Architecture: I am not a Fashionista

STARCHITECTURE is both promoted and taught as the work architects should aspire to do. But really, it’s the equivalent of the High Fashion seen on the runways at fashion shows, where designers make extreme statements to be provocative and distinguish themselves among the cognoscenti.*

The man with the Lego face was photographed last month on one of the runways during London’s fashion week. No one expects that anyone will buy the costume and walk around looking like that. It exists in a world that sits on a top of a huge clothing industry, with many different options: American Eagle, The Gap, JCrew, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Rag and Bone, Comme des Garçons, Tory Burch, and all sorts of brands we’ve never heard of, who sell through Target and Wal-Mart on the one hand, and small boutiques and clothing stores across the country on the other.

When you read Architect, the official publication of the AIA, or look at what architecture students are doing in most east coast or west coast architecture schools, most of the time it looks like Fashion Week. Much of the rest of the industry is often missing. MRDV’s exploding building in the second photo has been published many times. The architecture press usually praised it. The regular press was shocked that in any ground level view it looks like the World Trade towers exploding. It has almost nothing to do with the buildings designed by most architects today.

Among the many problems with this is that true art, which includes the best architecture, is made by people doing what they love. Forgetting for the moment that architecture is a public art, with a responsibility for shaping the public realm (a responsibility most “iconic” buildings ignore), architecture will be best when architects design buildings that reflect the architecture they love. Only rarely will that be “cutting edge.” I go to visit Starchitecture, and even love some of it, but it has very little to do with what I want to design. I am not a Fashionista.

* Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

About John Massengale

Architect, Urbanist, Author, Educator
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