Advice for an aspiring architect, in 1931

In December of 1931, as the Great Depression took hold, a young man by the name of Richard Crews wrote to a number of prominent architecture firms in the city of Chicago. Soon to enter the profession himself, Crews was curious to learn about an established architect’s typical working day, and so sent letters to local masters of the trade to find out from the best possible source. Four incredibly gracious responses arrived, including the one below; a letter filled with honest, sage and extremely quotable advice from Charles Morgan, a highly regarded architectural artist who in the ’20s and ’30s provided renderings for a number of large firms such as Frank Lloyd Wright. Had he written it today, I’m sure much of the advice would remain.

Many thanks to F.A. Bernett Books for allowing me to show the letter (which, incidentally, can be bought at their website along with the other three).

Transcript follows.


thirty third floor 333 north Michigan Ave

telephone Randolph 6014


Richard Crews
4524 Malden Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Richard Crews:

I am sorry to be delayed these few days in answering your letter of Dec. 21st but I shall hasten and do it before the new year.

Of course, you would be more interested in what an architect does in a day’s work in normal times, than now. So if you will excuse the liberty I shall make the discussion, or at least the answer, on what an architect should do in a day’s work.

An architect should, unless it is impossible, answer his mail the first thing in the morning. Then his mind is free to plan and design upon the problems of his clients. He goes to work planning from within outward just as truly as from the ground upward. There are very few real architects who get big jobs because it is only the politician who gets big jobs, and the politician never has time to be an architect. So by all means the architect should learn to do small jobs well, because of the very fact that if he is sincere he shall probably never get big ones.

The architect should always remember that Jesus was an architect and that to be entitled to the same name he should love truth and beauty above all else.

An architect is too busy to bother much about luncheon. A sandwich at noon is enough. He draws or builds models most of the day because that is an aid to his imagination. Imagination is the only quality that is creative.

Above all else the artist must not copy. Imitate nothing except principle. That is best understood by reading such as Henry Thoreau’s “Walden” and of the lives of great people.

A real architect like a good man in any business does not waste any time whatever doing things of which he might be ashamed. He must above all be a sincere artist.

I congratulate you upon your choice and sincerely wish you much strength and happiness. Make no compromise from that which you know is right.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, ‘Charles Morgan, Chicago Associate of Frank Lloyd Wright.’)

December 30, 1931