The debate unfolds a thousand perspectives: some controversial, some contradictory, and some logical and reasonable. The search for a better design to serve the people began a long time ago, giving birth to new movements such as Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque – to Cubism, Modernism, Futurism, etc. Yet, as time progressed, one common thing remained unchanged and prevalent: wealth, power, and EGO!

Living in the era of social media uprisings and emerging starchitects, some of us forgot to work for cultural integrity, material identity, climate, and context. Instead, we started our ascend towards what appeals to the public eye more than what approves for the public need. We leaped forward to build greater, bigger, better, higher, and tougher. Yes, I do agree that the starchitects take the limelight due to their prominent structures, efficient design and that it is just fair enough for them to do so because of their project typology. But meanwhile, what becomes the heat of the moment is the question: is architecture a public art or social art? The question played a role for a defensive answer by Witold Rybczynski favoring the social art theory, whereas, James S. Russell disapproved of it and considered saying that architecture is public art in one of his articles ‘The Stupid Starchitect Debate’.

How do we conclude this? Are we serving humanity or our egos? Are we building to empower minds or lifestyle? Are we changing lives or mindsets? Where do we have our influence? And what about those who are doing great work but are suppressed due to the dominance of the starchitects? Why are collaborative firms and architects not sharing the same credits for an equal effort?

Building shiny glass facades to attract the eye while one ignores the immediate environment; serves the EGO. Designing for the elite while forgetting the general public that you are viewing as a general audience; serves the EGO. Building efficient public spaces with no thought given to the homeless who sleep on the bench; serves the EGO. All of this might not show your egoistic approach but it does target the true definition of pure architecture. If you are not putting enough thought into your design process, the product will be shallow at its core.

“Architecture is a dangerous mix of power and importance.” -Rem Koolhaas

Taking the example of many influential architects, including those of the subcontinent of South Asia who worked for sustainable design and for the well-being of those who build the true essence of our culture, we can say that one can still stand out and be remembered even if he is not listed among those who are famous. Who does not want to leave a mark? Everybody fears oblivion to some extent. But architects? They fear it the most! They don’t want their work to be buried with them but to live for eternity. Here, one might want to bring in the debate of temporary architecture, but let’s not get distracted.

Shigeru Ban

A Japanese architect, breaks all stereotypes by claiming that he is not a starchitect and is tired of working for the privileged people. He puts forth his mind and heart into solving problems with his eco-friendly and sustainable designs using cardboard tubes, beer crates, containers, and cloth, addressing the global crisis of depletion of resources and the recycling of items.

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Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Clubhouse, Seoul, South Korea ©Shigeru Ban – Amazing Japanese Design
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The Cardboard cathedral ©Japanese Architect Shigeru Ban Wins Pritzker Prize

Yasmeen Lari

A Pakistani starchitect holding Jane Drew’s award, gave up her 36 years of the spotlight to serve the disaster-stricken community and to encourage the local craftsmanship to keep the culture alive. Not only that, but she also used sustainable techniques and materials like that of Shigeru Ban of Japan and Hassan Fathy of Egypt.

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Zero Carbon Cultural Centre, Makli, Pakistan ©Wainwright, 2020
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Pakistan State Oil House, Karachi, Pakistan; (KARACHI: PSO Pursue Rs30 Bln More as Furnace Oil Stock Exhaust ©NewsOne

Larrie Baker

A British-born Indian architect, also known as the  ‘Gandhi of Indian architecture’, excelled and made his mark in cost and energy-efficient housing. His work in brick and mud became his signature style entitling him as ‘the Brick Master of Kerala’.

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Neerada Suresh residence ©An Architect’s Dreams, 2017
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Chapel at the Loyola Women’s Hostel ©Burte

Having said this, it is evident that good design is independent of a high-expense budget and wealthy clients but dependent on your imagination, honesty, and creativity. In a world, where even the common Instagram users seek attention and earn money by brand modeling for artists, companies, etc., there is certainly a great competition and subconscious urge to stand out among your fellow companions. But what good does it do to society? Does it help in addressing society’s issues? Does it enlighten and influence others positively in a way that it entices their hunger to think and evolve better; or does it help you prove your dominance over other designers?

It has now become a necessity to look ahead of our time. We are not only facing global warming but a pandemic as well. These glass structures are only a cage for humans now who crave an intimate connection with nature and natural materials. It is time to think out of the box, but humbly. To conclude, I would like to add Oscar Neiymar’s quote:

“The architect’s role is to fight for a better world, where he can produce an architecture that serves everyone and not just a group of privileged people.”

-Oscar Niemeyer

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Author

With an ambitious spirit to explore the world, Neha has embarked upon building her professional journey beginning from UAE, to Egypt, to what future holds next; to uncover the “extraordinary” in the places we see as ordinary keeping one eye ahead of the time and deeper into how architecture influences socio-culture, norms and behavior.

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