The A4 Architectural Words of Wisdom

After being a licensed architect for thirty years (which is even more amazing considering how long it takes to become licensed), I am taking the liberty of sharing some thoughts and quotations that I have developed over that time. I hope you will find some of them insightful, informative, or amusing. Please feel free to share them, but just remember to quote me!                                                                                                                                    -Ross Cann, RA, AIA

All quotes by Ross Cann, RA, AIA

  • Architects are not decorators. They are problem solvers. (The decoration comes as a bonus.)
  • The way architects design buildings has changed more in the last thirty years than it changed in the previous three hundred years before that.
  • Architecture is the art of solving highly undefined, multi-dimensional problems.
  • Architecture is finding the perfect intersection of design and engineering, desire and building code, dreams and budget, past and future, and a hundred other possibilities and constraints, all at the same time.
  • Architecture is the legacy that each era leaves to the next generation.
  • People make buildings and buildings make cities and cities make civilizations.
  • Design is to Building as DNA is to Biology.
  • Architecture is the crystallization of the culture of its time, secretly encoding the philosophy, aesthetics and technology of its era.
  • Architecture will be the last art that Artificial Intelligence will master, because there are so many variables to deal with, and faking the design will not work.
  • Often architecture is all that we have left to understand the culture of ancient peoples, but if we study closely, architecture is enough for us to understand them well.

The Golden Mean

Architectural Inspiration:
  • Buildings are dreams transformed into real materials.
  • Architecture without a philosophy to guide it is like a blind man lost in the woods.
  • Dare to live your best life by building your best dream.
  • Nature is usually the best inspiration for architecture.

The Redwood Library – Newport, RI

Architectural Preservation:
  • Good design is using the best of the past in order to make the most of the future.
  • Buildings and neighborhoods are the fabric of our collective memories.
Beauty in Architecture:
  • Architecture is poetry, but written in a universal language.
  • Beauty is the 1% of good design that is immediately visible.
  • Style rises and falls in fashion, but good proportion seems to be universal.
  • It does not make sense to put steel legs on a Chippendale sofa. Similarly, all the parts and pieces of a building should match.
Building Science:
  • With regard to our approach to building, we are still driving around in horse and buggies.
  • Building science has advanced more in the past thirty years than in the previous three hundred years.

Court Tennis Court

Court Tennis (the 800-year-old sport played off 26 surfaces):
  • Court Tennis is the coolest, fastest, craziest 800-year-old sport you never heard of.
  • Court tennis is to tennis as chess is to checkers.
  • Court Tennis is 1/3 tennis plus 1/3 chess plus 1/3 pinball.
  • Court tennis is three-dimensional chess with racquets and a felt-covered baseball.
Design Practice:
  • Plan three times, measure twice and cut once.
  • In architecture, the decisions we make today will often last far longer than we will be around, so decide well.
  • In design, the shortest route to disaster is to take a short-cut.
  • Architecture does not pay well enough for people to retire early, but generally it is interesting enough that people want to do it until thy are carried out on their drafting tables.
Newport, Rhode Island:
  • Newport is the product of “benign neglect”: It never got so rich to be torn down, nor so poor as to fall down.
  • Ocean Drive in the necklace around the throat of a regal grand dame.
  • Bellevue Avenue is perhaps the beautiful one-mile straightaway anywhere so there is no point going too fast.
  • To walk from Hunter House to Bellevue House is to experience the evolution of Newport from the Colonial era through to the Twentieth Century.
  • People are always shocked to learn that in 1776, Newport was the fifth largest city in the American Colonies, but in 250 years, its fulltime population has barely doubled since.
  • Newport’s architectural history is the history of American Architecture from the Colonial Era until the present.
sustainable architecture newport ri

Sustainable Construction – Spray Foam Insulation

Sustainability in Architecture:
  • Buildings are the prime cause of global warming but buildings can be the prime solution to global warming.
  • Deep energy insultation retrofits are the most profitable projects that are invisible to the eye.
  • Everyone has been part of creating the climate crisis and so everyone has to be part of the solution to the climate crisis.
  • When you upgrade your insulation, you won’t see it with your eyes, but you will definitely see it in lower energy bills.
Value in Architecture:
  • In architecture, an ounce of design can be worth a ton of repair.
  • Architecture is too important NOT to invest in.
  • Great design is the smartest investment.
  • Good design saves much more than money.
  • Don’t think of Design as an expense. Think of Design as an investment.
  • Architecture is the best investment you can enjoy using every single day.
  • Skimping on the design for your home is like skipping the recipe for your wedding cake and just combining the ingredients randomly. The cost of the ingredients is the same but the outcome is completely different.


Ross Cann, RA, AIA, LEED AP, who lives and works in Newport, RI, is an author, historian, and Founding Principal of A4 Architecture. He holds honors degrees in Architectural History and Design from Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia Universities and has taught at numerous institutions as well.