After the acclaim that followed the opening of Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation museum in Paris two years ago, it would seem that modern starchitecture is as strong as ever.
But, the view from within the industry suggests that the winds are shifting. Far from the panacea it once promised to be, starchitecture has been slowly falling from its lofty perch. What’s replacing it is a movement where unbridled artistic ideals are being tempered with simplicity, practicality, and relevance.
In order to meet these demands, a new class of architects is emerging where artistic expression follows functionality, durability, and attempts at creating real solutions to our problems.
The Starchitecture Bubble is About to Burst
Before we can talk about why starchitecture is on the decline, and what this means for the industry as a whole, we first need to define where starchitecture even came from in the first place.
For almost two decades, starchitecture has been seen as the solution to a whole host of regional problems from declining economic activity and a depressed real estate market to cultural irrelevance. The idea seems simple enough: hire a famous architect to design a major iconic building- say a museum, cultural center, university building, or a high profile office space. Then, sit back and watch as your city attracts a never ending flow of tourists and business investment while enjoying a cultural renaissance.
Ask the boards and committees that plan these projects what they are thinking, and they will point to the apparent success of iconic buildings such as the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain (also from Frank Gehry).
But the reality is that merely attaching a famous architect’s name to the side of a eye-catching building more often than not doesn’t solve the problems that were intended, and also more often than not, creates new problems in its wake. The struggling cities funding these projects are usually dealing with fundamental economic and social problems, and what they really need is fundamental solutions. Purposely hiring a famous foreign architect to create a controversial, conspicuous building or transportation hub that’s out of touch with surroundings won’t do it.
Where the Architecture Industry is Headed and What This Means for Architecture Candidates
Architects who continue to pursue artistic expression at the expense of things like function, social relevance, the needs of their clients, and even budgetary concerns, are putting their heads in the sand and will soon find that their ideals are no longer relevant. New architecture candidates can prepare for the changes ahead by being aware of following trends:
Artistic sensibility. In the recruiting business, we are already witnessing an increase in demand for architects and designers who possess a sensitivity to the needs of their clients and a project’s surroundings. The result of the fact that more attention is being focused on functional, yet stylish spaces that conform to the surrounding area and are built to last.
Using technology to enhance and strengthen design, not define it. Instead of relying on architecture and design software programs to produce incongruous or improbable forms, technology will increasingly be called upon to enhance design and consider factors that too often get over-looked, such as the look and performance of various building materials as well as the building’s response to the local climate and sun light. Technology can also be used to conduct stress tests and predict durability over time.
Architects as problem solvers. Above all, architects really are problem solvers; but they are meant to solve problems of a different sort. In the years to come, architects will be recruited to think practically about how the people live in or use the space they are designing. They will have to consider the needs, dreams, and desires, and even the daily problems these people face. While this may be happening to a certain extent today, it’s not enough. That attitude is changing, though.
The bottom line is that architects can still be problem solvers, but only when they are solving the right problems in the first place. It doesn’t take a starchitect to do that; it takes good architecture.
Take the quiz: Which Starchitect Are You?