In earlier times, giving celebrity status to an architect was not common! Until the Modernism era, architects worked under patrons or rulers, that is why they did not get enough recognition, even for the finest of their works. The architects of that time leaned towards the knowledge of engineering and the primary ways of making living conditions more comfortable. But there were some architects who had the guts to go beyond their instincts and think out of the box! These architects went a step above to change the definition of architecture. They started theorizing the importance of architecture and the role that architects can play in shaping up the society, few of them being Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry, etc. They made a statement with their work that architects and artists need to be recognized and appreciated for their talent. This resulted in the concept of Starchitecture.
So who exctly are “Starchitects”? How are they different from any other architect?
Let me start by defining the term Starchitecture. The word is a blend of the words star and architecture. It is the trendsetting architecture around the world that is created by famous architects, who are well known for their unique and authentic style. They are highly acclaimed and worshipped as idols in the field of architecture.
But is this all it takes to become a “Starchitect”? No. A Starchitect is a person who has the perfect Branding in the industry. One who has such an impact on the viewers, that as soon as we hear the name, the image of their architectural style pops into our head! Some of the examples might include Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower, Bjarke Ingles’s 8 House, Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Center, Daniel Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum, etc.
The essence of the branding lies in the uniqueness of that starchitect’s use of Shapes, forms, colors, materials, functionality theories, or the philosophies behind their projects.
The Psychology behind the concept of Starchitecture is pretty simple. People admire atypical, something that draws their attention immediately because it is not something that they usually see or experience. The appreciation could be for aesthetics, or maybe for the experience that the user has inside the structure, or for the newness in the thought behind a particular design!
An architect becomes a ‘Starchitect’ when the recognition they get is for their authentic and out of the box ideas, which are repetitive in all of their designs! Starchitects create their identity by holding on to that one particular style of theirs, which makes them stand out from the rest, and apply it to all of their projects. The uniqueness attracts attention, and its consistency in their designs makes the architect distinctive, thus drawing fame.
For instance, one of the most famous architects, Frank Gehry, is known for his bold use of shapes and fabrications.
He unapologetically imposed his ideologies and style above all else in the mid-20th century. From Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao to Walt Disney concert hall, LA, and from Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris to The Dancing House in Prague, he kept declaring to the world that if skillfully handled, even whimsical designs have their charm. His use of similar materials like corrugated metals for unfinished appearances, and chaotic designs in all of his projects made his structures stand out (yet all of them being similar to each other!).
These became the structures that people study about, structures that people wish to visit, or structures that become of great importance in the field of architecture! Frank Gehry believed that architecture should yearn for timelessness, and was awarded the Pritzker award in 1989.
One of the major issues with this field is that there are limitless types of structures. And each kind of structure has its own set of requirements regarding services, building technologies, functionality, etc. And being able to maintain the consistent styling through all these diverse kinds of projects is definitely worth the praise.
There are several starchitects who managed to understand the requirements of the client while simultaneously proving that architecture can go much beyond its use and functionality. To create something extraordinary, you have to step out of your comfort zone!
Another such starchitect, who boldly stepped out in a male dominant society of her time, was ZahaHadid. She decided to break the prevailing stability and is known for her extensive use of curved structures and sharp angles. She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker award in 2004.
“There are 360 degrees. So why stick to one?” – ZahaHadid.
Even though starchitects get the fame and appreciation for their creative ideas, especially in this media-driven age, they also receive a lot of criticism. These trend-setting structures may have been ridiculed as unnecessarily enormous and expensive, several times. Some designs have been criticized as problematic and “Designed beyond the understanding of people”, and some even compared to yonic shapes by some short-sighted people! This concept of Starchitecture may divert attention from some of the more noble efforts of design towards sustainability, response to growing climate change, overpopulation, and other real issues. They might overshadow some other architects, whose designs are more creatively responsive to the current scenario. This is an ever-rising topic for debate.
Despite the criticism and debates, these Starchitects have contributed greatly to the evolution of the field of architecture. They have inspired millions of students and professionals in the field to explore the unexplored and to give significance to the further study and appreciation of art and architecture. They have proven that architecture is a beautiful, limitless, and a constantly growing field.