blank-nameplateMichael Kimmelman in a New York Times article on a new Italian winery near Florence, identifies the architect as Archea. There is no Architetto Archea, it’s a made-up name. While most architecture firms continue to be named John Doe Associates, the use of invented names is increasingly common. There are the mega-practices Aecom and Aedas, the mainstream Ennead (originally Polshek Partnership), cutting-edge SHoP, and the recently disbanded Office dA. Some of the made-up names involve arcane wordplay–Coop Himmelb(l)au, Mecanoo, Asymptote, Arch-Tectonics–and some seem calculated simply to grab our attention, like the Danish firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), the London firm, FAT (Fashion, Architecture, Taste), or the Beijing firm, MAD (which doesn’t seem to stand for anything). Pritzker Prize-winner Wang Shu’s firm is called Amateur Architecture Studio; Snøhetta is named after a Norwegian mountain peak. Interestingly, firms practicing traditional or classical architecture, tend to avoid made-up names. Perhaps tricky names are a subtle form of architectural branding: I’m not stodgy, I’m hip, in fact, I’m not a firm at all, I’m a creative force.

There is also a practical reason to adopt a neutral name: not privileging the founding partners by attaching their names to the practice. Most firms change over time (Archea, founded in 1988, now has four principals and eight partners), partners come and go, and in any case, an impersonal name better reflects the collaborative nature of large architectural practices. Or at least, that is the theory. In some cases, the need to personalize reasserts itself. Morphosis was founded in 1972 by a group of architects, although today projects by the firm are usually credited to “Thom Mayne of Morphosis,” a similar status is accorded “Rem Koolhaas of OMA,” and “Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX.” Several years ago the landscape architecture firm founded as Field Operations, began referring to itself as “James Corner Field Operations.” What’s in a name? Apparently, quite a lot.

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