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Laura Iloniemi

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Architecture vs. PR: The Media Motivations of the Guggenheim Helsinki

01:00 - 30 January, 2015
Architecture vs. PR: The Media Motivations of the Guggenheim Helsinki, One of the finalists in the Guggenheim Helsinki competition. Image Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants
One of the finalists in the Guggenheim Helsinki competition. Image Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants

More than ever, the media shapes architecture. The controversial Helsinki Guggenheim competition is as much about the use and exploitation of contemporary media as it is about design. The competition organisers are hugely proud to have over 1,700 entries to tweet about, but informed critics are less impressed. Has quantity ever guaranteed quality?

The competition has certainly created an impact. Some celebrate this, while others feel it has been detrimental to the profession, with so much unpaid time invested resulting in a low-level contribution to museum design.

Meanwhile, the spectre of Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim, an “iconic” building that gave the American foundation so much positive publicity when it opened in 1997, haunts the Helsinki project. Finnish politicians hope for a similar success, a Sydney Opera postcard effect in this remote corner of the earth.

The Pritzker Prize: Making Architects "Starchitects" Since 1979 (But at What Cost?)

00:00 - 27 March, 2014
The Pritzker Prize: Making Architects "Starchitects" Since 1979 (But at What Cost?), Architecture's Highest Honor. Top Left to Right: Rafael Moneo (1996) Image © Lee Salem; PeterZumthor (2009); Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron (2001) Image © Rex Stucky; Rem Koolhaas (2000) Image © Zoog.
Architecture's Highest Honor. Top Left to Right: Rafael Moneo (1996) Image © Lee Salem; PeterZumthor (2009); Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron (2001) Image © Rex Stucky; Rem Koolhaas (2000) Image © Zoog.

The coveted title “Pritzker Prize Laureate” is more or less synonymous today with the label “star-architect,” a term I loathe and that most of those described as such will probably find irritating and embarrassing. And for good reason. Stardom in the sense of celebrity does not help the cause of architecture. Wang Shu’s wife, Lu Wenyu, said as much when she asked not to be named as co-laureate with her husband. In an interview with El Pais, she remarked, “I’m happy to be able to do architecture that I believe helps our towns and cities to be better. I’m convinced that to talk about this awakens interest in others – not being famous.”

Of course the Pritzker Prize does not set out to create a school of architects famous for being famous, but to recognise, celebrate and support talent, persistence and perhaps a unique contribution to the cause of architecture. The prize winners each deserve that recognition whether we agree or not with the choice of an individual recipient.

The fame culture is generated not so much by altruistic cultural institutions, but largely by a star-struck media wanting to create a cast of famous characters to write about. There is, of course, pressure from editors to do so, too, fearing perhaps that anything else might lose readers hungry for celebrity culture. Of course, the critic gains a kind of minor celebrity status, too, through association with this “star” culture.

What the Guggenheim Should Consider Before Building in Helsinki

00:00 - 12 February, 2014
What the Guggenheim Should Consider Before Building in Helsinki , The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao / Frank Gehry. Image © Flickr User: Iker Merodio
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao / Frank Gehry. Image © Flickr User: Iker Merodio

The Guggenheim is planning a new museum in Helsinki. The site is in the heart of the city, next door to the late 19th Century market hall and open-air market place, two minutes from Helsinki Cathedral. The project, therefore, has great landmark potential for the city. And many Finns are lured by this very potential, wanting to increase tourism and put their capital city more evidently on the world map. There has also been discussion in the country’s main newspaper Helsingin Sanomat about how Finns should welcome a more joyous and fun architecture.

Destination-creation and architecture as entertainment are certainly strong themes of our times. They were treated with great artistry by Frank Gehry with the Bilbao Guggenheim, opened in 1997. However, it’s important to remember that the Bilbao Guggenheim might best be considered a spectacular one-off. Mayors, politicians and world leaders have since sought, in perhaps too facile a way, to rebrand their cities and countries with iconic landmarks. There has been much talk of making cities “world class” through such architectural gestures, and yet much of this marketer’s fodder is wholly out of touch with what makes great architecture great.

Architecture Marketing: At What Cost?

00:00 - 17 December, 2013
Gabor Gallov drawing of a party. Architects should win people over by making their world as appealing as that of performers, artists or even fashion designers. Image © Gabor Gallov
Gabor Gallov drawing of a party. Architects should win people over by making their world as appealing as that of performers, artists or even fashion designers. Image © Gabor Gallov

In an era of heavily marketed brands, relentless advertising and all pervasive social media, just how far should architects market themselves to stand out from the crowd? Laura Iloniemi, expert in architecture media, explores the tricky issue of how practices can use marketing without losing integrity.

Marketing companies and publicists working for architects have certainly adapted to increasingly hard-nosed commercial trends. They have embraced, for example, the latest trade shows, no matter how brash, along with high-profile international property conferences and moneymaking awards events (with apparent relish), hoping to place their clients in front of new, and ever more commercial, audiences.

But marketing folk sell only what they know from their own experience - experience that may or may not be relevant to architectural practice. If they do not have an intuitive or trained eye for architecture itself, or a feel for its rightful place in our culture, they can never produce a worthwhile strategy for ensuring its true relevance in society.