Anti-Starchitecture Chic


Because this article deserves some discussion:

Philip Nobel now asks us: What’s a budding celebrity architect to do when the winds of change begin shifting away from fame? Metropolis

Illustration by Jordan Hadley for Metropolis

in the news:

Jun 21, 07 11:31 am
brian buchalski

the anti-star chic is the direct result of the anonymity provided by archinect and it's user names

Jun 21, 07 11:44 am

What about those of us that use our real names ;)

I completely agree with Nobel and I am happy someone out there has the balls to say what he is saying. However, I completely disagree with him that the only option is to work anonymously and quietly wait. And this, I think, is what both you and I are saying Puddles. The power of the internet, archinect, blogs, and other new media to change practice have not been felt yet, but I think that what comes after starchitecture will rise out of these places.

Once again, I will put mapa as an example. One of my biggest regrets last semester is that I was too busy to participate, but I think that the format and way of working begins to show us a new way in which we can work as architects and designers. There are others too, AFH, and even postopolis! As what I hope will be a changing discourse in architecture.

Jun 21, 07 12:10 pm

What about this quote:
To market yourself by saying “I am not a star” (as Josh Prince-Ramus has done since his split with Rem) is only to buy into the same tired trope.

Jun 21, 07 12:14 pm

Key quotes in my mind..

"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."

"After some polite chat I asked him why, if he had the jobs and the momentum and the ideals he said he had—as well as the pride he claimed in his own outsider status—did he not just eschew all of the trappings of stardom and quietly go about his work with a pure heart and faith in his talents. In short, I asked him why he needed to sow press coverage instead of just earning it the old-fashioned way. That cut the conversation very short. And until the pendulum swings just a little more toward good sense, I expect to have a lot of short conversations."

And Q, i must personally disagree i think that what he suggests
"did he not just eschew all of the trappings of stardom and quietly go about his work with a pure heart and faith in his talents. In short, I asked him why he needed to sow press coverage instead of just earning it the old-fashioned way. "
is exactly what should be done.
Sure getting press equals bigger programs, more money etc. However, is it worth the backlash?
I am not saying you can't have any press coverage of your work...That comes in due course.
And i don't think what type of press Blogs, websites, etc change the fact.
For a recent example check out's recent coverage of all things Zaha.
In fact i would suggest that explosion of stararchitecture is closely linked to the recent explosion in blogs..
Nobel does point out in his article that the majority of NExis hits were from post 2001. what about blog hits?

Jun 21, 07 12:21 pm

Nama! What I mean with my disagreement is that his method seems to me like a conservative approach. Let’s go back to the good ole days of quietly working until someone noticed you.

What I am proposing is 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.

Jun 21, 07 12:33 pm
won and done williams

nam, it's true, i never used the word starchitect until i started visiting archinect. blogs do have a way of unintentionally perpetuating this stuff. interestingly, it also amps up the presence of the "anonymous" designer as puddles noted. it's almost as if the internet itself becomes the star, the focus.

Jun 21, 07 12:37 pm
Jun 21, 07 12:53 pm

Q! (I have been meaning to call i have something i want to discuss)

I suppose it is conservative in the old fashion sense...
I think your write about the importance of and the growing inclusion/utility of collaboration especially via the net. Eithe rvia email, archinect, Architecture for Humanity or whatever.
As the Volume discussion, Postopolis and other avenues have shown collab between and amongst architects is the future of architecture. More horizontal and less hierarchical.
However, even then one must be careful to avoid the whole staritecture phenom..
See the recent proposals for Gov Island. Espeically, REX and West 8 (with Diller and Co.)
These are collab but......I guess in any profession press can be good but it is often not...

@ Jafidler i think that you and Puddles make a good point...
I wonder if the backlash would have happened without the internet?
Personally my impetus for the backlash was simply a growing disgust with form for form's sake...
I wonder how the growing awareness among the current generation of architects/archinecters, of and desire for "green" design (here meaning context sensitive design) as a result of Al Gore, global warming, 2010 Imperative etc also plays a role in this backlash?
If so to what extent?

Jun 21, 07 12:56 pm

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

Jun 21, 07 1:01 pm

and i'll call you tonight

Jun 21, 07 1:01 pm

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?

Jun 21, 07 1:09 pm
vado retro

its not the architects its the coverage of the architects. its the misdirected hero worship of the architects. these are not fucking rockstars okay. they are very talented people running businesses that require exposure to be successful. don't blame them. blame the ricockulous media and the namedropping starfuckers.

Jun 21, 07 1:18 pm
won and done williams

it's a big enough world out there for starchitects and blogger activists to coexist peacefully. frankly, i don't understand what the hullaballoo is all about. as noted above, everyone is mixing the same pot.

Jun 21, 07 1:29 pm

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, etc...

Jun 21, 07 2:27 pm

hey Q,

this is an interesting topic. 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 hierachies 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?

Jun 21, 07 4:30 pm
brian buchalski

maybe the starchitect is just a phase. a momentary crossing of personalities and media interest.

for comparison's sake, just think of the whole "supermodel" phenomenon that leaped to the forefront of fashion about twenty years ago. it was all about these amazing models like naomi, cindy, claudie, elle, etc. but even though we've since moved through several waves of newcomers, the term "supermodel" still seems to be most closely associated with the original group.

of course, fashion moves at a much quicker pace than architecture so with that in mind, i imagine that we'll be stuck with starchitects such as gehry, koolhaas, graves, etc for a rather long time.

and the first step isn't to do away with the pritzker. it's to turn down the pritzker.

Jun 21, 07 4:44 pm

perhaps, but who would turn down the pritzker?

Jun 21, 07 4:48 pm
won and done williams

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

Jun 21, 07 4:52 pm
vado retro

i see nothing wrong with the pritzker as it, except for one or two instances, has recognized architects for a body of work. hell, a couple of guys have won who i had never even heard of until they got the call.

Jun 21, 07 4:53 pm

i agree with vado at 10:18 and 13:53...

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'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...

Jun 21, 07 5:03 pm

dot, I've always thought that architecture should have something akin to the McArthur genius awards and less like the pritzker.

puddles, it seems to me that the starchitect system has worked in some fashion for a long time. I remember reading once a passage in which vitruvius describes the young architects of the time slathering oil on themselves in order to seem sexier and thus more popular and get more commissions.

dot, your question on first steps stumps me, don't know. I want to say that we are making that first step right now by having this conversation in this medium, but it sounds cheesy. concretely, i think that it will just move that way it will be less a revolution and more an evolution. In a personal note, I have mentioned before in my blog that a couple of friends (among them AP) and I are experimenting with collaborations like the ones we are describing in this thread. So far we have had mixed results but we hope to one day be able to put more time into it.

Jun 21, 07 5:58 pm
brian buchalski

oh, i don't doubt that the "system" as you call has been around a long time. most things relating to human nature have been around for centuries...and for that reason probably will be around forever. it's probably just nuances that for whatever reason we collectively choose part of the phenomenon as starchitects or supermodels or whatever else works at any given time.

realistically, if "starchitect" has only been on the scene for the past five years or so, then it's probably still much to soon to evaluate it within any type of larger, historical context. by next week, the anti-starchitect might just be last week's forgotten news. we'll see...

Jun 21, 07 6:07 pm

I 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 ilk 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 too.

Jun 21, 07 6:08 pm

TK 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.

Jun 21, 07 6:11 pm

well, then fuck the system.

The only truly credible course may be to reject the very idea of using yourself as a brand, to work and work well...

to me that's integrity.

Jun 21, 07 6:15 pm


Jun 21, 07 6:17 pm
not without

ernest flagg, mckim mead and white, julia morgan, howe and lescaze, hh richardson, rm hunt, carrere and hastings, warren and wetmore, horace trumbauer, philip johnson, paul rudolph, louis kahn, le corbusier, mies, breuer, barnes...whats in a name? adoration and media attention that continues to cultivate stardom. there is backlash (nobel is an especially bitter reminder...his crits also seem to rely on amplitude instead of aptitude) as well as a more educated public. the models of fame and collaboration are changing, but its hard for me to believe that one person's tirade equals a singular voice. personally, i look to all architects for an education, whether media stars or undercover jinkees...

Jun 21, 07 6:19 pm

was Vitruvius the original starchitect or did we have wait for Palladio to publish his book? it was simpler in the old days, the architect of the pyramids was anonymous, just the pharaoh was god.

Jun 21, 07 6:24 pm
vado retro

i blame giorgio vasari.

Jun 21, 07 6:25 pm

Don't forget Imhotep

Jun 21, 07 6:26 pm

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.

We can all think of architects who've risen to fame without so much as a built project. That's not to take anything away from speculative design and research, but at the end of the day, architects are here to help shape the BUILT environment. I know it's an awkward analogy, but it's sort of like when an amateur athlete is hailed as "the next big thing" when they move up to the big leagues, yet have nothing to back that up yet. In both cases, the public and those 'in-the-know' keep an eye on this person for all the obvious reasons. And media exposure has a lot to do with it.

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.... but that's the way the game is played right now, and it's not going to change for a little while yet.

I mean, shit.... we all know Vitruvius, so maybe there were starchitects back in his day as well!

Jun 21, 07 6:27 pm

tk I like the Egyptian example, it talks about the complicity of architecture as a tool for power elites. From the pyramids to "lady brooklyn".

Jun 21, 07 6:28 pm

Vitruvius was a starchitect AND complained about the starchitect system and its results.

Jun 21, 07 6:29 pm

ok ok so here's the plan. we'll all talk about each other, talk each other up, BIG BIG BIG, not only in this venue but in lots of others, and pretty soon we'll all be starchitects and we'll then get together to argue the merits and liabilities of such a position.

cuz, otherwise, um, yeah, i don't really know...

Jun 21, 07 7:12 pm

being an architect, i assume u need to find ways to get ur idea built... star/non starchitect system, whichever ways works for u, i do not see any evil beings in either of the system.

and i always think is more efficient to have a PR or agent works for u, so u have more spare time to work on design rather than socialising with the press.

Jun 21, 07 10:07 pm
brian buchalski

celebrity, fame, star status or whatever you want to call it clearly has very little to do with talent and much to do with marketing (with a dash of luck, of course). madonna is a famous singer...but can't really sing. hulk hogan is widely regarded as one of the best wrestlers ever...even though the only moves he knew were the clothesline and the bodyslam (and those aren't really even wrestling moves in the traditional sense)...donald trump is probably the first name that comes to mind when we say the phrase "real estate developer" but he's been bankrupt several times and i'd be hard-pressed to name a single significant development that he's contributed...and the list could go on. clearly talent has little to do with the popular definiton of success

Jun 21, 07 10:13 pm
won and done williams

what do you mean the clothesline isn't a real wrestling move?

Jun 21, 07 10:16 pm
brian buchalski

i clotheslined a delta kappa epsilon during an im touch football game...clearly not a wrestling move if puddles can do it by accident

and yeah, i got tossed for that

Jun 21, 07 10:26 pm

Who needs stars when you can hang out with supernovas. This week it's Alexander Colin, Frederick Pepys Cockerell and Eudes de Montreuil. We're going to check out the fortifications at Jaffa. There's even talk of starting a "Sexism and the Star System in Architecture" book club. I'll tell you, eternity is bliss.

Jun 21, 07 10:50 pm

Why is this somehow a surprise to everyone? Isn't this whole dilly-yo cyclical anyway? I sense a Lauf re-enactment moment.

I love fashion, and hate it at the same time, because the word "fashion" always implied, at least to moi, that "you're either in or you're out," it's fleeting, ephemeral. So, what do the hipsters try to do? They try to keep that "in" going on longer by constantly shifting with the fashion of the moment, and keep the architectural equivalent of the "Klumster" at bey. Which is why I love the Hejduk's, the Nicholson's, the Zumthor's, the Pichler's; they manage to craft a body of work outside the industry of fashion.

Yet, I must admit, I am weak, I said I love fashion, and in loving fashion I am seduced by the sexiness of the ever changing landscape of our profession. So I struggle with the "Idea" of what my future practice will be, right down to; "How do I craft my image?" How do I formulate a business card that is inventive, yet not bound up in a overly fashionable font or evocative of some whiz bang graphic design house, but says; this is me, I create architecture, and I am comfortable in my own skin, my own fashion??


Jun 21, 07 11:08 pm
liberty bell
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.

Right on, slantsix. If the work is good, I don't care if the architect is pimped by every media outlet from NYTimes to Family Handyman Magazine.

Keep in mind too that people loooove to complain - so if an unknown architect does a building that leaks, people will bitch, but if a starchitect does, people will alert the press.

I also go back to something Steven posted: architecture schools that teach students how to become a "starchitect" is the same as sending people to rock star school. I know my own education was firmly rooted in teaching us how to conceive and make a building, not how to hire a PR firm. If it is true that schools today are pushing students to develop their own ego via buildings, that is sad (though if that is the case I doubt we are the only profession doing so).

Jun 21, 07 11:21 pm
liberty bell


Jun 21, 07 11:22 pm

A good article to read. But 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.

Jun 22, 07 12:06 am

if certain stararchitects works don't suit your taste, doesn't mean the stararchitects system is evil.

many need the exposures to get commissions even if for the very talented ones... get real! it happens to all professions.

Jun 22, 07 5:14 am


Jun 22, 07 7:15 am

i don't even understand that comment, aspect. can you expand on it?

commissions come however they come. for those who aren't stars, it's through marketing, reputation, repeat business, low fees, whatever. are you saying that those who become stars can't function within this environment and therefore must get their work via media exposure? maybe because they're coming through academia rather than building a firm in the normal way? i guess you could build an argument for that, but it would be hard to support.

Jun 22, 07 7:21 am

starchitects are freeloaders

Jun 22, 07 7:26 am


Jun 22, 07 7:27 am

i don't understand that comment either, wall. what do you mean? has rem not worked hard? you think zaha didn't pay her dues?!

Jun 22, 07 7:35 am

well they ride at their fame

Jun 22, 07 7:42 am

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