Although the pool of professions that can be assigned to fictional characters by novelists and filmmakers is practically infinite, the choice of “architect” is fairly common. Why? Probably because it’s a shorthand way to identify the person as creative, brainy, successful, sexy(and, perhaps, a tad egotistical).
With such a large rogue’s gallery to choose from, it wasn’t easy to pick my all-time top 5 favorites. But here’s my current take.
[You are all invited to submit your own list; the best “guest list” gets a subscription to Architectural Record (make sure you provide some way to get in touch with you so I can get you your reward). A winner has been announced for the best guest list for Top 5 Myths About Architects.]
5) Jude Law as Will Francis in Anthony Minghella’s 2006 film, Breaking and Entering. Law’s character is technically a landscape architect (“Our job is to transform the landscape,” he says early on), but he refers to himself throughout the film as an architect, without the adjective. Like any self-respecting fictional architect, Law’s character lives in an ultra-hip home, has a beautiful wife, and is a bit of a pompous arse.
He makes the list for two reasons: 1) His profession is not incidental to the plot. His office is being broken into, and the audience wonders if it has something to do with a large-scale urban renewal project his firm is planning. Amusingly, architectural objects (such as figures used in models) pop up as evidence of evil-doing. 2) The film has lots of eye-candy shots of some of the new skyscrapers that have made the London skyline much more compelling in the past decade.
4) Mike Brady on the Brady Bunch. How many Baby Boomers/Gen Xers were inspired to become architects by admiring the life of Mike Brady? That groovy, split-level home (still one of the most distinct residences in television history), complete with his own, private office space. A wise and caring father. A trendy wardrobe and killer hairdo. Not-infrequent appearances by pop stars, athletes and other celebrities at his door. Plenty of time off for extended vacations to Hawai’i and the Grand Canyon.
While I don’t think it’s ever specified if Brady designed his own home, the reviews would have to be mixed: kudos for the elevation and the living room/dining area with seemingly endless ceilings. Thumbs down on the kids’ barrack-like bedrooms and poor Alice’s prison cell.
3) Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey in Death Wish. A great shattering of the effete architect stereotype: This one is taking names and kicking a**! After his wife and daughter are brutally attacked, the mild-mannered Kersey is sent by his architecture firm to Tucson, where he witnesses a mock gunfight. He returns from Arizona with a monster pistol and goes on a vigilante rampage, resulting in the only on-screen image I’m aware of an architect blasting away with a firearm.
Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. You all knew he would be on this list. Not even marijuana has inspired as many late-night bull sessions in college dorms as this character, who embodies Rand’s notion of the “virtue of selfishness.”
I’d argue that Roark could only have been an architect: To illustrate her points of the supremacy of the individual, Rand (who dedicated the novel to architecture) needed a profession where the work is creative; done on an epic scale; dependent, at least partially, on the desires (and pocketbooks) of clients; and very much in the public realm and subject to public criticism by “second-hand souls.”
Rand worked in the office of Ely Kahn while doing research for the novel, and some have suggested that Kahn’s 120 Wall Street served as the model for the Dana Building, designed by Roark’s mentor, Henry Cameron.
I’m not much of a fan of the 1949 film version. Roark is played by Gary Cooper—in my opinion, the Keanu Reeves of his time (a good-looking stiff).
1) Frank Lloyd Wright. OK, OK, technically, Wright is not a fictional character. But c’mon: The murders, the mistresses, the fires, the fierce genius, Fallingwater: This is a life more colorful than any novelist would dare invent.