Patrik Schumacher: "The Denunciation of Architectural Icons and Stars is Superficial and Ignorant"

In the latest of his provocative posts on Facebook, Patrik Schumacher has come out in defense of iconic design and star architects, arguing that the current trend of criticism is "superficial and ignorant," and "all-too-easy point-scoring which indeed usually misses the point."

Schumacher says that critics "should perhaps slow down a bit in their (pre-)judgement and reflect on their role as mediators between the discourse of architecture and the interested public." In the 1,400 word post, he goes on to elaborate that so-called icons and the star system are inevitable results of this mediation, adding that "explanation rather than dismissal and substitution should be seen as the critics’ task."

Read on after the break for more highlights from Schumacher's argument

Throughout the post, Schumacher makes numerous attempts to highlight the split between the discourse of architects and that of the media, arguing:

"The idea of iconic architecture is a product of the critics’ discourse that plays no role in the architects’ discourse. The idea of iconic architecture serves the purpose of filling the explanatory gap that inevitably opens up because the methodology and motivation behind the unusual appearance of a radically innovative design cannot be fully explained to the general public."

By contrast he argues that architects rarely consider the status of their designs as potential icons - the appearance of "iconic" design is instead a result of the design's avant-garde process, which he believes inevitably make it stand out. For example, Zaha Hadid Architects he argues that their work "is often visually surprising and stimulating. But we never aim to create an icon. Our buildings become icons, temporarily, until our methodology and style becomes more widespread."

Ultimately though, Schumacher believes that this misinterpretation by the media and the general public is not only valid but useful in communicating design to a wider audience:

"The evaluation of a large new complex building is too difficult, especially under the contemporary condition of permanent innovation. The star-system offers an alternative. This substitution is viable because the reputations the star-system is building on have emerged in a long, competitive process of peer selection. That the stardom of star architects, as it circulates in the mass media, is superficial is a necessary effect of the translation process. Complexity reduction is necessary."

Schumacher makes clear that this support of the star system does not mean it doesn't have shortcomings. One problem he highlights is that it can perpetuate obscurity for young talent:

"Only a few names become visible and as a result these names get perhaps an undue share of the overall work opportunities. Their worthiness remains unexplained, becomes a dogma. Therefore they might stay in the game perhaps a little longer than is merited, while younger talent remains obscure for longer than they should. But these inevitable shortcomings do not invalidate the essential rationality of the star-system as explicated above."

He also criticizes the "superficial epigones" that result from this system "trying to exploit the taste for icons," arguing that they are the real reason for the current criticism of the star system itself:

"We have witnessed some of this in Dubai and China where plentiful resources were not always matched by a sufficiently developed ability to discriminate between serious, original work and superficial spectacles. It is this phenomenon which flourished in the run up to the 2008 crash and that thereafter led many critics and architects to denounce iconicity as frivolous and wasteful."

Read Patrik Schumacher's Facebook post in full here.

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Cite: Rory Stott. "Patrik Schumacher: "The Denunciation of Architectural Icons and Stars is Superficial and Ignorant"" 10 Apr 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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