In this article I argue that a once-prevalent collective ethos in architectural practice reached its apotheosis during the 1950s. Transformations that were nascent in the that decade spurred a retrenchment around the individual author, at least among the small and midsize firms that still comprised the bulk of the profession at the time. As early as 1960, simmering anxieties about the aesthetic anonymity of modernism came to be linked with concerns about social conformity, resulting in a desire for distinctive authorial identities among architects, critics, and clients. When discussing authorship today, we must take account of the ideological props that bolster this still-pervasive myth of the individual author despite its increasing disingenuousness: first, that authorship in the U.S. context served as a weapon in Cold War debates concerning liberty and collectivity; and second, that it also acts as (psychological) compensation for the alienating realities of architectural employment.

Portrait of 19th Century US architect Henry Hobson Richardson featured on the July 1965 cover of Progressive Architecture, illustrating dramatic change within the image of architects from visionary individualist to “pseudo-corporation man” and back again, as explored by Jan C. Rowan in his editorial that month.