Rem Koolhaas is in my small city on the outer edges of the global architectural galaxy and his upcoming lecture at MSD is so popular I can’t get a ticket. Thankfully, there is a live stream. Not that I tried that hard to get a ticket, but now I feel a bit guilty, shouldn’t I be hanging out and rubbing shoulders with the celebrity architects like REM? Last night REM opened the M Pavilion and my Facebook and Instagram feeds were suddenly full of Rem, the pavilion and his partner in crime. I missed out on seeing Ai Wei Wei in person at our National Gallery last year and it was like everyone I knew had a selfie with him.
Hopefully, NOT being seen, in the same big M Pavilion or in the same lecture theatre as REM would not kill my own cult like status as a blogger or researcher interested in the socio-material practices and histories of architects . For a moment I thought that, given that I am increasingly keen on ethnographic studies and sociological perspectives on the architectural profession, maybe I could do a kind of ethnographic study, of trying to meet the big star architect who comes to town. But I am thinking it’s now too late to do that.
I told myself to forget the angst, envy and the hand wringing and to calm down about not seeing HIM. Not seeing REM in person wasnt the end of the world. Besides, I was just coming off a teaching intensive, needed to get a few research projects actually running and worse still: it is the school holidays, and I feel I have to keep an eye on the teenager, lest he indulge in anti-social activities whilst he is waiting for his enlistment papers from the ADF.
I took a few a few deep breaths and began to think about the tropes and characteristic images that we seem to follow in our feeds, and give authority to in our profession as architects. I began to wonder if we were stuck I some kind of media cycle which has a recurring narrative when a global brand comes to town. This loose assertion of course is based on my own experience and when I was a student, in the 80s, we had this thing called the International Lecture Series it was great and we saw lectures by amongst others: Eisenman, Ito, Hasegawa, Stern, Shinohara, Prix, Cook and even Graves. After seeing so many I figured out that the general order of events for the star architects visit goes something like this:
- Public Lecture.
- Dinner with notables.
- Visit to see architects buildings.
- Round table seminar.
- Studio Crit
- Everyone goes home.
There was usually some kind of controversy with each visit either a salacious scandal (leg propositions under the table) or clash of egos between global shark and provincial fish (It’s also good to make sure your star does not get run over).
But of course bodies, and gestures and fashion is a big part of the star’s visit. What are they wearing? How thin are they? Is it Comme de Garcons, or the last gasp of Marithe and Francois Girbaud, or Gucci shoes? Thinking all this, made me think about the recurring images and tropes or architects that seem to appear in our feeds in this media age of Trump. In order to promote media literacy here are here are a few recurring images for your amusement:
1.The architect at the drawing board
TV series the Brady Bunch really set the tone for a whole lot of misconceptions and myths in popular culture about architects.
2. The architect as rock star
FLW and RW
3. Architect as James Bond
DC and PS
4. Looking right at you architect visionaries and composers
MB, DC and PC.
5. The olden days architectural project meeting
Brady Bunch, Corbusier at UN, FLW and NASA Engineers for comparison.
6. Project meeting’s now
BIM meeting, “inclusive” meeting and normal meeting.
7. Architects all over it
Bjarke and WorldCraft
Most of us who can’t see REM are maybe too busy at this time of year with the kids in the school holidays to see him. But if I did go and see REM, and yes I am going to look at the live feed, it would be great if he came to town wearing an an outfit like Leigh Bowery below. Or at the least a special royal and kingly crown, as Philip Johnson, that most subversive of architects, managed to pull off. Maybe then, I might take the global system of our discipline more seriously.