I was in a meeting the other day in which a pundit (not an architect) proclaimed that the era of stararchitects is over.  The argument was that, in a more pared-down economy, the often “showy” work of stararchitects seems excessive and even decadent.  The direction we should be going now is to really good design that is not so ego-driven or such a personal statement.

I have never been completely sure about the definition of “stararchitect”.  I presume, at least in this context, that Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid would be included but Peter Zumthor or Glenn Murcutt might not.  If the comparison is made to movie “stars” versus just fine actors or actresses, then Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie might be in the “star” category and Colin Firth or Judi Dench might just be a fine actor/actress.  Being a “stararchitect” might have more to do with being a media darling or playing the fame game than with just doing wonderful buildings.  Whatever you do–including your buildings–would  need to garner a lot of attention.  There would have to be a focus on the “star” and there would have to be a personal agenda.

If all of that is the case, then I am fine with an end to the stararchitect era.  I think there has been some benefit to the kind of attention these architects have drawn to what we do.  They have attracted media notice and have made anticipating their next new thing kind of fun.  But there has also been a distraction from what architecture is really meant to do–make people’s lives better, create richer urban environments, help organizations accomplish their laudable missions, etc.  The flash and pizazz has sometimes overpowered the meat of the matter.  The cult of personality has sometimes dominated the actual building as a living breathing place apart from its author.

A movie full of “eye-candy” stars can be cool, but it does not compare to the kind of compelling drama that wraps you in its web and digs deep to your soul.  An era of architecture that pays real attention to making stimulating, meaningful buildings for the people that inhabit them and cities that reflect the values and aspirations of their citizens might be a better focus for now than just making more “cool” things.

Thinking about Contemporary Practices, Cultural Identity
Architect: , , ,
Posted February 28, 2010

  • MIchael Hodgson


    This is an interesting post. I must confess, I've only recently heard of you, although our local press seem to consider you a borderline 'star architect'. Your name was given as a supporter of a proposal in my hometown, and since there seem recently to have been a few views somewhat misrepresented, I'm curious to find out whether you actually were asked to comment on the specific plans for Aberdeen's City Square, and whether you back it.

    I'm also curious as to whether you know or knew about the other proposal for the park – Peacock Visual Arts building, designed by Brisac Gonzalez.

    I doubt you'll have the time or desire to read the feasibility study, but should you choose to, it can be found here.

    Comparison has been made to Houston's discovery green, although to my untrained eye, the original space seems rather different (not to mention the climate).

    Would love to hear your views on either or both concepts, and will likely to continue to follow your posts.

    Kind regards

    Michael Hodgson


  • Larry Speck

    When I was contacted by your local newspaper I was only asked to comment on Discovery Green and the kind of impact that sort of development can have on a city. I felt well qualified to make that comment. Though I have enjoyed looking at the proposals for your city, I would not venture a comment on them since I do not know the city, the climate or even the proposals in enough detail to make any legitimate assessment. I am, however, really impressed by the involvement people seem to have as regards this proposal. I have been contacted by a number of people on the topic.