Credit: a sticky wicket

Credits can be a source of contention, and it is more than wise to clarify them from the beginning. But even then there are problems. When Margaret Helfand, FAIA , a New York–based architect with her own office took on the role as the design architect for the Unified Science Center at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, Einhorn Yaffee Prescott (EYP), a Boston-based a/e firm, had already been contracted to do the programming, and because of its expertise in lab design, had embarked on some early planning for the center. The college, for which Helfand had already designed a building, wanted Helfand to be brought in on the design for the center. In her discussions with Cahal Stephens, AIA, principal in charge of the project for EYP, Helfand turned down the role of “design consultant,” since she felt her firm should be involved equally all through construction documents and construction administration, to fully implement its concept and details. At the outset, she agreed to the credit line, “Einhorn Yaffee Prescott and Helfand Architecture, architects in association.” Soon Helfand realized this was a mistake: “When our name comes second to EYP on the credits, there is confusion about who deserves credit for the design. We have already experienced disbelief at interviews when we present the science center to selection committee members who have seen the project published with EYP’s name first. Obviously they assumed EYP was the lead designer.”

Image Courtesy Carlos Zapata Studio
For Horizen, a residential tower in Manhattan, Carlos Zapata Studio, newly located in New York, teamed up with Gruzen Samton. Zapata is the design architect; Gruzen Samton the architect of record.

Helfand enjoyed working with EYP and notes that the firm “was always very respectful of us during the design process.” But she confesses, “I was more concerned with building a strong working relationship with EYP than with the marketing consequences of the project credits.” A recent promotional postcard sent out by EYP touted the building’s publications and awards, but EYP got the large type while Helfand Architecture is mentioned only in a credit line in six-point type at the bottom right-hand corner of the elongated card. It isn’t just about ego, says Helfand. “For design firms, this is about earning access to opportunities to design more buildings.” Cahal Stephens replies that EYP was “prime in terms of the agreement with the client.” Although prime architect does not mean design architect, he feels the two firms had worked out the wording very carefully. Meanwhile, EYP has agreed to collaborate with Studio Daniel Libeskind for an arts center project in Boston. This time, it is a joint venture, and EYP has second billing. “Libeskind won the competition and it was his idea to do the joint venture,” Stephens explains.

Problems with the press

No matter how often architects work out the credits for a job, they find that the press ignores all names except the most famous one. Case in point: The actual architect listing for the Seattle Central Library reads OMA/LMN, a joint venture. Few people would be able to say they knew that, since Rem Koolhaas, principal of OMA, is cited to the exclusion of anyone else. When Ronnette Riley decided to collaborate with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson on the Apple Store in New York City’s SoHo [record, October 2002, page 156], she found two magazines, Business Week and Contract, neglected to mention her firm. Peter Samton still smarts over Gruzen Samton’s being left out of the credits for Columbia’s Lerner Hall in a book, New New York, Architecture of a City, edited by Ian Luna (Rizzoli, 2003). The complaints go on. Even when the collaborating firm is listed, it is assumed the second firm played a lesser role—especially in design. Says Riley about the Apple Store, “Apple is the most collaborative project we have ever worked on—from concept through construction … This is the reason credit should be a number one concern with the AIA.”

Riley, who serves on the AIA National Design Committee, is spearheading an effort by the committee to produce a book advising architects about collaboration—with advice not just about credits and listing in promotional materials, but the entire scope of the working process. “There are other issues that need to be resolved,” she says. “For example, who is going to have the relationship with the client? And when you have a disagreement over a certain point, say on the detailing, who has the final say, and when?”

Riley maintains the main problem is developing an understanding of what was the creative element in the project—and who was responsible for it.

The upside of marriage

Other architects emphasize that a successful collaboration does depend on how much is understood and spelled out from the beginning. (One architect, who wishes to remain anonymous for business reasons, relates that some firms require the Myers-Briggs psychological testing before engaging in a collaboration.) In spite of pitfalls, including working with architects who are in the air all the time, the advantages of collaborating with a “star” include the chance to be involved in the creation of a major landmark of the era. A small design firm may choose to ally itself with a mega-star to get on a larger playing field. In 2004, the Richard Rogers Partnership of London agreed to team up with a young innovative design firm, Sharples Holden Pasquarelli (SHoP) of New York, and engineers at Buro Happold’s New York office, in going after the city-sponsored East River Waterfront Study. As SHoP principal Gregg Pasquarelli explains, “We wanted the job, and Rogers had a great office and name, so some engineers at Buro Happold, who knew him, called him up. He looked at our work and agreed.”

Many large, full-service firms view conjunctions with the stars as advantageous in attracting a plum commissions, and whether they sell themselves as design architects or not, admit that joining up with star architects makes a difference. According to Alex Ward, “The star phenomenon is getting stronger: it is the new reality.” Large firms also find that the uninhibited nature of the avant-garde architects, European or American, is energizing: As Alex Richter of Adamson Associates of Toronto, which is the associate architect for Foster and Partners on the Hearst Tower, says, “How many people can say they have crawled into the heads of these innovative architects?” Brian Klipp, FAIA, whose Denver firm, Klipp, functions as a design architect but has associated with out-of-towners Michael Graves, FAIA, and Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, and Steven Holl, FAIA (the last on the just-announced Denver Justice Center Courthouse for which Ricci Greene Associates, a New York specialist in court house design, is also on board), says simply, “Our staff is exposed to minds of architects who are not in Denver.” Klipp also adds, “Not only do our employees learn from the exchange, but the ‘name’ architects are often surprised that they learn from us.” Samton, whose firm has teamed up with the New York–based Carlos Zapata Studio on a residential tower called Horizen [sic] in Manhattan—as well as Thom Mayne for a new academic building at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, also in the city—says it’s enlightening to see how the different minds work.

Collaboration is definitely a trend, most feel, although some look forward to the day when the backlash hits. So what’s the best way to be happy if you team up but come second in the credits? It depends to a large degree on your firm image. Richter of Adamson says, “It’s only a problem if the ego gets involved. We try to enhance the vision of the name architect and keep the integrity of the concept.” He also observes that some architects “go into associations for the wrong reason; for example, to open up new markets. You need to love to collaborate––to support, not compete.” This would not sit well with some of his colleagues.

When Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), which has strong design reputation in the commercial world, signed on as executive architect with Yoshio Taniguchi on the Museum of Modern Art [record, January 2005, page 94], the architecture community wondered why. Would they be good at this sort of thing, others mused. It was the first time, says managing principal Gregory Clement, FAIA, and probably the last that KPF would do this. KPF was convinced to come in largely because of its relationship to Jerry Speyer of Tishman Speyer who was a trustee of the museum and head of its building committee. Clement argues that his firm saw this as a “tremendous opportunity to work on a great museum” and thought it might give the firm an edge to design more museums. (“The results aren’t tangible yet,” he notes.) While the two firms had separate contracts with the museum, and Clement describes the relationship as great, “Credits are still a sore point—especially on a high-profile project,” he says. He is one of many to voice a fear of being typecast as a supporting player. Samton remarks that the firm’s younger staff doesn’t always like to “play second fiddle.”

It’s still about credits. It won’t be resolved easily—especially in situations where design architects decide to act as associate architects to other design architects. It takes serious discussion and thinking from the beginning. Although the AIA has guidelines on crediting, they are limited. As Riley sums it up, “The AIA should develop a standardized form for the provision of credit, and the recognition for intellectual property provided by the architects.” And then you just have to make sure everyone follows it—but you also have to face the fact that no matter how you try to resolve the credit situation, one name comes first and the press tends to glom onto that.