zaha baku

Robert Staples

The ‘Star Architect’ is a breed of architect that features on the cover of people magazine, presents at mainstream events, shares talk-shows with celebrities. A Steve Jobs like CEO – cult figure – a charismatic pioneer, producing iconic buildings that transform the peoples ideology of Architecture!

Developers and decision makers seek the ‘Star Architect’ to design their cities iconic landmark that instantly gains recognition for its radical nature. So what’s changed; “cities have become more ambitious again, peoples precipitation of architecture has been changed”[i]. Maybe…this is the surface of it, but, thats always been the trend. Projects have become a highly competitive element, we are in the era of architecture where the once radical is now fashionable and prospering.

Why a Star, and what are the ingredients for the making of a Star? From the writer’s point of view the general growth of the Star Architect can be directly correlated to the law of diffusion of innovations, a communications theory developed by Everett Rogers [ii]. An economics theory on the rate that new ideas and technology spread through cultures. Rogers proposes that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea. That is the innovation itself, communication channels, time and a social system.

A Star Architect creates the “Wow-Factor” through their innovative designs!! Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, built 1997 symbolises the start of new breed of Architects that have become more famous than their buildings. At the time, Bilbao was a game changer for post-modern architecture. Gehry’s permitted design is alien in the industrial city. However, the design was decided by an organised judging panel, it doesn’t leak and is built within budget. Further, in 2002 Forbes Magazine [iii] reported the museum earned the city € 168 million in revenue and € 23 million in taxes that year, translating to 4,145 jobs. 82 % of tourists are surveyed came for the museum. Its a true success story! As Frank Gehry put it “you have to find that slider of space in which to exist”.

Urgency for change! Over the past three decades (from 1990-2010s) the worlds population has doubled from 3 billion to over 7 billion plus. Land is precious, the ice caps are melting and there is an urgency on urbanization. The city is the most sustainable life and increasingly becoming the stable for humanity. The Middle-East and Asia are now developed countries.
There exists a greater scope for cultural change since the 1980s. The rate of adoption of the alternative architectural style; deconstructivism, bio-digital and parametricism style architecture; has past its tipping point. The “Less is a bore; Yes is more” change in mindset is the tipping point, requiring buildings do much more than provide a space to live [iv].

Communication Channels and Social System
The american Pritzker Prize (modelled on the Nobel Prize) and the British RIBA Stirling Prize, significantly set up in the years 1978 and 1996 respectively, generating much interest from the public on a global scale. These awards brandish the Architect a household name to the masses and makes the Star internationally recognised! These awards communicate that this Architect is fashionable, this Architect is highly valued. Post-award, reservations of style fall away and the Architect has more creative freedom, providing momentum.

The rise and survival of the Star Architect is “Self Promotion”! Its very important to the success of the Architect that the public knows their story and understands their direction. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” [ii]. Wherein the goal is to do business with people who believe what you do.

Documentaries and popular magazines serve in portraying the Star as a struggling creative genius triumphing against adversity in their surroundings to become self-actualised by their design success.

Bjarke Ingels currently portrays himself on an informal level to his audience, exposing ‘his why’ to inspire a following. He does this effectively so through the current channels of communication available to him, facebook [iv], archdaily [v], ted talks [vi].

Another example is the 2002 coverage a pitch battle between Sir Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, 425 Park Avenue New York [vii]. Each of the Star Architects present to the judging panel. Sir Norman Foster refers to the presentation on an intimate level for the design, ‘his why’. Foster subsequently wins the competition!

Critical Mass
By the time the architect has reached Star Architect Status, they are the representative of a business corporation. At the critical mass stage of their career, receiving the majority of their work.

The Lag
The disappointing aspect of the rise and fall of great architects and the trends they set, is the diluted efforts by others that follow, spoiling the original approaches by the Stars. Architecture constructed with little meaning but to achieve iconic status. The message completely lost, as sited by Robert Venturi in complexity and contradiction of architecture [viii].

In this view the Architects career is largely cyclonic and the primary elements that make the “Star Architect” are not new. In fact, their origins can be seen in observation of american Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance.

The model of the new generation of successful “Star Architect” is an individual that leverages their status through the spread of a new idea. An early adopter finding that “slider of space in which to exist”[ix], achieving a cult following over time, using the media and social platforms to generate momentum [x].

[i] Simon Hattestone , ” Zaha Hadid : I’m happy to be on the outside”

[ii] TEDX: Law of diffusion and Innovation: Simon Sinek,, 2012,

[iii] Forbes Magazine, ‘The bilbao effect’,, Febraury 2002,

[iv] Bjarke Ingles,, October 2014

[v] Bjarke Ingles, Archdaily

[vi] TED: Barke Ingles: Hedonistic Sustainablity, May 2011,

[vii] Oliver Wainwright, “Pitch Battle: watch four architects compete to design New York tower”, 19 November 2012,

[viii] Sidney Pollack, “Skecthes of Frank Gerhy”,, available 19 October,

[ix] Wired Magazine; Video: Will i am and Zaha Hadid reveal PLUS designs, 19 October,

[x] Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, 1966.

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