Spotlight: Roark Redux


Fred Stitt, the most widely published architectural writer in the world, was thrown out of high school because of what he calls "political disagreements" with school officials. Those disagreements included his belief that he had the right to eat lunch where he wanted and to go to the bathroom without asking permission. "Little things," he says.

Though the high-school authorities had tried to push him into vocational-training classes, Stitt's actual interests were in art and science. At age 15, he read Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead, about the individualist hero-architect Howard Roark, and realized that architecture is the synthesis of art and science. The high-school dean promised to help Stitt get an early admission into a junior college to study architecture if Stitt would quit high school. Stitt quit, and the dean denied the deal was ever made.

When Stitt turned 18, he took the college's entrance exams, and his high scores won him admission. But in the middle of his second year, he was put in charge of the architecture department's exhibit at the school's open house. Members of the art department objected to the display, because it was more elaborate than theirs, and they complained to the college dean. The dean offered to not expel Stitt for having skipped some archery classes, if he would simplify the exhibit.

If the dean had known anything about The Fountainhead, he would not have been so satisfied when Stitt told him that he'd think about his proposal and left. "I got my team and locked the doors of the exhibit room so they couldn't change it," Stitt says. "The next day, I was out with straight Fs."

In 1960, he and his girlfriend worked their way across the country to New York to attend the Nathaniel Branden Institute, which taught the individualist philosophy of objectivism. "I've followed the objectivist-libertarian track philosophically ever since," Stitt says.

After his time in New York, he sought out the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright but couldn't afford the fee to study with him. So Stitt went to study with the relatively unknown architect Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma, because he considered Goff the most daring and inventive architect of his time. Today, Goff is known all over the world.

Stitt wasn't admitted into the university, however, so he decided to study on his own. "As I did," he says, "I saw that the profession was as thoroughly screwed up as it was depicted in The Fountainhead. But rather than take an adversary approach, I decided to take a problem-solving approach and study the profession, examine the problems, and sell the solutions."

In 1968, he went to Berkeley, where he says he managed to "finagle" his way into the architecture program at the University of California. He turned his research into term papers for his various courses. To support his girlfriend and son, he started a publishing company called Guidelines and started selling condensed versions of his papers as booklets, earning more money as a student publishing his work than he had ever made working in architectural offices. Though he never graduated, he passed the architecture-licensing exams with honors.

Today, Stitt has written more than 40 booklets and manuals on virtually every aspect of architectural practices. Lately, he has been republishing his work through McGraw-Hill, including his newest, Designing Buildings That Work, which is dedicated "to my first architectural mentor, Howard Roark."

Stitt writes and publishes the monthly Guidelines Letter, a newsletter on innovations in architectural and engineering practices with 7,000 readers. He also writes and publishes the Errors and Omissions Bulletin, a bimonthly report on the causes and prevention of building failures. He lectures widely for professional societies and universities. At the 1985 national American Institute of Architects convention alone, he will deliver four lectures. By 1986, he will have published 15 books.

Stitt teaches at Berkeley's architecture school and is creating a computerized private school and research institute to study market alternatives to such regulations as building and zoning codes and professional licensing.

Stitt is a harsh critic of state licensing of architects, which he believes "protects mediocrities." He sees a connection between licensing laws and building and design failures, and he intends to document it in a book entitled The Slaughter of the Innocent. His criticisms have not endeared him to the architecture establishment, though his presence as a speaker at top gatherings bespeaks the grudging respect in which Fred Stitt is held by his peers.

In addition to being an art collector and a self-described music addict, Stitt continues a 13-year-old project of visiting major world cultures, tracking the evolution and development of Western-style consciousness particularly as manifested in architectural design. Invitations to speak all over the world help Stitt with that pursuit. As part of that project, he is even undertaking a trip to several of the better-known police states. He'll be working on establishing architectural and ideological networks, but he suggests another major reason for the trip: "I'm kind of nostalgic for the kind of totalitarian repression that I experienced as a child in school."

Free-lance writer Patrick Cox is an analyst for a San Francisco investment firm.