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Big-A and little-a architects January 10, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, creativity.

Big-A, little-a, what begins with A? I recently had the pleasure of participating in a stimulating online discussion on the CSTC forum concerning the artificial construct of, or all-to-real divide between, big-C creativity and little-c creativity. To author and psychology professor Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the big-C creative person is a towering figure, a person whose work is well known to people in a particular field, whereas the little-c creative person is not. Big-C creativity leads to the transformation of a domain such as Architecture. Little-c creativity is used in everyday life, as in problem solving or placement of the proverbial bicycle shed.

This got me thinking about whether there is a similar difference between big-A architects and little-a architects. It would be natural to assume that Big A’s, at least in the building design field, are the Starchitects familiar to media, stage and screen – and the little a’s, well, the rest of us.  The comparison I have in mind runs deeper, involving a lower and higher order of magnitude – but of what? Talent? Creativity?

Perhaps the biggest difference between big-A architects and little-a architects isn’t measured in degree but in kind. Let me illustrate:

Little-a architects                       Big-A architects                        

Talk                                          Listen

React w/o reflection                   Reflection-in-action

Focus on selves                        Focus on the problem

“Green” solutions                       Sustainable

Cradle to grave                         Cradle to cradle

Concerned with image               Concerned with substance

Have an agenda                        Are open and flexible

Come to a solution ASAP          Comfortable with ambiguity

Appeal to constraints                Appeal to their higher selves

Describe and explain                 Justify

Speak architect                         Translate for others

Work in teams                          Orchestrate

Generalist                                 Polymath

Coordinator                               Integrator

Analyzer                                  Synthesizer

Continuing education                 Lifelong learning

Big-A architects appeal to their higher, or if you prefer, aspirational selves. Their high-octane, fuel-injected selves when confronted with an intractable problem, assignment or opportunity. As Architects to Zebras is a blog (Blog?) covering architects from A-Z (or is that a-z?) I hope for this to be the beginning of an ongoing discussion. I would be interested to know what items you would to add to the list.



1. Steve Hopkins - January 25, 2009

Hi Randy,

Thanks for the illuminating post. Interesting to here how the conversation on CSTC helped shape your thoughts – excellent 🙂

So, to me, the difference you have highlighted here are also the same between those folks that can’t help but see the macro results of their actions vs those that can only see the micro results of their achievements. So, for mine, some other comparisons are:

Little a Big A
Build for client Build for community
Please current ambitions Build for future aspirations
Focus on the tasks at hand Focus on the systemic place
of their work
Construct Buildings Place build

I think this also overlaps with other opperatots in any given field, and agree that your list matches very well those same ‘types’ we see in any given workplace, not just in the world of architecture.

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