Chrif Iraqi Houssaini
“Two years ago, the Pritzker Prize jury created the surprise and distinguished Glenn Murcutt . The prize’s president noted that in an era obsessed by celebrity and where the tape –catching/ showy is the common lot of the stars of architecture, the almost artisanal work, but no less scholarly, of this Australian architect should be celebrated and recommended.”(1) But why is it so surprising to congratulate not a star architecture, and why does this represent an exception in the system? So, according to what criteria and factors is “star architecture ” born ? How does it express and easily found a place in today’s society?
The architecture and urbanism appear to be strongly structured by stars, constantly being in the spotlight. Both representative of trends and contributing to the model, these actors are a privileged object of study to understand the contemporary world and its correlation with their architectural expression. Indeed, the genesis of the star system was created in response to the era of modernism: the golden age of functionalist thinking, planning, programming, standardization, systematization and reproducibility of architectural and urban solutions (including bar and tower were the emblems). Thus, a new era seems to succeed where eclecticism, the affirmation of the uniqueness of the project, anchored in an urban context, concern for the history and memory of places are the new watchwords. We are in a time of reassessment, reinterpretation, where the taste for adaptability and flexibility are emerging.
In addition to this there is another trend: customizing the architectural and urban expression. Combining luxury brands and consecration, awards and distinctions, ubiquitous on the stages of education, competitions, etc… Architects like Jean Nouvel, Christian de Portzamparc, Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid appear as members of professional elite that strongly influenced the architecture and urbanism of the last thirty year . In the logic of the model and standardization of Modernism they would be therefore substituted references, personalities whose uniqueness and originality appear highly valued. Indeed, the decades quite match the emergence of the media, at the entrance of the architecture and urbanism in a “” (to borrow Guy Debord’s words) perfectly characteristic of the contemporary world. The prevailing logic that has become the star of a media glory vested in a few individuals, a few characters . Based on the values of prestige, fame and the cult of individuals, this dynamic is very close to other areas own the ” star system “, such as movie or haute couture.
But this can only be explained by the evolution of society, becoming hyper individualistic today: dominated by the dogma of the performance, encouraging individual achievement and personal development (school first as a social elevator) pushing the individual to develop strategies for individual actions to excel in a competitive environment. Similarly, the architect seeks to prove its uniqueness and style to build an image, an internationally known identity.
Since the 1980s, the public speeches of the stars show as so many places of Presentation and of dramatization of the architectural production, but also and especially the expression of one “I, me “, “my project “, “my work “. In their interventions (conferences, documentaries, autobiographies), the star architects get closer to the author and to the actor. While Jean Nouvel shows under the features of a bad boy of the architecture and the storyteller , Christian de Portzamparc gives himself of Shakespeare’s genius, little poet of the architecture. It’s then personalities, individuals and ways of thinking presented as Exceptional which are staged there. These speeches constitute actually so many appearances, Strategies of individualization of the fashions to build, of symptoms of a customization (personalization) aggravated and of testimonies of the signification of differentiation strategies.
Nevertheless this exacerbation of the personality is nothing but an individualistic protection and one resource of strategic positioning against a fierce competition; in particular during competitions, they are the main access road to the market but also against other actors and emergent businesses such as landscape architects, designers, interior designers. And more broadly in the fields of project management and planning, the defense of an identity and a personal sensibility of the architect often constitute arguments of distinction compared to the more technical professions such as engineers
Besides, these last decades were characterized by the putting in competition and search of singularity for the cities. Stars of the architecture and urbanism planning are exported, became international. Just like the phenomenon of globalization known to the contemporary world. The search for the distinction drove the big major builders to use The Big Architect -planner and their projects as “emblems” (recently the Foundation Vuitton, became emblem of the city of Paris). So, as their national or international competitors, cities want to have their building “signed by” Portzamparc, Nouvel, Piano or Hadid. This has naturally its consequences on the political level and economic of the city were the expression structures become an additional “urban marketing” and a “penny machine” piece for the financial system of the country
Eventually, if star architecture was able to find its place in the contemporary society, it’s only because it meets the requirements of the functioning of this one and its success. Its expression is a part of the set today, because it complied with rules, or in other cases it ignored them and imposed him her own management.
(1) http://www.darchitectures.com/quoi-sert-le-star-system-a684.html A quoi sert le star-system? Valéry DIDELON