It never ceases to surprise me that other architects, and indeed clients, would continue to promote the cults of identity that beleaguer the architectural profession and our discourse. It has been exacerbated I think by the celebritization of social media. Maybe the phenomena surrounding identity cults make it easier to brand architects in a global setting.
Be like Bjarke
Last week or so a fellow blogger whom I follow, and have great regard for, lamented how his studio tutor had told him “to be more like Bjarke.” My friend took the advice wholeheartedly and earnestly and whilst there was for him some merit in being told to be more like Bjarke. I wondered if he was being encouraged to join, in yet another architectural identity cult, centred on Bjarke Ingels.
In the 50s and 60s in my city it was the cults of Robin Boyd and Roy Grounds that caught peoples imaginations. Their enmity, if that is what it was, is the stuff of legend. By the time I was at architectural school in the 80s there were quite a number cult’s available for archi-students to join. Firstly and fore mostly there was the Australian Venturi Scott Brown suburbs cult (although Scott Brown was usually never mentioned)? Lesser cults, each with their own local deities that architecture students could worship at where, the mud brick cult (think roll your own cigarettes and Confest), the humanist brutalist cult, and the beginnings of burgeoning postmodern eschatalogical absurdist architecture cult (which became very successful; and which I was a fully subscribed member of). Another one was the smaller cult centred on the work of Christopher Alexander. Then there was also a kind of offshoot of the AA’s Roxy Music architecture cult (the Raisbeck archive is pretty much sealed up on that one). As a cult member one a few of these cults I felt like I belonged to something, that I was learning about architecture and that the cult leader would keep me safe.
When Peter Eisenman came to our architecture school I remember shouting at the Berkeley trained Christopher Alexander adherents. I was pretty obnoxious thats for sure. At the other main architecture school the cults seemed to congregate around the Miesian shearing shed aesthetic (which came to represent Australian architecture’s global brand). Often these cults were adaptions of overseas trends to the local cultures and layers of Australian architecture. But these days the identity cults now are often global and the poorly mirrored by the local adherents. Of course its great to have architecture schools were different cults, or traditions, emerge and architectural debates are fostered as a result. But, in hindsight I think the problem is that all of these cults seemed to coalesce around particular figures and identities.
I have nothing against Bjarke himself having never met the man and whilst I might quibble about the simplistic and descriptive dreariness of the “Yes is More” book (not enough room to go into here) and as some of you know I liked this year’s Serpentine Pavilion designed by his firm BIG.
Calling out Bjarke’s hair
But, I really wonder if it would be better for architecture students and architects to be less Bjarke-like and I thought about it a lot and I think that in some ways Bjarke is evil because he has hair.
Of course, it is not really Bjarke himself who is evil (although he might be if I knew him well enough to make that judgement). It is and the way that architectural discourse seems to privilege hair. Of course for those in the Bjarky cult he must be great because he has hair and also he did a TED talk. Which you can see here.
But then again maybe TED talks are just another artifice as so described here by Pat Kelly.
I guess it is the cult of celebrity that goes with the hair that I am railing against. It is the politics of identity in architecture that leads me to say that Bjarke’s hair is evil and makes me want to Bajrke. It is a look that says: You will never achieve architectural fame yourself unless have hair that can be styled in a cool photoshoot. Thick and boyish, sometimes parted on the side. A few shots have it flattened down. But mostly it is tossled. He looks like he just got out of the bed of his NYC apartment. An architect who can afford to hang out in bed all day playing Pokemon Go. What a great image for an architect.
Silverfox or Moptop?
Unfortunately, identity politics tends to coalesce around those architects with hair. Have you noticed that all, I mean a lots and lots of them, of the star celebrity architects have hair. Gehry has hair (silverfox), Ando has hair (beatles moptop), Libeskind has hair (kinda spikey, but sometimes kind a flat) and of course Patrik Schumaker has hair. The Californian Tom Wiscombe has a great head of hair. His is a kind of swept back and lion like. Together with Schumaker they make a great couple. Patrik is looking at you and I wonder what he wants? Tom is looking into the distance and I wonder what he is thinking? Its slick versus Wild West. Central European, kinda F1 racing with that little stripe, vs. American Bruce Goff optimism.
Whilst I was writing this blog I did a count at this site in the web swamp lands I found entitled “40 famous architects of the 21st Century” 37 of the 41 pictured architects were men; one firm (Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas )with a male and female director was counted only as one and not two people. Oddly, Zaha is the last image on the bottom right. At least 24 (60%) of these architects have a lot of hair. Notable studio photos are from Portzamparc who has a kind of wavy silver fox look. Steven Holl has hair. De Meuron has hair. Heatherwick has hair. He has kind of curly hair. Viny Maas has hair. Fuck, all the guys are probably using luxuriant hair conditioner.
Of course, you might say I am jealous as I dont have hair. But I am not worried. Because, yes, there are those architects on the list who are cultivating the Raisbeck look. It’s a look that is a little bit Italian, I picked up from the style influencer guys working in the Ministry of Finance in Rome. Closely shaved head a bit of a stubble. Herzog and of course Koolhaas and Rogers are all following my lead. It works for the ageing male architect. But Nouvel has taken the Raisbeck look further, perhaps too far, and has a shaved skull (Recently, whilst on hols I spotted him shuffling out of up market restaurant in the hills behind Nice, he waved and thanked me for the fashion tips).
All of these so called famous 21st century architects are mostly white and generally european males. There are no tatts, there are no peircings, no mohawks, or mullets, no Trump-like toupees or much gender diversity of any kind (as far as it is portrayed in these shots). Perhaps, these are the architects smart enough to get the stylists, the photographers and the interns from the “elite” architecture schools pumping out the stylised and identity driven content. Maybe there isn’t much hope for the rest of us, we cant all live the dream in NYC as Bjarke does, and maybe this is why so many people rejoiced when Assemble won the prize.
The construction of the architectural identity should be regarded as being problematic and contested rather than being seen as a singular, wholistic and a stable domain. As architects in this age of celebrity we need to foster debates around the real laws, and dilemmas of architectural design our cities. It perhaps goes without saying, but it keeps needing to be said, that the identities that we privilege in architectural discourse need to be more inclusive of difference. The recognition of collaborative practice is one way forward. But in the swamplands of social media a constant critique and dismantling of the rhetorical images that are presented to us is essential and necessary. Otherwise, the rhetorical idealisation of the architectural identity will continue to corrupt our discipline and architectural education.