Lessons for the Architect from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Lessons for the Architect from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand


 “…He was ready to do great things, magnificent things, things unsurpassed in…in…oh, hell…in architecture.’’

Cue in two Architecture students in their final year at ‘Stanton Institute of Technology’ and as they step out into the ‘real world’. One with a clear direction of what he wants-Howard Roark-and the kind of buildings he wants to design but expelled in his final year for sticking to his ‘strange’ designs.

The other, his classmate-Peter Keating, always delivered the traditional design styles encouraged by the lecturers and needless to say finishes at the top of his class for this specific reason.

As you read The Fountainhead, you can’t help the self-reflection …Am I a Roark or a Keating? It makes you reflect upon the decisions you‘ve made in the past and the  direction you want to take in future.

However, in the self- reflection, don’t be too harsh on yourself, the characters are idealistic.

Most of us are, to a different extent, both Keating and Roark.

The book, in its entirety, has EXTREME characters, with EXTREME ideas, at EXTREME ends of the spectrum exposed to EXTREME and opposing fortunes. It is definitely a read that will get your cog wheels turning and emotions `woke’.

However, I don’t want to get your philosophical pants in a bunch so I will not venture there any further. Instead, I prefer to highlight some of the lessons I think every architect and aspiring architect could learn from The Fountainhead in the individual pursuit of success.

1. Know what makes you happy as an Architect

Ultimately, only you know what makes you happy. If not, it is just as well up to you to figure out exactly what that is and go for it.

“If you want my advice, Peter, you’ve made a mistake already. By asking me. By asking anyone. Never ask people. Not about your work. Don’t you know what you want? How can you stand it, not to know?”

After graduation, Keating joins a popular but mediocre firm-Francon and Heyer.

While there, actual designing becomes a challenge as he has never been a brilliant designer often delivering what is expected of him and still consults Roark for ideas.

Through manipulation of people and forging of work, he takes the job of the head draftsperson and even makes partner at the firm.

Despite the money, prestige and admiration he isn’t happy and often seeks the approval of Howard Roark to feel satisfied.

On the other hand, Roark-after expulsion- works under the disillusioned Henry Cameron -a previously successful Architect in the late 19th century but a commercial failure in the 1920s. His work being too revolutionary was often rejected. No longer getting any commissions, he can barely afford to pay his expenses- including Roark’s salary. But Roark admires the ingenuity of his work and chooses to be his protégé despite the man’s fallen glory.

2. Achieve success in Architecture in your own terms

In practice, it is up to you to create your own path. One shouldn’t feel any obligation to conform to the path taken by those before. Figure out exactly what you want then actively plan and work towards that goal.

 “Every form has its own meaning. Every man creates his meaning and form and goal. Why is it so important—what others have done? Why does it become sacred by the mere fact of not being your own? Why is anyone and everyone right—so long as it’s not yourself? Why does the number of those others take the place of truth? Why is truth made a mere matter of arithmetic—and only of addition at that? Why is everything twisted out of all sense to fit everything else? There must be some reason. I don’t know. I’ve never known it. I’d like to understand.

3. Choose to do what you love… with love

Aim to do outstanding work and everything else will surely follow. Money, fame and glory are a product of love and quality work. Commissions received, as an Architect, should present one with the opportunity to create a building master piece and not just be a means to pay the bills.

“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”

Ayn Rand clearly advocates for passion over numbness in work.

 4. Do not compare yourself with what others are doing

“Listen to what is being preached today. Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion – prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: ‘This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me’. Then he wonders why he’s unhappy.”

5. Have the courage to create what you want

The Fountainhead is set in an era where Classical Style is trending and any other non-conforming ideas were met with stun opposition.  There is no place for Howard Roark and Henry Cameron in the commercial scene.

Dean: “Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”

Howard Roark: “Yes.”

Dean: “My dear fellow, who will let you?”

Howard Roark: “That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

All hail to the creative freedom we now have.

6. Find your own design voice

With the creative freedom granted comes the next challenge… finding your own voice. Architects should aim to ultimately have their own trademark without feeling the pressure to blindly copy what already exists.

“A house can have integrity, just like a person,” said Roark, “and just as seldom…Your house is made by its own needs. Those others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive for your house is in the house. The determining motive for others is in the audience.”

7. Selfish people are happier 

“Why don’t you tell me what you think of me?” Raork answers: “But I don’t think of you.”…

People with a very strong sense of self do love themselves enough not to let the opinion of others shake their character.  What others expect of them is of no significance or consequence. They have a very strong conviction without any pressure to confirm to the expectations and opinions of the society.

 “But why should you care what people will say? All you have to do is please yourself.”

8. New approaches will always face challenges

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The first airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”

9. Good work has a life of its own

Roark starts out struggling and decides to take a break from design work and make money as a miner in a granite quarry.  But by the end of the book, Howard Roark establishes his name as an incredible Architect with incredible work.

Good work will always stand out, however long it takes. A great Architect with one connect will still make it as compared to a mediocre designer with several connections. “Kizuri chajitembeza..” 

“People meant very little to Mike, but their performance a great deal. He worshipped expertness of any kind. He loved his work passionately and had no tolerance for anything save for other single – track devotions. He was a master in his own field and felt no sympathy except for mastery. His view of the world was simple: there were the able and there were the incompetent; he was not concerned with the latter. He loved buildings. He despised, however, all architects.”

10. Design for place

“The house on the sketches had been designed not by Roark, but by the cliff on which it stood. It was as if the cliff had grown and completed itself and proclaimed the purpose for which it had been waiting.”

Get yourself a copy of The Fountainhead by clicking here

This article first appeared in BUILDesign Magazine Issue 30. The original author is Everlyn Kerubo who is a graduate architect. She can be reached via kerubo588@gmail.com and on instagram @kerubo_designer





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