The B-Side: The Zaha/Gaga Divide

The B-Side: The Zaha/Gaga Divide

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 'The B-Side' 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.

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "The B-Side: The Zaha/Gaga Divide" 15 Feb 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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