Architecture and Ego

bjarke ego

Architects and large egos are often synonymous.

Name any starchitect. They are all extremely passionate. Supremely confident. And exceedingly narcissistic.

Traditionally, every generation of architecture student is bred into this role of “master” and “intern.” While architecture, in practice, is a collaborative effort – our education emphasizes this individual pursuit of one figure-head. One infallible starchitect whose vision and aesthetics are the quintessential answer.

However, architecture is unlike many other professions. An architect rarely gets noticed before she is 50 years old. While tech-entrepreneurs are running enterprises in their late twenties, architects often toil away for decades before being allowed to make an impact.

It takes years of experience and relationships to begin to reach the pinnacle of one’s profession. Only through supreme confidence, sheer narcissism, and a little optimism, can an architect survive before reaching their true potential.

Therefore, narcissism is an essential evolutionary skill that allows young architects to not become depressed and leave the profession. While narcissism is advantageous for one’s career, a cock-sure millennial appears destructive within society. Furthermore, being presumptuously infallible and and always thinking your correct can lead to failed relationships.

This is why I found the following chart of “Who Marries Whom” to be enlightening.

Bloomberg Graphic: Who Marries Whom

Male architects are most likely to marry elementary and middle school teachers. Indeed, in my firm alone half of the male architects are in fact married to elementary school teachers. I don’t think this is a coincidence, but rather a predictable outcome. While most women wouldn’t put up with a narcissistic asshole, teachers seem more likely to coddle and constantly reinforce their partner’s self-idolized image. “Great job Brady. You get a sticker.”

Therefore, what would happen if you gave a young 40 year-old architect constant praise and worldwide commissions seemingly before he “put in his time”? The profession filled with large egos would breed an ever larger ego. And thus Bjarke Ingels was born. 

Speaking of large egos, Donald Trump1 better watch out. Remarkably, Trump is marching his way closer to becoming the next President of the United States, but Bjarke Ingels is slowly encroaching upon Trump’s status as King of New York.2 Bjarke is currently completing his “courtscraper” project on West 57th, has proposed a new “Dryline” (ala the High Line), and is also designing the highly lauded 2 World Trade Center. Indeed, the New York skyline is changing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bjarke also starts adding his name in giant gold letters to his buildings.

I must admit. I used to be completely smitten with Bjarke Ingels Group. I followed his transition from PLOT to BIG. But then consecutive projects with flashy neon graphics and simplified diagrams appeared to become too contrived.

Furthermore, I started an ongoing blog post called Architect Arithmetic. Where 1 image + 1 image = Final Building. But after trying to do a Bjarke Ingels Architect Arithmetic, I realized I couldn’t be clever because Bjarke already just combines 2 simplified ideas into 1 form.

Ski Hill + Smokestack = Copenhagen Power Plant (with a ski hill)
Courtyard + skyscraper = West 57th Courtscraper

Updated architectural rendering of VIA West 57th

Updated architectural rendering of VIA West 57th

I recently attended a lecture by Frank Bardow of the German architectural firm Barkow Leibinger. It was one of those lectures that was refreshing and invigorating. Witnessing beautiful architectural projects created through rigorous design processes makes Bjarke Ingels approach appear rudimentary.

Interestingly, Barkow Leibinger is designing one of the Summer Houses at the Serpentine Gallery, but the main pavilion is designed by… Bjarke Ingels Group.

In my opinion, Barkow Leibinger isn’t playing second fiddle to Bjarke because they are inferior architects, rather Bjarke Ingels is just a more recognized name. Barkow Leibinger is theorizing innovative solutions for German refugees, but Bjarke Ingels is commissioned to build skyscrapers in New York. Bjarke Ingels may not be a superior architect to Barkow Leibinger, but through his charisma and giant ego he convinces individuals that his ideas are in fact BIG. Like German refugee crisis BIG.

While Frank Barkow is extremely intelligent, he still appears fairly modest. I think this is why you know the name Bjarke Ingels and not Frank Barkow or Regine Leibinger. Developers in New York want to hire an architect with a rock-star status. Having a large ego fuels the rock-star status. And having a rock-star status creates a larger ego. It becomes a never-ending feedback loop.

Oftentimes I can be snarky and demeaning toward other people’s work in an effort to prop up my own ego. While Bjarke Ingels Group’s work is oftentimes basic and contrived. Bjarke’s ego allows for his worldwide commissions to become reality. Neon graphics, spiky hair, and prattling on about Nietzsche in a Danish accent allows for his architecture to appear fresh and new.

Great architecture should speak for itself. Yet, charisma and ego are stealing the conversation. 

Maybe after all this prattling, I’m still trying to make excuses for being selfish. Even after recognizing that I’m a narcissist – am I still too self-centered to change? Or perhaps I’m just upset I didn’t marry an elementary school teacher. Nope. That would imply self-doubt. A narcissistic catch-22. Oh well, I hope it doesn’t go to my head.3




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1 And if you think Donald Trump is compensating for his small hand size. What is Bjarke compensating for by having the web address (Yeah, I think I took this joke too far)
2 Next stop White House! And if you think Bjarke can’t become President of the U.S.A. because he was born in Denmark – then explain Ted Cruz? There is even rumors swirling that if there is a contested Republican convention, Bjarke Ingels might become the next nominee.
3 But I think it’s too late.

This post is part of the #ArchiTalks series in which the multi-faceted architect Bob Borson, of Life of an Architect, selects a theme and a group of us other (architectural) bloggers all post on the same day, on the same topic. This month’s theme is Architecture and ….

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (@bobborson)
Life of an Architect

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Architecture and Photography

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Architecture and a Future Without Architects

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
architecture and __

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Architecture and Travel

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
Architecture and Storytelling

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
Architecture and Gaming

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
architecture and m&ms

Rosa Sheng – EquitybyDesign [EQxD] (@EquityxDesign)
Architecture And the Era of Connection

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#ArchiTalks 18: architecture and… the bigger picture

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks 18: Architecture and Mathematics

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Architalks 18: Architecture and … Parenting

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Architecture and Yoga

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Architecture and Ego / The Architect’s Unique Struggle with ‘Good’ Design

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Architecture and Kids

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Architecture and More

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Architecture and the Myth of the Master Builder

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Architecture and Real Estate

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Architecture and Interior Design

Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Architecture and Wrestling

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Architecture + Memories

Adam Denais – Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
[#ArchiTalks 18] Architecture and Strange Travel Etiquette

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Architecture and…my Generation.


  1. Brady, great post! I’ll have to check out Barkow Leibinger. Their work sounds fantastic.

    I’m glad you approached ‘Ego’ in this month’s ArchiTalks. That’s where I landed too for my topic and I think it goes to show that there’s a lot to talk about there.

    • brady ernst

      Thanks Michael,
      Yeah. I saw you also approached Architecture and Ego. I was going to make a different title, but I wasn’t creative enough. But after reading your blog post, I should’ve just scrapped my meandering post altogether. Great job.

  2. michele grace hottel

    i can easily see the whole elementary school teacher/architect thing but i can’t personally say that i know a lot of those couples, lol! i’ll tell you a BIG story, i wasn’t that knowledgeable about their work even having studied in denmark (of course i think he might not have been born then) but last year i went to denmark with my daughter and took her to kronborg castle (hamlet’s castle) and walked right over the bridge of the ship’s museum below and never even knew it til i got home, so i hope that makes you feel a little better today :) but i still like their work, lol!

    • brady ernst

      Great story. I actually really like that project. I can honestly say, I have never experienced a BIG project, but I bet most are actually quite great.
      My rantings were probably unfairly biased against Bjarke – I originally just wanted a funny graphic, but then it kind of spun out of egotistical control.

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