Starchitects Have Reason to be Gloomy
First, the good news. The early model of the starchitect incited by the image-mongering of Frank Lloyd Wright is still in play. It captured the extra-architectural imagination of the popular press and helped catapulted the careers of many architects ever since. Unfortunately we may now be seeing a more universal fatigue with the entire enterprise. Now, the bad news. The fatigue has become so bad that starchitects have now become a popular instrument of ridicule by the media in popular culture. The starchitect have come to represent vanity, greed and shallowness; an enterprise that is ethically challenged. The model has so many broken windows that it has become popular for every lowly wayward to throw a brick at it.
So many architects who have worked up the ranks to gain starchitect status are beginning to question whether there may be fools gold at the end of the rainbow.
Remember the old adage "Be careful what you wish for...". As one journalist put it "[it] reminds me of the one Looney Tune that terrified me as a child, where a selfish and gluttonous Porky Pig is subjected by a mad scientist to a nightmare of unending force-feeding. Enough already. Please. Enough."
In his article Anti-Starchitecture Chic:What’s a budding celebrity architect to do when the winds of change begin shifting away from fame?, Philip Nobel describes the current plight of the Starchitect.
Are we ready for something new? Starchitecture culture in its current form—characterized by the premature coronation of designers based on flashy forms and blowout press coverage, the infection of schools with the idea of fame as a career objective....[has reached it's] current levels of saturation
We’re bored with the stars...even at such previously starstruck schools as Princeton, Columbia, and Yale—who are rejecting stardom as an aspirational model and are looking for other, perhaps more grounded ways to build a practice. Some of them also report a widespread dissatisfaction among their peers with the type of teaching—typically image-heavy and form-centric—that starchitecture has imposed on so many schools. In a related development, younger firms are more often using generic titles rather than marketing themselves exclusively as name-brand stars on the hoof...
Backlash is in the air, and using the same refined organs that so ably guided their rise, the smart stars can feel it.
So what to do? Here are three suggestions:
If you are not yet famous, do as I said in last week's post. Don't tell anyone you want to be a famous architect. Don't tell anyone you read this blog. Just chill out with it. I wasn't kidding. If this doesn't work laugh at it
If you are an almost famous architect [a prince in waiting to be crowned Starchitect], Nobel's article outlines the pros and cons of renouncing the monarchy of fame even while you are being crowned.
market yourself by saying “I am not a star” (as Josh Prince-Ramus has done since his split with Rem) [but this] is only to buy into the same tired trope. To get work, architects must sell a thing—the idea of a building—that by definition does not exist at the time of the sale. So recourse to some sort of theater is appealing. And their customers, prepared as they are to spend millions, are not the most easily sold—and in many cases, particularly for corporate or institutional jobs, they want the splash that only a star (or, it has to be said, a really great building) can reliably bring. It’s a puzzle; the economic pressures to operate as a star are many, and the alternative strategies are few. The only truly credible course may be to reject the very idea of using yourself as a brand, to work and work well, and then to get what press you get in the course of yet more good work. Boring maybe, but until a less destructive model of high-profile practice emerges, it’s the right thing to do.But what if you have a full blown case of Starchitectamyelitis what do you do?
If you are a true virtuoso you can just denounce yourself. Nobel describes the real genius of Frank Gehry at the top of his game.
Gehry, of course, is an expert at managing his fame. Perhaps that’s why he felt compelled recently to deliver to me a T-shirt tastefully printed with “Fuck Frank Gehry,” and insist by proxy (the New York–based creator of the shirts acting as courier) that I wear it at the 2007 Temko Critics Panel (“What to Make of Starchitecture, and Who to Blame for It”). Apparently the shirts are popular at the offices of Gehry Partners LLP, and Frank was feeling frisky. My fellow panelists were amused and assumed I was a sellout, so it did have an effect on the proceedings. But I declined to wear the gift—ethics, you know, and anyway I prefer to get paid to advertise—and I responded by sending back a shirt with my name and a similar blunt message. May he wear it in good health—in front of as many cameras as possible.