Justin Shubow wrote in Forbes ”Architecture Continues To Implode: More Insiders Admit The Profession Is Failing”. This gentleman thinks that architects lost their contact with common people and this happens mostly with modernist architects.
Starchitecture Is Not Modern Architecture
The contemporary architecture that bothers Mr. Shubow is not Modernism. More, it is rather something similar to what Mannerism was to Classicism. It uses some of its words but has different topics, different ideas.
What Modern Architecture Is
A few hundred years ago, architects rediscovered the antiquity (Roman) architecture. They learned once again the classical lessons of beauty and started some kind of rational architecture. In decades, the forms emerged into Baroque. Using the same classical orders, the same columns, the same arches, they focused on forms playing with them.
The Mannerism just uses the manner of the old. No reason is set behind the pure pleasure of forms and decoration.
Centuries later, the architecture evolved into an academic dead end. When buildings were designed, the style was just a simple choice. Academic recipes were accessed to design it classical, baroque, and whatever sub-style the client would like.
The columns, the cornices, the strips, the caryatids, well, all decorations were prefabricated by artisans on demand. Actually, even it might sound like a tough word, it was a kitsch industry, supporting the architecture.
Passing nearby the attempts to reinvent decorations (as Art Nouveau, Neo-Gothic, or Neo Romanian), the modernists just reinvented the game.
They denied the decoration.
Modern architecture tried to emphasize the functionality of buildings. The architects realized that an aesthetic principle as symmetry can be an enemy of proper functionality.
Ironically, they discovered new aesthetics in the decoration denial.
The Contemporary Architecture And The Starchitects
What Mr. Shubow perceives as Modernists (Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, MRDV, and so on), they are not modernists. They disjointed the forms that the Modernism created to play with them as with melted Lego pieces.
We can not even say if their design is avantgarde because the garde might not follow them.
It is questionable if their architecture is ugly, as the Forbes article said. Sometimes it is, sometimes is not.
The real point that this author has is that starchitecture (not architecture) is somehow indifferent to people and the environment (mostly built environment) and it is meant to shock. Their architecture is more focused on forms and architectural sculpting that sometimes, again, as the academic architecture used to do it, it harms the functionality.
Another point is that starchitects and starchitecture need a special kind of commitment. They need a special kind of clients, with special purposes.
They are, this way, indifferent to the large public, their purpose being to satisfy their clients. It is an advertising architecture where it is no place for ordinary architecture.
They are not focused to design middle-class homes or social housing. On the other side, they are not craving for this particular market segment acceptance, most likely because they do not even live in the same world.
Where Mr. Shubow Is Right
The starchitects lost the touch with the real world. Their focus is solely on pushing boundaries. They have little concern if their work will lead or not to the future.
As I saw the ”Make It Right” images, I have to admit that at least some of these houses are just different just to be different. There is no sense of „right” over there, as in right equals correct.
The MVRDV proposal for New Orleans could be a memorial of the past sinister, not a real helping hand.
When the request is to provide houses design for sinistrated families who lost a lot during the answer should be just one: a design for affordable, durable, and friendly homes. The purpose is to heal, not to parade the design virtuosity.
Where Mr. Shubow Is Wrong
The author seems to believe there is another way except for Modern/Contemporary Architecture.
If the Contemporary Neo-Classical, Neo-Victorian, Neo-whatever-classical-copy-style-they-might-be homes that are most of the newly built homes in America are might look like an alternative, almost all over the world, this is false.
The arts and crafts that old buildings were decorated with are now almost extinct. In Europe, such craftsmen are used solely to provide repairs of historical buildings. There are only too few marble sculpting shops to provide classical capitels as designed.
The architecture will be more and more limited to building materials that are industrially produced. It is more and more difficult to provide the auxiliary artsy elements to decorate such homes.
So this future will be a future of Greek classical elements maybe 3d printed in plastic or mass-produced elements as the Beethoven sculpture bust was made in cheap marble imitation.
100 Years Ago
Architects and Engineers developed the reinforced concrete 100 years ago. We use steel structures for more time. We have now high-tech insulations, steel, and glass for decades.
If building materials are new and better, the new technologies produces also new forms, shapes, and aesthetics. It is as simple as that!
People embraced cellular communications and smart devices because their lives are better this way, much better. To send paper mail when you can instantly text someone is just insane. Of course, something is lost, but much more is won this way.
What Architects Really Need
We, the architects, have lost the contact. We do need critical thinking coming from both ourselves and the public. We do need realistic criticism.
We do need to focus on efficiency, in both design, aesthetic, and more on efficient thinking, critical thinking.
I must admit that someone accepting that Mrs. Zaha Hadid’s new stadium just looks like a giant vagina is the fool little boy watching the clothes of the emperor.
In the ”academic” architecture education and critics, it is somehow tabu to say you do not like a starchitect work. But nowadays, more and more people admit they do not really like Gehry or Zaha, or…
The starchitects went so much away because they just were encouraged to go there. It is a reality show of architecture. They enjoy this show and they just make good cash doing so.