The B-Side: The Zaha/Gaga Divide

  • 15 Feb 2013
  • by
  • Architecture News

Gem Barton, based in Brighton, England, is a writer, academic lecturer, curator and designer. As a regular contributor to journals and magazines such as Mark, Blueprint, Design Bureau and Inhabitat she explores and share her passion for architecture and design. Gem’s column ‘’ will look at the alternatives to architectural traditions and explore what it means to be knee-deep in the 21st century design world. Follow her @gem_shandy

Allow me to make an unlikely comparison of two powerhouses: Zaha Hadid (62) and, bear with me now, Lady Gaga (26). Both are breaking the mold with their unique aesthetics; both are at the top of their respective industries; both are commercial successes. However, there is one undeniable difference: it only took the world a few years to recognize Lady Gaga and for her to skyrocket to fame. It has taken Dame Hadid the better part of three decades to receive a comparative level of acclaim.  Is it fair to compare successful architects and super songstresses? In an architectural world where we are faced daily by terms such as ‘celebrity’ and ‘starchitect’ it may well be time to look deeper into the matter.

Read more about what architecture could learn from the Music Industry, after the break… 

It could be argued that music fans do not feel that talent is synonymous with age; any one of any age can have a number one record. Indeed, successful young musicians are seen as priceless talents, a golden ticket for agents, reaching millions of people and making lots of money for all involved. Young architecture graduates aren’t perceived with quite the same ‘magic’ [I know, having been there myself].

More often than not, graduates aren’t hired because they bring something new to the table, or because they challenge design principles – no, more likely they are hired because they are proficient in XYZ computer package and can follow instruction well. It’s not that these things aren’t important, of course they are, but too often skill based attributes are rewarded over an above the purity of talent.

Despite the music loving public being as savvy as the architecture loving public (and as snobby when it comes to award ceremonies), the music industry is more forward thinking, more focused on nurturing and discovering new talent – while the built environment is still idolizing its heroes and heroines, seemingly reluctant to throw chance the way of the youngster.

I admire the stalwarts of architectural history as much as the next person, and appreciate the qualities of the environment they helped us create. But we do not record and listen to the same kind of music that was aired in the 60s, so why should our response to the built environment be any different? Why is it that buildings designed in the style of architectural “Cliff Richards,” who flourished in the 60s, are still considered able, suitable and appropriate for modern day situations?

Surely younger voices could help us out of our malaise – if they ever got the chance. In the UK, to qualify for the Young Architect of the Year Award, the average age of your office must be under 40. In the music industry, by 40, you’re teetering on the edge of a second Greatest Hits album; in law and medicine you’re considered experienced, an expert even; in architecture you are still up-and-coming. What nonsense!

If we do not nurture our young designers, the ones who dare to look at things differently and go against the grain, we run the risk of missing out on the potential stars of the future. So what can we do? Well, to go back to the music analogy, we can ‘sample’ and ‘remix’ – taking elements from history [sampling] but reworking [remixing] it, with the help of upcoming, game-changing artists.

Instead of making red-tape hoops for young architects to jump through, we can encourage new talent; instead of beings slaves to the past, we can be samplers of it; and instead of sticking to what we know, we can – and should – expand, creating new genres, styles and typologies. Maybe then – instead of our greatest hits coming in our wintry years, the hits would start young – and keep on coming.

Cite: Barton, Gem. "The B-Side: The Zaha/Gaga Divide" 15 Feb 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Aleesha

    Similar undertones to this article but more eloquent in execution. And yes I very much agree with the sentiment, although some from the older generation may argue that us young’ins are just a flock demanding immediate reward and instant gratification.

  • Celtcia

    Excellent article!!!

  • Alan

    Oh please, dont compare Zaha with a performer, she’s more than that. Gaga rose to fame with the help of people like Alexander McQueen.

  • Teran Evans

    I’m intrigued. I do think when it comes to the careers of architects, it’s a question of scale. In other words, the 62-year-old Lady Gaga will not be what the 26-year-old Lady Gaga is today. Gaga’s career (if she’s lucky) will span 20 years. Architects, on the other hand, don’t retire. We work until we die. A 50-year architecture career is not unheard of. A 50-year music career, however, is. So you almost have to look at our careers as architects in dog years. A musician who has been in the industry for say, 2 years is the equivalent of an architect who has been working for 7 x 2 or 14 years.

    I do, however, agree that there is much to be learned from the young. This profession for much to long has been guilty of eating its young instead of valuing the contributions that have to make. Personally, I feel like the era of the starchitect has ended. Technology has leveled the playing field too much for any one designer to stand out above others. If young designers want recognition, they should stop trying to be a starchitect. If you don’t want to be trapped in the game you have to play by a different set of rules.


    Architects rely on people to finance the built environment. Pop stars are a dime a dozen and while Gaga is a mega star and recognized throughout the world by people who will plunk down 99 cents for a song vs millions for a project. Ideas matter and while technology might have leveled the presentation playing field, experience in built work takes years to accumulate. Obviously the more complex a project the longer timeframe. Perhaps young designers could seek out the smaller commissions to demonstrate how their new approaches have merit.

  • heesh

    I only read this because of the daring picture! A great introduction that compelled me to read all the way until the end of the article. Great article with a superb introduction and pull towards it. I totally agree with you, I do not understand why young architects are never put out on the spotlight. I have heard an older architect talk about how his architectural identity started forming by the age of 40, I wonder what your thoughts on this are?

  • Alan Sal

    62 vs 26?

    I totally like the idea of using young designers in the whole process, and not perceive them as only computer skill holders.
    although softwares are available for almost all the design process, yet the intelligence and the team work bits are surely can be assigned to young designers as well.
    And although software packages are enriching the workflow, yet we know how crazy are the software companies pricing/maintaining there tech services!

    The comparison to the “remix” -ing style in music industry is definitly not what i would like to see in architecture, imagine a “hop-hop” version of the house above the waterfall!
    however, innovation is the way to go.

    Recognition in architecture and construction environments goes to experience. A self made architect nowadays would only gets there by 60s!

    in an unfair world like ours today, there is a huge difference between being an architect with a british passport, or being an architect with an iraqi passport. A first world passport gets you around the globe relatively easily, but a third world passport gets you no where when you wait 2 months to get visa for a conference but your colleague can travel the next day immediately! Zaha Hadid could tell us better about her experience with both 1st & 3rd world passes and how they affected her professional life.
    The point is it is not only the age/time factor (experience), it is also the passport type (accessability).

  • art2arch

    Post Modern = “Sampling”
    Deconstructionism = “Remixing”

  • Jeroen

    …please, get real, your argument works, for uninformed people that only scan designblogs and youtube. If you think that architecture is fashionable esthetics…you still have a long way to go. Try studying the other end of it.

  • Emmett McNamara


  • MH

    I totally agree with Jeroen. Very superficial understanding of architecture.

  • Mpa

    I Totally Agree With U…Cheers…

  • Kyle Emmerson

    An interesting comparison, both very strong female icons and no doubt Zaha creates some fantastic architecture, but for me there is no competition, GaGa would win hands down for me, they both have great aesthetics but what GaGa has is a connection to the heart, emotion, music is a very personal experience.


    Great article, the ideas of the young do need to be taken more seriously!

  • Architecture Studen

    Thank you for posting this! We need to support each other and our youth

  • Ali Manço

    A very baseless analogy, due to:

    -As stated above, you need other peoples’ money, millions of dollars of it, to realize architecture, whereas you may become a global phenomenon with a YouTube clip when it comes to singing.

    -You need to lead/coordinate hordes of professionals, most of whom more experienced than you are, in architecture, which demands significant amount of knowledge & charisma that is hard to find in a fresh graduate. Whereas you are pretty much on your own in singing and a young age only adds to your cuteness.

    -A buildings is there to stand for at least two decades and its design may be an eyesore to the whole surroundings as well as a torture to its users, whereas you can just skip a shitty song with a button or at worst it will be an ordeal lasting 5 minutes or so.

    -Again as stated above, since it takes so much to attain a certain degree of prestige in architecture, big names are much harder to topple in architecture compared to singers. You rarely find an architect dying of drug overdose like Amy Whinehouse and you rarely find a singer performing at the age of 103 like Oscar Niemeyer, R.I.P.

  • Har Sebastian

    “But we do not record and listen to the same kind of music that was aired in the 60s, so why should our response to the built environment be any different? Why is it that buildings designed in the style of architectural “Cliff Richards,” who flourished in the 60s, are still considered able, suitable and appropriate for modern day situations?”

    Ray Charles? Elvis? THE BEATLES?
    Mies? Le Corbusier? Kahn?