An Introduction to Architects

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By Dan Maginn / Published by Dwell
Aside from that mischievous caveperson in France who used a piece of charcoal to draw a line around some stick figures that suggested some kind of manmade shelter, it is generally acknowledged that a gentleman named Daedalus was the first architect to emerge from the ooze.1 Daedalus is best known as the mythical designer of a fantastic house for a grumpy man with a bull’s head, named the Minotaur.2

After Daedalus, eons passed and a few more architects designed structures for a few more grumpy men here and there. And then things started heating up in Egypt. Architectural historians inform us that the hundredth architect on record was a fellow named Imhotep. He practiced in the 27th century BC and was renowned for inventing columns, which we take for granted now but which were very much appreciated at the time.3 Aside from his built work, Imhotep is notable as the first architect to actually look like what we now know an architect should look like: a contrarily dressed person on a job site, pointing and shouting, with a roll of papyrus under his arm.

After the Egyptians, we humans got serious about being fruitful and multiplying, and we needed a lot more buildings (and architects) to house our vast progeny. Let’s call this era of architectural history the Middle Part. During the Middle Part, architects firmly established themselves as Master Builders. This was the era in which buildings started looking like what we now know buildings should look like. It started with the storied career of the thousandth architect on record (Apollodorus of Damascus, who designed the Pantheon in Rome) and ended with the Everlasting Gobstopper–like career of Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the ten thousandth architect and is best known as the father of the guy who invented Lincoln Logs.

The hundred thousandth architect was Mike Brady, whom you might remember as a major participant in the 1970s reality television show The Brady Bunch. With his powder-puff-shaped factories and AstroTurf landscape designs, Brady is well known as the first postmodernist architect,4 beating out Robert Venturi by a couple of weeks. The Middle Part of architectural history ended when The Brady Bunch was canceled in 1974. Then Richard Nixon resigned, more time passed, and now we find ourselves firmly entrenched in the Late Middle Part.

And the millionth architect, you ask—who will it be?5 The Great Oracle of my people predicts that she will emerge sometime in the next few decades. Perhaps she’s in grade school as we speak, learning math and art and music and psychology and all the other things that must come together when you design a building. But unlike Daedalus and Imhotep and Brady and the rest, she’ll have the benefit of silicon-based neural interfaces and whatever the hell else comes after the thing that comes after Twitter. Perhaps she’ll be the first architect to go bionic—growing wings like Daedalus, choppering prefabricated house frames from job site to job site. Or perhaps she’ll remain with us surface dwellers, leading the charge for a new generation of intelligent buildings to shelter us, inspire us, and communicate our values to future generations.

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1. As far as architectural history goes, this was in the Early Part, in Greece, way back in the day when everyone (even the gods) wore robes and flip-flops.

2. He is also known for being able to fly and for making an additional set of wings for his impudent son, Icarus. This episode in his life did not end well.

3. Before Imhotep, pharaohs were buried in noble-but-clumsy-looking mastabas, which looked like Pizza Huts if they were designed and built by talented elephants.

4. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s children, Mike Brady’s descendants aren’t known as having accomplished much, due to the psychological scarring that occurred during a family vacation to the Grand Canyon in 1971.

5. Certainly not Gehry (983,452th). Nor Zaha (984,917th). And it’s definitely not me (986,219th).