Ask anyone to name a famous architect, and they might mention Sir Christopher Wren, Frank Gehry, Quinlan Terry, Frank Lloyd Wright, Zaha Hadid, or even Antoni Gaudi. Of course, a lot will depend on their age, interests and general knowledge. There are hundreds of other brilliantly successful architects, but hardly what you’d call ‘celebrities’, though the term starchitect has been used for those who reach the limelight.
And yet, there are many people who have achieved that status in other fields, who are also qualified architects. The identities of most of them may come as a surprise…
- Thomas Hardy – studied architecture at King’s College, London. Hardy was involved in the design of the spectacular St. Pancras Station and won several awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
- Art Garfunkel – studied architecture, art history and mathematics at Columbia University. New York. In 1969 Simon & Garfunkel recorded “So long, Frank Lloyd Wright”, as a homage to his hero.
- Seal – received an associate degree and worked as an architect before fame beckoned.
- Pink Floyd – three of the original line up met at London Poly, while studying architecture (releasing, ‘Music For Architectural Students’ in 1969)
- Ice Cube – of hip-hop band N.W.A. studied architecture as a ‘fall-back’ at Pheonix Institue of Technology.
- Ralf Hutter of Kraftwerk – trained as an architect and insists he will return to it when Kraftwerk disband.
This ‘creative’ link shouldn’t be a surprise. Architects are extremely creative souls, after all, take a look at Vernacular Architecture for example by Traditional Architecture. But the subject of ‘celebrity architecture’ carries more importance than most people realise.
Within the discipline, a debate has raged for some years about the cult of celebrity and its relevance to celebrity architecture. It seems to have its roots in the post-war changes in culture that gave rise to new ways of thinking. Architects often led the way (and still do) in pushing the boundaries of taste and form, as witnessed in the 1950s the advent of Brutalism. This was a much-maligned and misunderstood movement, taking its name from ‘Beton Brut’ rather than any notions of being ‘brutal’. Evolving from the Modernist movement of the early 1900s, it sought to bring ‘Social Utopia’ and self-confidence to a world that had suffered greatly. Within two decades, however, it was seen as ugly, contributing to crime and social decay. Many Brutalist Architecture structures were destroyed, but now, decades later, they are being preserved as ‘heritage buildings’.
The connection with celebrity, the argument goes, is a vital one; celebrities, including famous architects, are drivers of social change. To ignore this is to risk becoming invisible and irrelevant. Most ‘starchitects’ are famous only within the world of architecture, depending on the amount of media exposure. Without bold, innovative, avant-garde designs, the architect is forgotten. Likewise, without celebrity endorsement, their designs could be seen as irrelevant or outmoded.
The trouble is, as with Brutalism, it is notoriously difficult to gauge public tastes and opinion from one era to another. What is regarded as an eye-sore right now might be considered Celebrity Architecture in the future.