Earlier this week we received an impassioned request from one of our US readers. Architect Stephan Jaklitsch requested that we refrain from referring to architects as “star architects” or “starchitects.” Not only did we agree to retire this problematic and shallow descriptor of some instrumental members of our profession, but we wanted to reprint his letter here.
I sincerely believe that the use of “star architects” or worse, “starchitects”—which is not a word—undermines serious discourse regarding architecture and urbanism. An argument could be made that any popular expressions or jargon undermine the seriousness of the message; it is a sloppy, derogatory term that is both insulting to the architects described and to the profession in general. It doesn’t serve any real purpose except to denigrate a few individuals and to signal the “hip” or “in-the-know” sense that the journalist has of himself. Now, however, it communicates that the journalist is out-of-date. If nothing else, the expression starchitect has passed its shelf life.
These architects are serious, skilled individuals who are at the pinnacle of their professional careers; why are these writers using expressions that denigrate them? The problem is not with the architects who have achieved a level of fame but the cult of celebrity that permeates our culture. It shuts out other very worthy architects and focuses on a select few that the media is complicit in favoring. Just as CNN used to ban the word “foreign” under Ted Turner, I urge you to take a positive step and restrict or ban these terms by writers on your team. By using starchitect as a quick, easy term, it shuts out more serious discussion of the underlying issues. It comes across as something a tabloid would use and I am dismayed that so many serious journals of architecture have allowed a word that might be used at a cocktail party to slip into their writing. It also comes across as self-hating by members of the profession who use it.
Rather than be envious, why don’t we create a way of opening up the conversation to be more inclusive of other architects who are doing worthy things around the world? Rather than shut down a few, focus on the many. We have a select few architects who have won Pritzker Prizes and do excellent work, but there are so many others who are just as competent and deserve recognition. When journals endorse the cult of celebrity, it does a disservice to all of us.
Stephan Jaklitsch, AIA
Principal Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects PC