Little Dictionary of Design Ideas

Avant-Garde Voices

Hal Foster 

A is for Architecture

What else? Clearly architecture has a new importance in the culture at large. Although this prominence stems from the initial debates about postmodernism in the 1970s, which centered on architecture, it is clinched by more recent developments, such as the great inflation of design and display in so many aspects of consumer capitalism today – art, fashion, retail in general, corporate relations, and so on. Yet the significance granted architecture also has a compensatory dimension: in many ways the architect is our latest figure of the artistic genius, of a creator endowed with magisterial vision and worldly agency in a way that is not available to the rest of us in mass society; in this sense the celebrity architect is the contemporary version of the mythic artist of old. (I think true, for example, that, despite the great gap between vanguard architecture and everyday building, a given person on the street is likely to come up with the names of a few architects but not of a few artists or writers.)

The often paranoid structure of architectural discourse today – the manner in which visions of grandeur alternate with feelings of impotence – also points to the compensatory dimension of the status of architecture today. “Since the early 1990s the market has ruled, so the only tool we seem to have left is seduction,” Kamiel Klaasse remarks. “This creates the un pleasant condition of dependency. Architects combine arrogance with impotence; we are beggars and braggarts.” “These days architects can do everything and, at the same time, nothing,” Maarten Kloos adds. “Architecture has become an amorphous, evasive concept that just hangs like a scent in the air or the last fad”... [+]

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