Friday, July 22, 2005

is christopher hawthorne putting us on?

I normally like christopher hawthorne's architecture articles - esp back in the day when he was with slate, but even as he's settled into his column at the latimes. so I'm a little perplexed by today's gehry article. it seems like a wasted opportunity - using gehry's grand ave and brooklyn projects as a jumping off point to discuss the status of architects as auteur. the phenomenon of "starchitecture." he seems to have intended to do that but he got sidetracked. and he focuses too intently on gehry himself. what could have been an interesting sociological meditation on architecture's emerging cultural position (coupled with yesterday's nytimes article on lenny kravitz) instead simply looks at what the legacy of an aging architect could be when he has $5 billion in upcoming projects.

so now I'm gonna get a little academic on your ass. read hal foster's great book, Design and Crime. Published 3 years ago, its a prescient look at the privileged status architecture and design have attained in contemporary culture. when reading him, it helps to be familiar with baudrillard and bourdieu but not necessary. I just like typing those names. in fact, just dropping bourdieu is, in fact, a bourdieusian game of cultural capital. but I digress. hal foster (and hans ibelings, another theorist, as well) both look at how architecture and its attendant star system have ascended over more traditional visual arts as hallmarks of global capitalism. they also see an autobiographical dimension in the work of starchitects, reinforced by the media (and hawthorne's article is a great example of that). Ibelings even compares architects to rock stars:

This personalization of architecture is not the only similarity with pop stardom. The comparison goes even further: nowadays star architects are continually ‘on tour’: for competitions, juries, teaching posts, master-classes, interviews, conferences and lectures, interspersed with the odd construction meeting. Just like pop stars, these star architects have all developed a clear media strategy. They have become increasingly preoccupied with merchandising. In the days when these stars had scarcely a realized building to their name, their most marketable products were their designs,…but these were soon joined by all manner of household goods- dinner services, cutlery, serving trays, coffee pots, whistling kettles, small items of furniture and so on (Ibelings, H., 2002. Supermodernism: Architecture in the Age of Globalization. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers.).

there is one other dimension of the article that perplexes me. I cant tell if hawthorne's tongue is planted firmly in cheek or if he's serious:

Gehry... has occasionally, and rather hopefully, described himself an "architect/urbanist" in recent years. He sometimes complains that he's underrated as a planner, and that the public mistakenly believes his office does little more than produce buildings that stand defiantly apart from the surrounding urban context.

gehry as urbanist? I know he was given an award recently by the congress for new urbanism and city comforts blog explains much better than I can the folly of that. so its hard to read hawthorne's tone in this article. is he skeptical too? hard to tell.

anyway, can't figure it all out tonight. need to go pack. no blogging this weekend. hopefully a palm springs update on mon.


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