Lisa Lamkin
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Lisa Lamkin

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Starchitecture: Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities

This book from Monacelli Press distills the results of collaborative research begun in 2008 to explore the Bilbao effect: “the belief that one spectacular architectural project … can turn any city into a global destination.” With an overview of recent “starchitecture” in general and deeper analysis of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao project in Spain, provocative questions are raised as to the actual utility of branded architecture in realizing the artistic, financial, and planning goals for large-scale projects.

Authored by Davide Ponzini and Michele Nastasi, subsequent chapters dig deeper into specific “starchitecture” projects in three very different cities on the world stage: Abu Dhabi, Paris, and New York. Through these examples, we consider the role of “spectacularization” in project approach—where “aesthetic shock” drives project visibility, and therefore commercial value as “architecture functions in itself as a vehicle for communication.” Through this survey of work, we consider the paradox of a star’s global reach in “contemporary cities using the same ‘archistars’ in the same manner as everywhere else, homogenizing their urban landscapes as a result.”

The question we must now consider as architects invested in our community’s quality of life is the role of ego. The authors conclude, “In the analyzed projects one can also see how star architects instrumentally used the opportunities to work under almost any conditions, even if this would impair their autonomy and potential influence over other decision-makers and the final urban impact.”

When is less more?


Reviewed by Lisa Lamkin, FAIA, a principal with BRW Architects.