The following text comes from Powerhouse Company‘s book Ouvertures. We found this excerpt to be particularly engaging and they graciously gave us permission to share this short piece with you in its entirety. Enjoy! Our exhibition Rien ne va plus researched and discussed the impact of the 2008 economic crisis on architecture. The simple question that led to this research was the question why, after bankers, architects were the first to be fired en masse as the crisis hit? How had we architects become so entangled with the money market?
Besides the obvious connection of architecture to highly speculative real estate markets, the changing role of architects was becoming clearly another important reason. The deregulation of the profession in particular has left its marks. In Europe until the early 2000s, architecture was a regulated profession with fixed tariffs, specific to each country, in a way very comparable to general practitioner doctors. In order to create a European market for architects, this practice of fixed prices was forbidden and the architecture practice was liberalized. Now that architects were no longer protected as a regulated industry, they need to seek out new roles and market responsibilities to claim. No longer bound to fixed phasings and to the responsibility of overseeing the entire process from design to detailing to site supervision, architects became aesthetic consultants for complex real-estate plans in many cases. Following the liberalization of banking regulations, investment money became more easily available. As a result, large numbers of real estate developments were created not because of a shortage of housing, but simply because it was almost impossible not to borrow the available flow of money hedged on a lethal cocktail of bad stocks and sub-prime loans. This situation created an intriguing paradox. On one hand, it created so-called starchitecture or iconic architecture, which re-energized the public’s interest in architecture in a profoundly popular way now dubbed “the Bilbao effect.” This extremely condensed architectural momentum managed to supersede the intellectual populism of postmodernism (which was always a disdainful version of populism with its over-intellectualized discourse on semantics) with the populism of the spectacular (which is perhaps the only true populism, lacking critique but power in its direct communication). On the other hand, starchitecture isolated the practice from its mundane base of bulk production. Architecture with a big A became more and more exclusive and less able to adapt to an increasing number of programs, situations, budgets, and schedule realities. It excluded more and more layers of our society and larger and larger parts of our cities from the scope of architecture. There are still no starchitects of social housing blocks, preschools, or highway-side warehouse. Rather than collectively expanding the relevance of architecture in general, each starchitect created his or her own separate mini-regime and market as if to underline the importance of his or her own typecasting. Zaha Hadid and the regime of the blob at one end of the spectrum versus Peter Zumthor and the regime of the pure and handcrafted at the other end (very similar to the typecasting of, for example, actor Vin Diesel as the testosterone-packed action hero versus Hugh Grant as the stiff, uncertain, charming Brit.) If you enjoyed this excerpt you should check out their book, Ouvertures. The exhibition Rien ne va plus / Reading Europe took place at NAiM/Bureau Europa, Maastricht, from September 12, 2009 to January 12, 2010 and at the Pavilion Unicredit, Bucharest, from September 16 to November 21, 2010. The exhibition was accompanied by a reader. Both the reader and the exhibitions were edited and curated by Powerhouse Company and made possible by A10 and NAiM Bureau Europe. Zvi Hecker, “Die Ara der Exzesse ist vorbei (Architecture Stripped of Its Ornate Garment),” Der Tagesspiegel, January 23, 2009.