Driving Miss Design

One of a client’s ‘first impressions’ of their architect is based upon the architect’s arrival to the initial meeting, and nothing is more blatant than the type of vehicle driven… and we architects know every choice made says something about our design ethos.

Early in my career I drove a Ford Escort, to be exact, the Pony model (look it up and you’ll wonder how I ever got a date). When my career in architecture was starting out the car was over 10 years old. The car’s paint had oxidized to a matte black- at least it was black so that was good. However, the left side of the car had decided to drop paint- it randomly fell off one day and I was left with pink primer in splotches along the left side.

Why do I mention the Escort Pony? Even in my architectural infancy I realized this car spoke volumes to the client… like “Holy crap we can pay him in spray paint” or “What? Seriously? This is the guy we are going to trust our dream home to?” or “Honey, the pool boy is here.”

Stealth driving was my only remedy. I planned my routes to client’s homes such that upon arrival only the good side of the car shown. This was difficult as most of the streets were one-way. Interns please take note, I do not condone this… however, sometimes you must drive in reverse down a one way street while presenting the illusion of moving forward for the greater good of architecture.

In 2000, I purchased a then brand new, Nissan Xterra- black in color of course. I have driven this daily since. I mention the year because subsequently there has been a lot of frivolity added to the vehicle. So what does this vehicle say about my design beliefs? I think it speaks volumes, most importantly it says:

– I value good no-nonsense design
– I value versatile design… drive off-road wash it up and then drive to an AIA black tie event
– I value rugged dependable design… design that will hold up to time (paint is still glossy)
– I don’t need to be extravagant to showcase class
– Subtle can yell
– Every once in a while you wish you had a design do-over… stickers all over the fairing attest to that

So what kind of vehicle do you drive, and more importantly what does it say about your design beliefs?

P.S. I tried contacting Morgan Freeman for a photo shoot with my Xterra.. turns out he gave up car modeling soon after the Unforgiven… I just assumed after Bruce Almighty he took it up again, I was wrong.

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2 comments
  1. Great post!
    I had a former boss who told a similar story only it concluded with the prospective client commenting on his rusty chariot and that the candidate they choose would need to be more studious and with less Cheerios on the floor of their ride (he had toddlers at the time).

    When I opened the doors to my own practice I recalled this story and decided to sell my beloved 10yr old Jeep Wrangler and bought a 5yr old SAAB. It turned out to be a very good choice. I’m not sure how it directly affects whether or not contracts are signed but at least two clients retrospectively admitted to their architect’s choice of wheels having an impact.

    Then four weeks ago a 17yr old determined that a stop sign was optional and ended my love affair with a great car. So my research to find a replacement included the question “what do architects drive?” This led me to this clip from the British version of Top Gear ( http://ow.ly/3leUgf ) which confirmed my original choice and narrowed my latest down to another SAAB.

    I’ve only known a few architects to own a SAAB, including the former boss, but I never thought to ask why. My guess would be that a SAAB, with its quirky frills, holds a bit of the mystery that we architects seem to be labeled with by those outside our circles? It’s also a practical car relegated to the middle echelon of business class but still affordable.

    • Ha, thanks for reading and the comment Bryan. I’ve never owned a SAAB, I do like the looks of them though. I do a lot I single family residential work, so most of my clients appreciate that I’ve a child and know what that entails.

      Most places I’ve worked the principals have had Volvos, Mercedes, or BMW’s. Me, I’m still driving the ’00 xterra 😉

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