The first ever architect was so successful, his descendants became pharoahs. Now, 4500 years later, the profession is still plagued by the unreliability of dynasties
In an effort to see some of the middle east while it's still there, I've just been on a holiday on the Nile. The pharoahs have many claims to fame, and nobody can fail to be astonished by the quality of the going-away presents in Tutankhamun's tomb – although it is something of a surprise that rather than being regally arrayed about his gold casket, they were stacked about it as though in a Pickfords van.

However, my favourite ancient Egyptian has always been Imhotep, a bright and persuasive young man who saw around him a billionaire dynasty obsessed with the afterlife, some vacant sites and 20,000 able-bodied, underemployed workers – and decided to become the world's first architect.

This he duly did, and briskly established many valuable concepts, such as a fee based on a percentage of the cost of the construction works. Indeed, so amazing was he in turning Ramses, Amenhotep and their ilk into monument builders, that he became a god and his family became pharoahs.

The Egyptians were great ones for keeping it in the family. The blood was traced through the female line, which emphasised the femme-fatale school of dynasty maintenance – rather than the slaughter of the siblings preferred by male-based dynasties, where pedigree is, of course, harder to establish.

We have our own dynasties in the construction business – or, at least, we had. The small family firm is a reviled concept, as is the idea that a young person would be more usefully engaged in learning how to install a central heating system than learning about online computer makeovers. When you see "& Sons" after the name on a construction hoarding, it is just to identify the construction part of a company that may principally be involved in other things.

Both my children informed me that their idea of a job was to work for somebody who paid you every month

Generally, successful fathers do not beget famous sons. Frank Lloyd Wright's had an impossible act to follow and Lutyens' gave up architecture and became an interior decorator. Sometimes greatness skips a generation, as it did with the Giles Gilbert Scotts. This is not always the case. At the Manser practice, featured in Building's article on offspring last week (pages 43-51), the children seem to be carrying on the seamless elegance of the father's work, but putting a bit more punch into it.

Architects who are not particularly successful are unlikely to become role models for their own offspring. Round about the age of 12, both my children informed me that their idea of a job was to work for somebody who paid you every month; a modus vivendi that certainly did not fit the financial circumstances in which they were being brought up.

That was, no doubt, my own fault. Architects my age practising after the war could be seriously rich, in a way that is now difficult for all but partners in large corporations. Indeed, I'm not sure that responsible parents should point their offspring in the direction of Portland Place. The only third-generation architect I know is a successful developer, and he refuses to do architectural work for anyone but himself. Then again, it is probably a profession that chooses you, rather than the other way around – unless your parents were in the building industry and saw architects as a cut above.

In my first few years in practice, I had an extremely entertaining (and hair-raising) colleague who came from a contracting family. While I was clutching my Mitchell's Building Construction and agonising about whether I could instruct an architrave to be pulled off in safety, he was gaily taking down the entire back walls of houses and making deals with muckaway folk with flatbeds that seemed to involve something called "hardcore", during which pound notes were exchanged that looked as though they might have originally been given to Imhotep.