The modern societal obsession with fame and fortune has helped to drive the rise of the ‘star’ architect. From Frank Gehry to Zaha Hadid, popular architects are increasingly becoming household names as architecture itself becomes more accessible and more translatable than ever before.
However, as quickly as these architecture icons were built up, it appears they are set to come falling down as, having apparently burnt too brightly, the notion of the ‘starchitect’ is quickly burning out.
According to Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New Yorker, the celebrity phenomenon has glorified certain architects in a manner that focuses more on the designers than on their designs. This is especially true, he says, in the US.
“The American culture of celebrity was inevitably going to hit architecture and have its way with it and so we, I think, have taken at least some architects and made them into celebrities about whom we ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ rather than really analyze their work and think about it thoughtfully,” he says. “But that’s a risk in art and music and literature, it happens everywhere to some extent.”
This separation between the celebrity designer and the average industry professional has not only begun to create discord within an industry that can tend towards egocentricity, it has been dampened due to the fact that modern architecture prides itself on collaboration.
This year’s Venice Biennale is a key representation of this growing industry mentality. While there has been increasing conversation surrounding the architectural disparity that is being seen around the various global industries, the overall atmosphere and goal of the biennale – the world’s most prolific architectural exhibition – could not be more explicit in stating the collaborative climate of modern architecture.
The theme for this year’s biennale was, after all, Common Ground, as chosen by British director David Chipperfield. It exemplifies collaboration and the ability of architects to cross over barriers of culture, ideology and economy.
In a world that is increasingly becoming driven by holistic sustainability, the concept of a ‘star architect’ is fast becoming a stark juxtaposition to the modern ideals of holistic design and collaborative works.
The notion of starchitecture is not all bad, however. While this kind of celebrity-driven realm can offer a channel for egocentric architecture and, worse, ‘zombie’ buildings that are developed to stand alone and stand out, Goldberger points out that the star architect has played a large part in the increased profile given to architecture as a whole.
“The good side of this all is there is this far greater interest in architecture today than there has been at any time, I think in our lifetimes, really,” he says. “You know, architecture is now part of the general cultural dialogue.”
While famous architects have brought architecture to the masses and have shaped the way in which industries worldwide design and create, however, the disparity between their acclaim and that of the countless others in the industry is simply too great for the current industry.
The star architect is quickly fading out, heralding in a new era of emphasising architectural principles over architects.