The Architect and the Lightbulb

How many architects does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Three, one to screw it in and two standing around saying I could have done it better.

This joke connects both the competitive nature of architecture and the ambiguity of what defines quality architecture.

Examining the psychology of competition, we realise that it is a key component of social life. In truth, I have heard the lightbulb joke told about various professions and creative activities.

It is also evident that competition can have both positive and negative effects.

A negative of competition is that it can induce significant stress, due to negative stimuli. One such example may be the perception that you are required to work excessive hours, to compete for recognition, from senior colleagues.

In contrast, a positive that can be derived from competition is a sense of comradery that can be formed.

In competitive settings, individuals competing as members of groups might experience less competition‐induced negative affect than ‘lone warriors’ due to experienced or anticipated social support within the group.[i]

This is clearly evident in many successful sporting teams. The motto for The West Coast Eagles Grand final winning team was “Friends, Family, Flags” emphasising the importance of belong to the team.

In an architectural sense Optus Stadium, which is the home stadium for The West Coast Eagles, is the result of both competition and collaboration. The WA state government held an international design competition that was ultimately won by Hassell, Cox Architecture, and HKS. In addition to the collaboration between architectural practises, Hassell lists over 40 staff as members of the design team.[ii]

The response to the stadium has been a resounding success, by any measure, winning multiple awards, from various industries, as well as praise from the general public and users of the stadium.  The scale of the project dictates that success would not have been achievable without a team approach.

With architecture rarely being a sole pursuit, in the US approximately 25% of firms are sole practitioners, which equates to about 3% of architects, [iii] it effectively means that collaboration within architectural practice becomes a necessity.

Renzo Piano once said, “In architecture you should live for 150 years because you have to learn in the first 75 years.”

Although I love this quote, as it reminds me to never stop learning, if as architects we can create positive competition and collaboration, where social support is freely available, then perhaps our learning can become fluid so we can live a normal length life.


[i] Wittchen, M. , Krimmel, A. , Kohler, M. and Hertel, G. “The two sides of competition: Competition‐induced effort and affect during intergroup versus interindividual competition.” British Journal of Psychology, 2013 104: 320-338. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2012.02123.x

[ii] “Optus Stadium” Hassell, accessed April 16, 2019, https://www.hassellstudio.com/en/cms-projects/detail/perth-stadium-1685/

[iii] “The Business of Architecture.” American Institute of Architecture 2012, accessed April 16, 2019, https://boa-toolkit.s3.amazonaws.com/2012_AIA_firm_survey_report.pdf