Way back in 2007 we completed “The Blue House,” an extremely large private home on behalf of a client. The construction took several years and was certainly one of the most ambitious projects we had ever executed. In terms of both its size, concept and profusion of details that were required The Blue House was a “one-off;” a unique work of art.
The client professed his satisfaction and his intention to live in his new home forever.
In conjunction with the final touches to the garden and interiors, I requested from our client permission to schedule a visit by our photographer so that we may document our work and publish it on our website and in a book of our private homes. Although we had discussed photographing the house in the past and no objection were raised, the client chose to send me a contract to sign in order for us to attain permission to photograph. To my surprise the contract stipulated that if the client was unhappy in any way with the use of the photographs I would be required to pay him compensation amounting to $500,000.
I had never encountered anything of this kind. Our norm was to take photos of our work, sit with our clients and determine which photos could be published. We never attribute the name of our clients to the photographs taken and we also refrain from divulging the exact location of the private homes we designed. What followed was a profusion of emails and conversations that aimed to resolve the issue since it was quite obvious to us that the threat of $500,000 was not something we could accept. In spite of all my efforts I was not able to overcome the client’s insistence that I sign the contract so I finally had to relinquish our desire to photograph our work.
This was a substantial blow. We had spent many years planning and executing this project and the entire practice was extremely proud of The Blue House. We felt that all the hard work, and in the case of this project, financial loses, were for nothing. The client had received the fruits of our genius and we were left without even the ability to show our work.
Unwilling to abandon our intellectual/artistic rights I decided to commission 3D renderings of The Blue House. The renderings that were generated were not necessarily a duplicate of the home but they were extremely close and were a fair representation of our work. Every detail within the digital renderings was computer generated, including the leaves on the trees, and no personal artefacts or images of individuals were presented within the computer renderings. We placed the images on our web site under the name “The Blue House,” stating that these were computer renderings.
A couple of days after uploading the images I received a phone call from our client demanding that we remove the images. I refused. I explained that these were not photographs but computer-generated images and that there were no references made anywhere either to him and that the images were merely a reflection of our work.
The client chose to sue and a legal process began that has spanned a period of five years. Recently the issue was resolved in Israel’s Supreme Court. The court’s decision aimed to balance the right of a client to privacy and the architect’s right to show his/her work. The court ruled that architects have the right to show their work and that photographs of the exterior of a building do not infringe upon a client’s privacy. Even if an individual feels that there is an infringement, it is deemed minor and insignificant and should not prevent architects showing their work. The Supreme Court further ruled that the architect has the right to show images of interiors to prospective clients, and professional forums but is to avoid publishing even digital renderings of interiors without the consent of the client.
Although this entire affair was unfortunate and in my opinion unnecessary, it did raise some extremely important issues that are worthy of debate.
Arguably the first is the relationship between real images of reality and computer generated renderings that relate to reality but are not the same. In the case of The Blue House, several of the interior renderings were substantially fictitious yet we find ourselves in the strange position that even if the interiors are not related to reality, one cannot publish them. Does the ruling determine that even if computer renderings of interiors are fictitious they may not be published if they are perceived to be related to a particular home? Where does one draw the line between “exposing” the private domain and renderings that present fiction and cannot be considered an infringement on privacy?
Another important point is what defines the intellectual rights of the architect? In theory we, as a practice, have the right to duplicate our designs. We have the right to design an additional “blue house” if we so wished. So if we have the right to create an additional and real “Blue House,” even with exact interior detailing, why should we not be allowed to create a virtual version? There is no doubt that the existing Blue House is the property of our client, but what is the relationship between real property and intellectual property? If renderings, or even images, do not identify or reveal any personal details, if no reference is made identifying the client and if the creation of the renderings do not require the infringement upon private property, then under what argument should artists & architects be restricted from showing their work?
One of the principle reasons I pursued this affair all the way to the Supreme Court was because I felt that what was actually being challenged here was the right of architects to retain their intellectual property, that what we were experiencing was an assault on the rights of architects to show their work. As service providers and professionals “the client is king” and architects are required to offer the best possible service to their clients, to respond to their needs and exhaust every possible means to deliver more than just a solution, but a work of art. It is no secret that architecture is more a way of life than an economically lucrative profession. The true reward of architects is the gratitude of their clients, the exercising of their craft, their creative process and their ability to actualize their vision. Part and parcel of the remuneration of architects is their ability to show and publish their work. Although there is absolutely no justification for infringing on the privacy and intimacy of any person, the definition of what resides within the domain of the private needs clarification. Each individual may claim a different level of sensitivity to issues related to personal privacy yet in order for architects to retain any substance in the notion of intellectual property guidelines that are objective need to be introduced.
As a result of the Supreme Court ruling we are once more able to show The Blue House.
This post is also available in: Hebrew