Howard Roark: you either love him or you hate him. You either succumb to his enigmatic charms or you find him to be a sinister dirtbag. To call him polarizing is the understatement of the century. Most people credit him with having a boatload of artistic talent, but when it comes to liking or respecting him it's a whole different story.
Not surprisingly, this is exactly how people feel about Rand herself. There is no gray area surrounding Rand. There is no "Uh, yeah, I like her all right" or "She's okay, I guess?" People either are Rand fanboys or hate her with a white-hot passion. And Roark, for all intents and purposes, is Ayn Rand's mouthpiece in The Fountainhead.
Let's recap really quickly: Ayn Rand had a little philosophy called Objectivism. This philosophy, in a bite-sized morsel, is every man for himself. Objectivism rails against anything that smacks of the herd mentality. Objectivism thinks that cooperative efforts lead to mediocrity. Concepts like "team spirit" and "pulling together" are dirty words in the Objectivist dictionary.
Ayn Rand writes novels that are, essentially, Objectivist treatises. And in The Fountainhead, Howard Roark is Rand's ideal Objectivist. Put in an equation for you mathy people out there, Ayn Rand = Objectivism = Howard Roark.
When Roark says
"Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation—anchored to nothing." (4.11.62)
…you're hearing the textbook Objectivist take on conformity. Second-handers aren't people that like thrift stores—they're people who live lives according to the rules. Second-handers are the resume-builders and the goody two-shoes of the world. They're the people that join clubs and the people that are interested in the good of the community. Objectivism, er, Ayn Rand, er, Howard Roark hates 'em.
It's no big shocker that Roark's bombastic looking-out-for-numero-uno stance makes him a slightly challenging person to be around at times. He's an intense dude and people regard him as a bit of a weirdo, as exemplified by this exchange:
"It's not what you do. It's what you make people feel around you." "What?" "The un-normal. The strain. When I'm with you—it's always like a choice. Between you—and the rest of the world. [....] It's not all fighting and renunciation. It is—with you." (1.7.60-2)
Yeah, Roark isn't the guy you want to hang around when you just want to eat Swedish Fish and watch Netflix. He's the kind of guy you want to hang around when you're in the mood to, uh, torch buildings. That's how Roark rolls: if he is displeased with how one of his buildings is being used, he blows it up. If he doesn't like you, he tells you to your face. Burning bridges is Roark's hobby.
And the thing is that Roark seems to have been essentially born into the role of explosives-wielding freethinker. We don't see Roark journey towardabsolute self-reliance and callousness. He starts the book as an individualist and he ends the book as an individualist. This underlines his status as less of a round character and more of an Objectivist poster-boy.
But to be sure, Roark is always very handy for summing up the book's themes. When he isn't spouting philosophy or terse one-liners, he's often quite silent. In a way, Roark's main purpose is to demonstrate an admirable way to do things to the other, way more screwed up characters.
Roark doesn't really resemble an actual person in the way he acts or speaks, but he was modeled after an actual person: the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was known for being uncompromising in his ideas and for his innovative architectural style. Rand admired Wright's work so much she used him as a template for her own young, renegade architect.