What Architects Want

A part of my mind flinches when someone uses the phrase ‘I want’ when talking about the architectural proposal they are making – and it’s something students do often, so I end up quite uncomfortable.
It’s an abdication of responsibility.  Firstly, it places the speaker in the foreground.  When the architect’s wants are placed in front of, or as a proxy for, the building’s eventual users’, there’s a problem.  (I dislike it when  students talk about ‘my building’ for the same reason.)  Unless the architect is designing for him- or herself, it confuses personal inclinations with reasoned objectives.

This illustrates the second, larger problem with ‘I want’: its ambiguity.  When they say ‘I want this…’ it can mean ‘I think this is what it does’, or ‘I think this is what it should do,’ or ‘I decided on this’, or any one of a variety of other, equally nuanced, paraphrasings.  ‘I want’ presents an eventuality but without explaining why it’s valid or whether it’s realised.

This isn’t to say that the phrase should never be used, but that it should be used with the recognition that we as architects bring our own wants to a project, and that we should be aware of the role that they – and we – play.