The Creative Architect Study

In 1949, the psychologist Donald MacKinnon started a research center at UC Berkeley called “The Institute for Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR).” During World War II, Dr. MacKinnon had developed personality and ability tests for the U.S. military. The purpose of the IPAR was to extend this research into civilian life. One of its priorities was to scientifically determine the traits of the creative personality.

Their most important research study was an analysis of creative architects. Forty of the top architects in the U.S. flew to Berkeley and lived together in an old fraternity house for a weekend. Psychologists gave them a battery of tests, and observed them while they had dinner, lunch, and cocktails. The most famous architects agreed to participate, including Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, Richard Neutra, and Eero Saarinen. It’s a legendary story among creativity researchers. And now, there’s a new book that tells the story: The Creative Architect (by Pierluigi Serraino, and reviewed in the Wall Street Journal here).

Unfortunately, the study didn’t result in any strong or surprising findings–other than observing that the architects didn’t fit the stereotype of a creative person. The study found no evidence that creative people fit the widespread image of “an eccentric not only in thinking but in appearance, dress, and behavior; a Bohemian, an egghead, a longhair…a true neurotic, withdrawn from society, inept in his relations with others” (MacKinnon, 1962/1978, p. 178). The architects seemed to be pretty normal and successful professionals.

What’s more, they had remarkably ordinary childhoods: When they recalled their childhoods, they described the classic upper-middle-class, educated, American lifestyle: fathers were effective in their demanding careers, mothers were autonomous and often had their own careers, religion was important but not central or doctrinaire, families emphasized the development of a personal code of ethics, parents were not overly judgmental but encouraged the child’s ideas and expressions, and the family moved frequently (paraphrasing from MacKinnon’s book).

I recommend reading the WSJ review, and getting the book!

McKinnon, D. W. (1962/1978). In search of human effectiveness. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.

3 thoughts on “The Creative Architect Study

  1. Hello Keith

    I read articles and papers about or by MacKinnon about his ARCHITECTS study while I was working on my doctorate with Dr. Torrance.

    Then in 1981 I heard MacKinnon give a presentation about the study at CCL as part of Creativity Week IV that Stan G. organized and invited me to attend.

    At that time the largest number of papers MacKinnon had published were ALL about the architects study.

    Out of curiosity having studied architect and worked as an NCARB licensed architect, one of my employers had been Gunnar Birkerts international winner of many awards I was curious if he was in the list. MacKinnon would not share in 1981 the list of the CREATIVE architect or who decided who the 40 of them will be.

    I purchased a copy of the CREATIVE ARCHITECT recently and have it on my credenza to read soon.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    *Alan* *2016 – Develop Your Skills & Knowledge of* *Leading – Communicating – Teaming – C,r,E,8,N,G!*

    Robert *Alan *Black, Ph.D., CSP, DLA, TM: AC-Gold 706 353 3387 *GOOGLE+ posts* *BLOGS*

    *My Angels & My Demons*

    On Tue, Aug 9, 2016 at 2:47 PM, The Creativity Guru wrote:

    > keithsawyer posted: “In 1949, the psychologist Donald MacKinnon started a > research center at UC Berkeley called “The Institute for Personality > Assessment and Research (IPAR).” During World War II, Dr. MacKinnon had > developed personality and ability tests for the U.S. military” >

  2. HI Keith,

    Hope you’re well! Long time no e-…!

    Your piece reminded me of two wonderful musicians who both both studied architecture in their youth: the peerless guitarist Gene Bertoncini and the father of Brazilian bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

    I expect their focus on interlocking, compatible structures and pleasing scale (pun fully intended) informed their compositions and playing. Certainly Gene’s solo acoustic work is remarkably intricate
    and uniquely well-constructed. He’s also the least Bohemian musician I know. Perhaps the mathematical precision required for architecture mitigates against the classic looseness (and looniness!) the world associates with artists…?

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