add large trees in front of the Nasher at the 11th hour was met with tepid response—not pretty.
In conclusion, I have known much less accomplished architects in our profession with far more egocentric tendencies than these respected architects. Ego has far more to do with personality than with brilliance or skill.
Vel Hawes Jr., FAIA is a winner of the Texas Society of Architects’ Llewellyn Pitts Lifetime Achievement Award. He serves as a consultant to the Dallas Holocaust Museum and remains a consultant to the Perot family on the Turtle Creek Office Building (Perot Headquarters).