Issue 2
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 17, 2024
We Need More Than Fewer, Better Things
by Deb Chachra
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 3, 2024
An Ode to Garages
by Charlie Weak
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
03.27.2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf

“Words are often lies,” the theorist and OMA partner says of the terms he sees governing architecture today, “or crude misrepresentations of certain subtle truths.”

Reinier de Graaf
Reinier de Graaf. (Courtesy Verso)


The writing of architect and theorist Reinier de Graaf, a Rotterdam-based partner at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and co-founder of its research arm, AMO, fuels his role as a contrarian in his field. The offer for his first book, Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession, which paints a bleak picture of what it’s like to be an architect, came from an editor at Harvard University Press after reading the Dutch designer’s 2015 essay in The Architect’s Newspaper on how French economist Thomas Piketty’s economic theory explained all the stylistic changes in architecture better than any architectural historian. Following other articles about his profession of a similarly incisive, critical-insider tone and his 2020 novel, The Masterplan, about a Kafkaesque antihero architect, de Graaf decided to tackle a topic that originates outside his work: the unsolicited (and often unattainable) rules and expectations that lawmakers, marketing teams, and the outside world put onto 21st-century architects. 

Presented in the new book Architect, Verb: The New Language of Building (Verso), de Graaf organizes his critique into 10 chapters that each tackle a different term that is commonplace among his peers, and uses the words to demonstrate and dissect the industry’s mostly saturated, populist, and subversively hierarchical landscape. They include, in order of appearance, starchitecture, world-class, excellence, sustainability, well-being, livability, placemaking, creativity, beauty, and innovation. (I can hear the groans.) In the book, he deftly mixes history, anecdotes, and personal experience to build a case for his thesis: that architecture has become boxed in by futile regulations, and that trying to fulfill them diverts architects’ energy and attention away from their medium. “One could argue that to measure something is the first step in removing it from the realm of free will,” he writes. Without such rules, de Graaf thinks architecture could return to being architecture again, and to a different set of directives: “a discipline of ideas,” as he puts it, and “a domain that help[s] formulate standards.” 

His tactics for unpacking each expression vary. Sometimes he wields comedy, as when he tallies up the stupefying number of codes and green-building rating system updates architects must decipher to simply do their work. In an appendix, he offers a name and a droll description for architecture’s circuitous lingo—the one fueled by Zoom meetings, extended email chains, and the creative industries’ growing obsession with productivity—profspeak: expressions and promises that really do nothing but serve as fillers in conversation, or as de Graaf described it to me, “the language of petty excuses.” (During the pandemic’s lockdowns, he’d often turn off his camera during meetings, and take notes on all the words people used.) Elsewhere, he waxes analytical, as when detailing the forces that have deemed Vancouver more “livable” than Vienna, and the pros and cons of the metric. Ethics also go under his microscope: What happens when the morals, labor, sustainability, and purpose surrounding a building clash with fame, finance, and competition?

To better understand the context and development of de Graaf’s assertions, I recently asked him to expand on his linguistic observations. Here, he talks about architectural jargon, the truths and lies it illuminates, and the term that matters most for the future of his profession in order for it to flourish.

The cover of Architect, Verb: The New Language of Building.
The cover of Reinier de Graaf’s latest book. (Courtesy Verso)


“I’m a Dutch speaker by birth, but I lived in England for quite a few years. My first job was in the U.K., which meant that I had to express myself professionally in English. I’ve always been fascinated by English English, not so much American English. The English have divorced words from meaning in such wonderful ways that they know how to hint at certain things almost better than anybody else, while the Dutch are known for being direct. You can imagine my first few years as a recent graduate in England. 

Many English words around architecture today imply an apparent global consensus that you cannot disagree with. However, I find extreme demonstrations of virtue suspicious, and their manifestation extremely humorless. I thought the best critique of them would be to aim for satire, because one of the real drawbacks about the current terminology is that you can’t really apply any critical apparatus against it. Then, humor becomes a powerful tool. Of course, I do apply a critical apparatus against it in the book, in the sense that I trace back the history of each term to when it entered the discourse, or when it was invented to mean almost the opposite of what it actually means.

If [an architect] participates in any tender at the moment, there is a long checklist with so many boxes to tick. Many architects pick the proposition that checks the most boxes, not necessarily something that appeals most instantaneously. The more the decisions are deferred in the system, the less there is an authentic appreciation of a building, or any notion of what defines a good building.

Architecture is a very old discipline that has been able to adapt itself to different political, social, and technological situations. It embodies a body of knowledge, but it has internalized certain forms of knowledge to the point that it doesn’t always expressly articulate them in words. Architecture is part of the rituals and creative habits of those who study the profession, and therefore, it is also so vulnerable in the face of measurement systems that have defined terminologies that operate by words exclusively. Words are often lies, or crude misrepresentations of certain subtle truths.

“Architecture is part of the rituals and creative habits of those who study the profession, and therefore, it is also so vulnerable in the face of measurement systems that have defined terminologies that operate by words exclusively.”


When architecture becomes a spectacle to observe, the term world-class often comes into play. When a client uses that term, I have to suppress laughter. There are many words I can’t use without some irony. Other terms, such as livability, were invented by politicians. That includes the term sustainability, which hopes to make architecture measurable and accountable in terms of how you assess something as vague and subjective as how sustainable it is. 

Sustainability is an eco-term that has become an economic term. That is very dangerous, because there’s so much lip service, and the demonstration of virtue gets in the way of real virtue. Obviously, you can’t be against sustainability. I’m not in favor of wasteful architecture. You see so many buildings being presented in the name of sustainability, but if you take a closer look, they’re not sustainable at all. And yet, sustainability is the primary thing that matters about the future, and something that has to happen. There’s currently a major pushback against globalization, but climate change, as a global problem, will soon forge another form of globalization—one not driven by economic opportunism, but by necessity. 

Or consider the word starchitect. People generally think architects are powerful, but I can tell you from my work of thirty-five years that they are not. They have to mediate between very different interests, and even opposing ones. They are manipulators, pleasers, charlatans. Also, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, or you name it: The single-handed genius is not really the case in architecture anymore. Buildings are Gesamtkunstwerks by definition, but the paradox is that buildings are not one person’s work. The end result is the work of so many people at an office, and also engineers, mechanics, builders, and many others. 

We need all of their [expertise and creativity] in architecture. Bauhaus paved the way for the disappearance of the architect by objectifying the practice to such a degree, using an almost scientific approach and functionality, across construction, engineering, and art. It rid architects of the subjectivity of creation. And Bauhaus ideas are essentially the underlying principles of mainstream construction today. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said that the industry will solve all our intellectual problems. But what he forgets is that if indeed that is the case, then there is no longer a need for people like him. 

An earnest scientific assessment of things is a necessity and an integral approach [to change]. Precision in language, and also precision in action and honesty, are paramount. There is a beautiful book about this by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt, called On Bullshit, which I recommend.”


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.