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Architects, the new tailors

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There’s an old fairy tale in which emperors were the people to work for and make a lot of money in return. And if you’re really clever, you could get a lot of money by doing the least amount of work possible, or even by simply doing nothing, as this story tells.

Once upon a time, in the ancient times, there was a very rich Emperor, who loved new clothes. He used to have clothes that he wore in the morning and other clothes that he wore in the evening. One day, two men visited the city, and they were actually two clever liars. The said to the Emperor: “We are great tailors and we sew the most beautiful and stunning clothes.” The emperor was very happy to hear that because he wanted to have a fancy suit. The emperor said: “So tell me about this amazing suit.” They replied: “Its one of it’s kind, my Lord, because only those who are smart can see it, and those who are stupid, wont be able to see it.” Hearing that, the emperor was pleased even more.

The Emperor ordered the two tailors to start working immediately, and for his assistants to provide them with whatever they needed to complete their job. The tailors said: “We need golden threads.” They were given a lot of golden threads but they didn’t use them and stored them away instead. After that, they pretended to be weaving some fantastic cloth for the Emperor out of threads that no one could see except clever people, or so they said. They kept working hard on the looms, forward and backwards, with much enthusiasm and effort, and all the people in the palace heard them and were impressed by their efforts.

One night, the Emperor wanted to make sure that the cloth was being made well so he ordered the Prime Minister to go and check upon it, and to tell him what he saw. So the Prime Minister went to check and saw the two tailors working really hard to get it finished on time. However, he didn’t see any cloth but then he remembered that only clever people could see it. So he said out loud: “That’s such wonderful cloth, I’ll tell the Emperor about your efforts.” As he left, the two tailors were happy and laughing at how easy it was to fool the Emperor and his Prime Minister. After that, they went to the Emperor and asked for some more golden threads, and their request was granted.

The two tailors kept on working and working, and it wasn’t long until the entire city had heard their story and about what they are making for the Emperor. Later, the Emperor wanted to ask about the cloth again, to make sure was going well. So he asked the Head Guard to go and have a look and to update him about the process. The Head Guard went to have a look, and he thought “mmm I can’t see what they’re weaving, but the Prime Minister saw some nice cloth and that whoever doesn’t see it, is stupid.” And so he said “What  beautiful cloth! I shall go and tell the Emperor about it. He will be so pleased.” As left, the tailors laughed because they had now fooled 3 people.

After a while, they pretended to have finished weaving the fabric, and that they were now ready to put all the pieces together to make one beautiful set of clothes.

On the next day, they asked that the Emperor comes and tries out his new clothes. The Emperor was so pleased to hear that, and went immediately. When he saw it, he thought: “I don’t see any clothes but the Head Guard did, and the Prime Minister did too.” The Emperor said in a loud voice: “Those are such wonderful clothes. Its even better than all the clothes I have!” The Emperor took off his clothes so that the two tailors could dress him – which they did. Although the Emperor was feeling a bit cold, he said “What amazing clothes. They are so light I cant even feel them!” After the Emperor had left the room, the two tailors laughed their lungs out, and said sarcastically: “Let’s work hard now, so that the Emperor’s new clothes fit him perfectly.

There was no one left in the city who hadn’t heard of the Emperor’s new clothes and all of them were wondering what such clothes that only clever people could see, would look like.

The next day, as the two tailors were pretending to dress the Emperor in his new clothes, all the city gathered in order to get a chance to see what these clothes looked like. When the tailors were done, they added: “Oh my Lord, you look so wonderful, we have never seen such a handsome Emperor before!” The Emperor was so pleased, and he ordered that the two tailors shall be rewarded with a large amount of gold. And so they were.

The big moment arriveed and the Emperor prepared himself to go out in his new clothes. All the city gathered. The Emperor was never happier. As he went out, all the people praised him since all of them had heard that only clever ones could see these clothes and nobody wanted to be stupid in front of everyone. They all shouted “Oh what wonderful clothes the Emperor has!” and “I have never see such amazing clothes!” Everyone was shouting “Beautiful clothes!” The Emperor was so pleased and felt like the happiest man on earth and started to salute people with his hand.

As the show was about to end and the Emperor was having probably his best day ever, one child pointed at the Emperor and started laughing and laughing, saying “The Emperor is naked! He is naked!” And all the other people followed the kid, laughing and pointing at the Emperor, as if they just realized that. The Emperor himself realized that he has been made a fool out of, and that there was no clothes, but only two smart tailors who received a lot of money for doing nothing and got away with it. End of story.

Q: “Why are you telling us this?”

Well, what we see today as architecture, is not much different from those clothes that no-one except clever ones could see. Clients pay a lot of money to architects so they can come up with shapes that have no explanation or reason. These shapes, like the “invisible clothes”, don’t cost much time or effort or thinking to invent, and yet, many of the famous and much-praised buildings around us are not very good buildings. And of course, no one wants to appear to be not clever in front of other people and so any building by a famous architect is very likely to be complimented.

We can take Villa Savoye for example, as Graham said in this post, it was a pretty bad building in many ways. (I have some more to write about some other ways, later.) However, someone, for some reason, decided that it should be famous. And it was duly famous and now students from all over the world visit it and look at it as an inspiration for their project due at the end of semester. And if the result is somehow like the Villa Savoye then the instructor will be happy and he or she will give the student an A. And the student will be happy too and think they did the right thing and designed a building the way it should be designed and hope to repeat that feeling the rest of their lives. But that’s a whole another story – how misguided the education of architects is. I will definitely share more of my observations and impression on this in a coming post. (It was really torture for me, the time I spent at architecture school.)

Mmmm …

What I want to say from this is basically 2 points. The first is that architects really take their clients for fools, and most other people as well. Clients pay architects a lot of money to make them bad buildings, buildings that the clients will not be even happy to live in, buildings that will actually make them suffer. (The Savoye family was never happy living in their house Corbusier designed for them). But once an architect has designed several buildings for rich and famous people, then everyone famous and rich wants his building to be designed by that architect, because he doesn’t like the idea of “Hey, I got my building designed by Architect X, who designed yours huh? Architect Y?? I’ve never heard of the guy, is he even an architect? No wonder your building is so ugly!” And so clients pay Architect X a lot of money to design their building and, even if he wasn’t happy with the results, which he shouldn’t be, he can’t say so because he will appear stupid (as in the story) and with no taste. And no one wants to appear either.

My 2nd point that I want to make here is even if we assumed that those shapes that architects invent are sufficient to make a building good, then I find it amazingly stupid that people think you need some sort of “special powers” or “inspiration” (as architects claim to have) to be able to imagine such shapes. Get yourself a two-months course in 3dsmax, maya 3d, or sketchup, and – I assure you – you can invent these shapes like this one all by yourself. I have. You can too. Anyone can.

Moral of story/blog: Don’t believe it when architects tell you they can make you something truly special.



  • says:

    Bashar! Nice post – lots of interesting stuff. I’d been preparing my next lecture on Marketing & Architecture and some of your thoughts have found their way into it – cheers for that! You’ll see where I took them in my next post which, hopefully, should appear this evening =) Graham.