“The Name Game,” Martin Filler’s article in the January Architectural Record, takes aim at the “unprecedented degree of ridiculousness” in architectural nomenclature. The trend began in the late 1960s, Filler writes, when “firms began fiddling with their names in a transparent attempt to seem hip and happening.”
As the profession became more egalitarian, ever-longer lists of partners were not enough to placate anonymous staffers slaving away in the back room. Thus began a vogue in which none of the employees’ personal identities figured whatsoever. Whereas Charles Moore’s Bay Area-based partnership had been called Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker, his subsequent East Coast consortium was named Centerbrook (after the small town in Connecticut where it is located), which sounds more like a soap opera.
Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi called their Santa Monica practice Morphosis, and when the partners split, Mayne got custody of the magic word. Yet Rotondi, whose surname is perfection for his occupation, regrettably called his new office RoTo Architects, a contraction unhappily reminiscent of the drain-cleaning company Roto-Rooter. Then, in the who-can-tell-them-apart category, there are the look-alike sound-alike firm names based on several overworked words: Studio E Architects, Studio Gang, Studio Luz Architects, Studio One Architects, Studio SUMO, STUDIOS Architecture, TOIStudio, as well as Studio Works, Allied Works Architecture, WORK Architecture Company, and, inevitably, Work Architects.
But surely no architectural moniker has been as thoroughly annoying as Coop Himmelb(l)au, dreamed up in Vienna in 1968 (perhaps over a funny Zigarette?). The effortfully parenthesized second part of that contorted tag conflates the German words for heaven (Himmel), blue (blau), and building (Bau). However, the underpunctuated first part leaves Americans wondering whether it refers to a cooperative or a henhouse. Pity, when that firm’s best-known personality is the unimprovably named Wolf Prix.
“Effortfully parenthesized”: very nice.
Read the rest of the article. (Thanks to Irene Nelson for bringing it to my attention.) Be sure to read the comments, too. One of my favorites comes from Anonymous: “Employees at Cooper Robertson and Partners lovingly call it CRAP.” Yes, beware the unintended acronym!