jueves, 3 de julio de 2008

The problem with "starchitects"*

Un artículo interesante y, sobre todo, contestatario y poco mesurado (por no decir, apasionado). Como para reflexionar un poco.
William J. R. Curtis
Architecture today is in danger of degenerating into a game payed with overcomplicated forms and computer generated images, as designers and clients attract attention to themselves with so-called "iconic" buildings.

Everything is done for quick effect in order to seduce politicians and investors with sensationalist gestures attuned to a marketing economy, to privatization, to the transient interests of global capitalism and to the "society of spectacle". As usual, architecture is also employed to mask and to idealize the manoeuvres and machinations of political and financial power.

But the resulting grandiose projects often do not function properly, clash with their context, and cost a fortune to run.

We now have the "iconic" game where promoters and architects try to argue that their out-of-scale projects ar bringing an "identity" to this or that city, an absurd claim when it is question of places centuries old. The languag of marketing and economic think tanks used to tell us that architecture is now a "brand" for selling something or another in the global market place: everything from wine, to art, to fashion, to the propaganda of dictatorships.

In this atmosphere of promotion it is little wonder that there is such an emphasis upon the seductive, virtual image at te expense of the built reality. So many large scale building operations today are merely packages of international investment. They give little evidence of social or local concern, although it is now fashionable to put up a few windmills to show that one is thinking about the environment. The aim is to actualise profit and to push up the price of land. Like transient images flickering on a computer screen architectural projects rist being reduced to the level of surfaces, signs and transient effects.

The so-called "Bilbao effect" has been a mixed blessing for architecture as it has encouraged an empty rhetoric of form-making for its own sake. Naïve mayors think that their cities need only to construct grand projects by star architects to grab attention and ensure "prestige". Alas, instead of producing sound, appropriate and beautiful buildings, several members of the "star system", some of them winners of the Pritzker Price (absurdly referred to as the Nobel Prize for architecture) are generating arbitrary and flashy designs of no lasting substance: an architecture of empty gestures and over-complicated forms with no real meaning behind them. The Pritzker itself is used as a "brand" which is suppoused to guarantee superiority, but this is at the very moment when quantity risks winning over quality.

Contemorary architectural practice suffers from hyperinflation combining hasty design thinking, over-sized ateliers and fast-track production. Architects risk producing caricatures of their own work to fit with the expectations of the "market". In this system architecture loses its souland is vulgarised as a form of publicity. Do we really need more museums as theme parks, pharaonic airports which do not function properly, or skyscrapers in vaguely phallic shapes? Architecture has more serious aims to pursue as it must serve society and culture in the long term, contribuiting positively to both city and nature.

*Publicado en: Il giornale dell'Architettura. Torino, 30 de Junio, 2008.

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