If you describe yourself with terms like an amateur architect, kid architect, DIY architect or self-taught architect, it is certain that no organisation or authority will take your input or claim seriously because you don’t have any academic degree in architecture issued by a university. Everyone today thinks that a shiny architecture degree is indispensable to be a successful architect. But we’d be thoughtless if we did not take a moment to commemorate some of the astounding achievements from architects who didn’t possess a formal degree in architecture.
These successful designers either did not complete their education or simply paved their way by educating themselves how to design. Take a glance through all these notable autodidacts who pursued their passion of designing something exceptional without an architecture degree.
1. Didi Contractor (Born in 1929- age 89 years)
Sadhana Vohra's House in Kangra. (Photo: Joginder Singh)
Born in 1929 in America to a German father and American mother, Didi Contractor currently resides in the quiet suburb of Rakkar near Dharamsala in the foothills of the majestic Himalayas. Her father and mother were both expressionist painters, linked with Bauhaus group of the 1920s. She was the student of art and never encouraged to study architecture. However, she always felt inclined to architecture.
Didi Contractor, who at the age of 88, is still creating structures by using Adobe (sun-dried bricks) and other naturally available local materials, like bamboo, slate, earth and river stone in the Himalayan region of North India. Didi has been creating sustainable homes for the last 30 years.
Achievements: She received the first ever ‘Wade Asia Lifetime Achievement award in 2017. She has also been featured in Surfaces Reporter Magazine March 2018 issue.
2. Louis Sullivan (1856- 1924)
Auditorium Building by Louis Sullivan, in the Loop, Chicago, Illinois
Best-known as "the father of skyscrapers” and Wright’s “Lieber Meister,” Louis Sullivan only completed a year and a half in his formal education, i.e. one year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and then six months at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The impatience caused him to leave the college. Later, he took brief apprenticeships under architect Frank Furness and architect-engineer William Le Baron Jenney. Then in his career, he kept on partnering and un-partnering with several designers.
Achievements: The American Institute of Architects posthumously awarded Louis Sullivan the AIA Gold Medal. He designed the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY and Wainwright Building in St. Louis. Moreover, he has also written several books on his architectural philosophy, including The Autobiography of an Idea.
3. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)
Frank Lloyd Wright Kentuck Knob I.N. Hagan House, 1956
Frank Llyod Wright was an autodidact who was officially a drop out of the University of Wisconsin. He left the college after just a year of studies in the civil engineering course. He was educated mainly by working in the offices of others. Although the life and career of Lloyd Right are full of scandals and tragedies, his contribution to American architecture remains unparalleled.
Born on June 8, 1867, Frank Llyod Wright became the chief assistant to architect Louis Sullivan after his college. Wright later founded his firm in 1893. While Wright was dependent on The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin for his earning in his later years, his perspective toward formal education was always remained sceptical. He even said in 1955, “Education, of course, is always based on what was. Education shows you what has been and left you to make the deduction as to what may be. Education as we pursue it cannot prophesy and does not.”
Achievements: Frank Lloyd designed more than 1,100 iconic buildings during his lifetime. He was labelled “The Greatest Architect of All Time” by the American Institute of Architects in 1991. In his late eighties, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts by his former school.
4. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
The Montreal Biosphère by Buckminster Fuller
Architectural enthusiast and conceptual genius, Buckminster Fuller had an unstable relationship with formal studies. He never graduated and even expelled from Harvard University twice. Later, he became the man who patented the geodesic dome.
Achievements: He was one of the greatest minds of our times, who had popularised the geodesic dome. He achieved several major industrial, architectural, and design award, both in the US and abroad. He gained the nation's highest civilian honour- Presidential Medal of Freedom, shortly before his death in 1983.
5. Tadao Ando (Born in 1941-age 76 years)
Roberto Garza Sada Center for Arts Monterrey Mexico by Tadao Ando
Among the most popular and celebrated architects in the world, Tadao Ando could not afford university architecture education, so he started self-educating himself by reading books and studying old buildings in Japan and other countries.
Achievements: He won Pritzker Prize in 1995 for his creative use of natural materials and for designing notable buildings with a minimalist aesthetic. After some casual apprenticeships, he opened his architectural firm in 1969 at the age of twenty-eight.
6. Le Corbusier (1887-1965)
Le Corbusier Notre Dame du Hautbuilt in 1954
He Just like Tadao Ando owes his learning mainly to an inspiring early teacher and his extensive reading of books. As per an article by Paul Turner, Charles L’Eplattenier -the art history teacher- of Le Corbusier directed him to pursue architecture instead of pursuing a career of watch house engraving.
Achievements: Le Corbusier is an architectural giant, who worked for notable practitioners including Auguste Perret. And despite his lack of formal architecture degree, he taught in his old school during World War I. Also, he opened his architectural practice in 1912
7. Eileen Gray (1878-1976)
Eileen Gray's E.1027
While Irish architect and furniture designer attended painting classes at Slade School of Fine Art, her formal studies were infrequent. She got inspired by the surroundings, which infused in her the interest in architecture. In later decades, she partnered with Jean Badovici- a Romanian architect and writer-to design E-1027 house in Southern France.
Achievements: She did several notable architectural works, including an enigmatic name house, E-1027 in Southern France and à Pailla in the French Riviera. Moreover, the furniture created by her is known as the finest from the 20th century.
8. Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)
Mies van der Rohe’s landmark Park Avenue skyscraper, the Seagram Building, was completed in 1958.
A German-born American architect- Mies van der Rohe- coined the aphorism “less is more.” Bron in a humble stonecutter’s family, Mies did not get an opportunity for formal education. He early apprenticed as a brick mason when he was in a trade school. Later he worked for a number of architects sketching outlines, which helped him hone his drawing and drafting skills.
Achievements: The design by Mies remains one of the most critical structures in the 20th- century. The most famous executed project by him was German Pavilion, which is also known as Barcelona Pavilion. Even the Barcelona chairs designed by him became an instant classic in 20th-century furniture design. He received several awards including, AIA Gold Medal, Royal Gold Medal’ by the ‘Royal Institute of British Architects’, and Presidential Medal of Freedom’ by the US President.
9. Peter Zumthor (Born in 1943 - age 75 years)
Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Museum
Born in 1943 at Basel, Switzerland, Peter Zumthor has apprenticed as a cabinet-maker till his teenage years. He studied interior design and architecture at the Basel Arts and Crafts School (1963-67) and industrial design at Pratt Institute in New York. Before establishing his architectural firm in Haldenstein, Switzerland, in 1978, he initially worked in historical preservation in canton Graubünden. He had also been a professor at the University of Italian-speaking Switzerland’s Academy of Architecture from 1996–2008.
Achievements: Known for his unparalleled craftsmanship and advanced design, Peter Zumthor has won numerous awards, including the world’ most prestigious Pritzker prize in 2009 and Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture (1998). He had also achieved Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in 2008, British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal in 2012 and RIBA Gold Medal Award in 2013. The prolific architect has also recently achieved the 2017 grand prize from the Association of German Architects. He is the first non-German who received this prize.
10. Luis Barragán (1902-1988)
Luis Barragán building Casa Museo
Luis Barragán is a Mexican engineer and architect, whose work is known worldwide for his mystic, minimalist and emotional approach. He graduated with a civil engineering degree in 1923, but his architectural skills were self-taught. He was primarily influenced by the published works of French landscape architect and illustrator Ferdinand Bac. On his another visit to Europe, he got a chance to meet Corbusier and Bac, who would have an ultimately a profound influence in his work.
Achievements: Luis Barragán won Pritzker Prize in 1980 for building evocative and tranquil gardens, houses, plazas and fountains. He created so many iconic buildings, including Jardines del Pedregal, Mexico City, Convento de Las Capuchinas Sacramentarias in Tlalpan, Mexico City, Torres de Satélite, Las Arboledas, to name a few. However, his best-known work is the creation of the San Cristóbal Estates equestrian in Mexico City.
11. Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978)
Central Pavilion in the Giardini at the Venice Biennale by Carlo Scarpa
Well-known for his innovative and exceptional approach to design building, the Italian enigma-Carlo Scarpa entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Venice. His refusal to sit the required professional exam restricted him from practising architecture. He started his career in teaching architectural drawing at the Royal Superior Institute of Architecture, Venice. However, he received recognition as an architect after the Second World War.
Achievements: Everyone praises his noteworthy renovation of the Museo Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. Moreover, the delicate handling of Carlo Scarpa in the creation of Castelvecchio Museum in Verona is his highest achievement.