Architecture is a Drag

By February 26, 2021 architecture, Life, Travel

A few years ago, James and I purchased photographs from a local artist that quickly became two of our favorite art pieces. Both depict a drag queen in full regalia – pageant gown, full hair and makeup, crown – performing very non-drag-queen tasks. One of which has her wielding a very large chainsaw.

Both photos are part of a series about how everyone is in drag, no matter what they’re doing. In our photos, a lumberjack. Another, a pool cleaner. Yet another, a landscaper. Except in literal drag. A great commentary about how people are in drag every day. Firefighters. Police officers. Fast food workers. We all have drag that we wear when we go to work.

Even architects.

Friends and I have joked for years about the architect outfit. Perhaps you’ve seen it. It’s black on black on black. Pants. Shirt. Jacket. Glasses. Everything either black or if they’re feeling frisky, a little bit of grey thrown in to liven things up a bit. And the glasses often end up being the round black frames worn by the late Philip Johnson. For us, this became known as “The Uniform.”

And we notice because we are architects. What I didn’t realize was how much other people did too until I was at a friend’s birthday party in Atlanta. In conversation I mentioned I was an architect, only to be told: “That’s funny. You don’t look like an architect.” Because I wasn’t dressed in black. This guy’s architecture friends always wore black.

I, on the other hand, was in jeans and a plaid button-down.

During the American Institute of Architects conference in NOLA one year, James spent some of his day walking around the French Quarter playing “spot-the-architect.” Turns out that’s an easy game to win when 20,000+ architects descend on a city. We even played while we were hanging out at our favorite bar. I will give props though to the one architect who walked into the bar wearing a multi-color striped suit.

As it turns out, The Uniform is ubiquitous. Talking with an architect friend in Northern Ireland, he mentioned a professor of his who wore nothing but black. Didn’t even use color in his drawings. Turns out he is now the president of RIBA – the Royal Institute of British Architects. But what caught my attention was his comment that architects there are also known for driving SAABs. Which I guess means I’ll need to start paying attention to what my colleagues are driving.

But architect drag extends beyond the physical. Not only should you dress like an architect, you should also sound like one. My podcast co-host Matthew refers to this as persona drag. When speaking that means the right architecture vocabulary, whether that’s technical speak or just using the right buzzwords during a lecture to justify the reasoning for a particular design. Even though you know full well they backed into that once the project was finished.

If you’ve attended an architecture lecture, that persona drag is hard to miss, especially when the speaker is talking about their own projects. In our recent podcast interview with London architect Phil Coffey, he used the word “contextural” in describing one of his projects. Then immediately apologized for it, commenting that the word was being used too much in architecture.

And finally, you have what I think of as building drag, which can encompass everything from finish materials to actual building form. Dallas home developers have shown a fondness over the last few years of what I think of as modern home drag. Flat roofs. Black aluminum storefront windows. White brick or stucco. And cedar or stained wood accents. As if someone was standing there with a checklist to make sure all the “modern” finishes had been included.

What a drag!

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