Tuesday, November 24, 2009

66. Seven ways to [verb] the Starchitect System

While doing research for one of my posts, I came across this very interesting synopsis of the starchitect system, made by a commenter on archinet. I thought it was a particularly insightful observation and could not resist posting it here.

Th starchitect system [a working and evolving description]:

  1. Architect makes a new form and discovers innovative way to build it
  2. The form-building gets press
  3. The architect becomes a pseudo-celebrity and the building becomes a "style"
  4. The architect starts using the same bag of (increasingly superficial) formal tricks in all consequent projects.
  5. The press (including architectural) give up really engaging criticism and if said architect does anything, it is celebrated as the coming of the messiah for a city, building type, etc...
  6. The public come to think of that "style" as architecture
  7. Lesser known architects follow the public's new tastes
  8. "Architecture" loses yet another battle.

While the above description is of one person's definition of the starchitecture system, below is a few responses on how to engage it (or apply a verb to it). The comments are from the same archinet thread reacting to Phillip Nobel's article in Metropolis Magazine "Anti-Starchitecture Chic". The original thread has a lot of interesting moments but all in all a chaotic stream of chatter that was difficult to follow. So I have tried to categorize them into some common themes and consensuses, while trying to keep the flavor and flow of the conversation. The assembled responses below has been selected not necessarily because I agree with them but because they are provocative and interesting within themselves. I enjoyed the candidness and [for better or for worse] it is an interesting demonstration of the logic of the collective.


-I am tired of media hype being the primary goal of starchitects. I rather have social and environmental guru's or genius's like Bill McDonough, Cameron Sinclair, or Ed Mazria getting all the attention, since they are creating the future for our planet. Rem, Gehry and their like won't save the earth or create a better society, but there are architects and designers who will. Lets celebrate them instead.

until then: 'fuck Frank Gehry' and while I'm at it, fuck Zaha

- completely agree, but I also feel like these "gurus" should be built into the code of the profession not the anomalies. The current system would not allow that

-Well, then fuck the system. The only truly credible course may be to reject the very idea of using yourself as a brand, (and) to work and work well...to me that's integrity.


-Isn’t it too easy to say that it doesn’t matter? For example Ghery can write contracts unlike most architects out there. The result is that you and I will never be able to compete with him in control of a project, etc... And at what point does the drive for fame (to be able to write contracts and make money like Ghery) turn into the superficial drive for the next cool form? When is it gimmicky?

I am using Ghery as an example I could say Zaha, Libeskind, OMA,

-Just to mix things up a little, we should also remember that since the Bilbao effect, the marketing and exposure that comes with a "starchitect" translates directly into $$$ to clients and the area. It goes beyond architect/starchitect worship...it's also public/event worship...also, I like to admire talented architects...both starchitects and local unknown architects...I think it's a natural process in our profession.

-The 'average person' is not the average client for a major architectural project. Most corporations, museums, libraries, etc are looking for star power these days.... Chipperfield and Holl's recent museum projects are good examples, as are projects at major universities (Vincent James at Tulane, Rem at IIT, Holl in Iowa) and most of the Asian projects that we hear about over here. You can bet that none of these clients is simply taking proposals and picking the ones they think will be best for the job. They're looking for recognition by association.

-...In general, I think we're painting this picture with a fairly broad brush, basically assuming that clients are lamely saying, "I want a Gehry" or "I want a Meier." On the contrary, most clients are quite savvy about the architect they are selecting. The client that chose Meier for the high-end condos in Chelsea chose him because he knew he could market that name to architecturally-conversant wealthy home buyers. Could he have done the same with Gehry? A museum that selects Holl, let's say Chiasma, knows that Holl will provide a design of a significant quality that will potentially complement the art displayed. moreover, let's be honest, the starchitect 99% of the time is flat-out a better designer than Joe Blow architect. It is more than a name these clients are buying, but clearly the name doesn't hurt either.


-We also must acknowledge that there's often a separation between the fame and the actual design being created by some of these architects we're alluding to.

What I'm getting at is that, for example, the first thing Karim Rashid (Asymptote's Hani Rashid's industrial designer brother) did after graduating school was to hire a PR manager. PR is the name of the game....

...I don't care either way for 'starchitects.' If somebody's doing good work, whether they're a media darling or not, I'm interested. It's easy to criticize those who've risen to fame.... that's the way the game is played right now, and it's not going to change for a little while yet....

-Media and marketing is everywhere today...architects choosing to ignore opportunities for public exposure for a sense of "integritry" just reflects our profession's inability to function in today's world...the starving mysterious missunderstood eccentric artists.

...and except for maybe Phillip Johnson, I doubt any architect or starchitect " seeks fame for fame's sake", they seek fame so they can get commissions with less restrictions than we do. ...

why can't we improve and educate, but also Dazzle!?

-Being an architect, I assume you need to find ways to get your ideas built... star/non starchitect system, whichever ways works for you, I do not see any evil beings in either of the systems. I always think is more efficient to have a PR or agent works for you, so you have more spare time to work on design rather than socialising with the press.


- I have no problem with the whole "starchitect" system. We live in an age where media is king. The majority of our thoughts and opinions are based from this. I would rather hear about a designer in the media than another vapid story on Hollywood celebrity. The "starchitecture" system has always filled that media gap no matter if it is sensationalist or not. "No press is bad press" What would Metropolis rather write about?

You need a human face behind the buildings.


...this is my greatest fear, and Libeskind is a great example of (it): innovation turned to kitsch. Seems like the question that arises is: What is worse for the profession; not playing the PR game, or becoming kitschy?


-Architecture business unlike others like fashion designer/hair dresser, mostly clients do not come back for more... therefore exposure is part of the survival tactic to expand the network... some become more "loud or stylistic" in the market and become labeled as star... I wouldn't blame the market nor someone being a star for producing work which I do not like... that's reality!

Its not the architects its the coverage of the architects. Its the misdirected hero worship of the architects. These are not fucking rock stars okay. They are very talented people running businesses that require exposure to be successful. Don't blame them. blame the ridiculous media and the namedropping starfuckers

-Has Rem not worked hard? You think Zaha didn't pay her dues?

-...the burdens may be different. Maybe they don't have to hunt down the work, but they have to pick the projects that will keep them going, maintaining the reputation. They have to make each project measure up to the previous work and the expectations that work has created...


...I am proposing that one has to go out there and work with others. Connect in ways that were not possible before, and in that way define how we work. However, I am not advocating for a communal ideal either. What I can see happening is a series of “free agents” coming together for projects with other “free agents” placing the importance on the individual project itself, then moving on and doing other projects. How you would get projects and answer RFP’s, not sure....

-...Exactly! the media as process and method of working, not as glossy images and name dropping.

...But still, it is nice to hold hands and sing kumbaya we are the future, but what are the problems; who signs the drawings? Will there be drawings to sign? Copyrights and intellectual property?as Nobel mentions the starchitect system also works because clients want it, how do you change that economic reality?...

-I agree that the future model of architectural practice lies within open source collaboration, especially within the context of new media technology and building information modeling, but even within this model, I don't think old hierarchies and star-architects will go away unless you look at and address the incentives that perpetuate this system whether economic or the simple desire for fame.

What is the first step? To do away with the pritzker prize?

-Perhaps, but who would turn down the pritzker?

Celebrity isn't going anywhere. In fact it will likely only become more extreme with increased accessibility to media

Sunday, November 15, 2009

65.What is Architecture? (Part 2)

In the previous post in this series What is architecture? we looked at 7 famous architects' take on the subject. In your famous or non famous career as an architect you will have to define what architecture means to you. If you are an architect, you probably have your own definition of it already. If you are any good it will change several times over the course of your career. We continue this series with 7 more ...

Architecture is a pursuit that ought to be seen in a more responsible light than it is. And I think that architects ought to be responsible to society in a number of ways and they need to do that for two reasons: number one is that they’re—presumably—human beings, and secondly, if we don’t do it, who the hell is going to?
-Stanley Tigerman

I like to think of architecture as a very precise discipline. Very different from design and very different from sculpture. At the very basic level you have to deal with developing something with an exterior and an interior. Sculpture does not have that problem. I think that is enabling for architects because it gives us something with a very specific disciplinary rigor that we are required to address. So a lot of our work focus on the relationship between the exterior and the interior and how to create openings between them.
-Gage Clemenceau

Architecture is the mother of the arts, it is the thing that makes all other arts possible like wall paintings and things like that; they have to be in an architectural setting all day.
-Philip Johnson

Architecture as an idea is a little bit like writing as an idea: There are writers that are journalists, there are writers that write business letters, there are writers that write fiction,and there are writers that write great works of literature.
-Jeffrey Kipnis

The way I experience architecture, [is the way] we all experience architecture. How it feels as an atmosphere. The atmosphere we know is composed by light, by shadow, by sound, by tactile qualities. All material qualities, material presence. Nothing new! All the old things, you know! It’s like, all the spaces from our childhood we like, they were like that, if we experience a nice architectural atmosphere, it’s all of that. And some of these sense are maybe, more in foreground, and others, maybe like the sound of the space is more in the background; but nevertheless it’s maybe very important for your absorption of the atmosphere. So I think I’m trying to look, what are the elements, which make my spatial composition rich? I think it’s very normal. At least, everybody experiences architecture like that. There’s no other way. So I think forms are over-rated in talking about architecture, not in experiencing architecture. Forms, are over-rated.
-Peter Zumtor

For me (architecture) is any impact in the built envionment. Its not just a house or a sturcture; its the fabric that you are creating that we as the human spceie live in. So as architects, we have a responsibility not just to the client, but to the community as a whole when we do these projects.

Its not a new practice it is a return to an old practice. Arcitects actually had a lot more respect in years gone by in the centries ago, because we were about growing communitees in ways that improved the livelyhoods, the health, the education of communites. We built structures that improved lives, it doesnt matter if it were a civic structure like a museum or a church...
Now in the last 10-15 years architecture has shifted towards more of a symbolic building. It is more about the form and the structure. We have gone through this incredible computer revolution where we can build anything now. When you get to this point, what is the purpose that we have, if we can push all the boundaries? I think the only boudry that we have is what is the architect's and professon's effect on the community as a whole.
-Cameron Sinclair

Our feellings can be influenced by the form of building - whether or not it looks beautiful, or appropriate, or exciting - whether it seems solid and dependible or flashy and insincere. We can applaud or object to the kinds of things it seems to imply about its place in the world, and our place in the world, and whether it does what we want it to do, or seems to trap and frustrate us. Dwellings are caught up with our lives, and shelter our most intimate moments...

In comparison with the problems set by physicists or logicians, architecture is always complex, with many interesting forces at work on it. The problems posed in architecture can not be solved technically, because there are simply too many interdependent variables, and in practice - since the problems must be solved more or less immediately, are well enough for the time being - various factors are either neglected or else they are taken care of by drawing on the experience offered by tradition and precident. When our ways of doing things are properly engrained, they become habitual and we call them 'common sense'.