Monday, September 16, 2013

My Favorite Architect

It might be strange to some people, but my favorite architect is actually a fictional character. Howard Roark, the protagonist in Ayn Rand's epic novel "The Fountainhead." In the second year of my undergraduate Architecture degree, one of my professors suggested that I read "The Fountainhead." It seems that a book which was written in 1943 wouldn't still be relevant today, but on the contrary, this timeless is still in print. It may seem like an over exaggeration, but this book was literally life changing for me. It inspired a lot of my passion while I was in school.

Roark is an idealist inspired by the real life architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. In the novel, Roark is kicked out of architecture school for his progressive ideas. He finds a job working for a washed up architet which he admires. After this architect's firm closes, he then gets hired at different firm as a favor from a former classmate. His new boss is the opposite of what he aspires to be and their personalitites clash and Roark is fired for defiance. This pushes him to open own firm, which one of my favorite moments in the book. When he looks at his name is on his door: Howard Roark, Architect; and he feels like he finally made it.

He doesn't have enough business to keep his firm open and he is forced to take a blue collar job at a quarry which is owned by his former boss. His dream of designing buildings is unrelenting. His clients eventually call him for more work and he is able to practice again. His designs are very unpopular with the public, which is easily swayed by the politics of the major newspaper.

The book was translated into an over the top, dramatic movie in 1949 which Gary Cooper portrays Roark. Fun fact: three of Wright's buildings are highlighted in the movie.

Roark's fatal flaw is that he is a relentless idealist who refuses to compromise his ideas. (I won't give away the plot twist at the end... but here is a hint:) He disregards his personal freedom because he refuses to be a sellout to the public's demands. This idea also plays into Rand's major theme of individualism; which is also carried through her other novels and her general philosophy.

Roark's designs (which are only vaguely described int the book) were ahead of his time. These designs are described as modern monolithic structures that were void of all superficial ornament. It is essentially modernism, which was emerging as an architectural style at the time this novel was written. There are also many references that tie Roark's designs to Wright's American style.

But Roark's ambiguous designs are not why he is my favorite architect. It is his determination and desire to become a good architect (which mirrors my own ambitions) as well as his unapologetic approach at design which impresses me.

If you aren't familiar with this work, you shouldn't think that reading this novel is a boring endeavour that vast amount of architectural knowledge are required. It is an entertaining piece of fiction that any reader would enjoy. For example, it also contains a romance, which heightens the drama of the novel. Roark is at the center of a love triangle, when he becomes involved with his client's wife. Roark's personal life reflects that of Wright's well known scandalous affairs and sorted life.

This book doesn't only appeal to architects, it is a masterpiece which will get any reader interested in the built world. I invite you to read it (if you haven't already) and meet my favorite architect, Howard Roark.

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