Cameron Sinclair in Architectural Bunfights on Two Continents


Cameron Sinclair ready for battle
Leonora previously posted about TreeHugger hero Cameron Sinclair dropping a bomb in the Barbican Debate in London, "equating asking Zaha Hadid to talk about about ethics in architecture with asking "Robert Mugabe to talk on Human Rights"

But it wasn't just a bomb, it was a MIRV, with another warhead landing in the Huffington Post.

Cameron wrote:

For the past twenty years the voice of the architecture profession has mainly been drowned out by the computer generated sky-piercing towers of luxury. Year after year the biggest names in architecture tried to out do each other in what is technically feasible with oddly named styles of 'deconstruction', 'blobitecture' and 'ribbon architecture'. This constant craving to create jewels of desire in the urban fabric left the general public wondering what on earth we do. Now, with the global economy in tailspin, these exercises in object making have come to a crashing halt. For many of us, we couldn't be more thankful.

He then goes on to deride "starchitecture" and make a plea to use architecture for good:

For those of us that work in this arena we are being swamped with requests for help from the camps in the eastern Congo to the hoovervilles in southern California. The desire for well built, sustainable structures is immense and young professionals seeking meaning are finding themselves drawn to providing their expertise to these communities. There is immense opportunity for architects to work in the service of humanity rather awkwardly trying to define it or worse impose a solution on it.

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Frances Anderton, LA Editor for Dwell magazine and host of a radio show DnA: Design and Architecture, took up the defense of Zaha and Starchitecture:


There is more than enough room for architecture that inspires awe and wonder, yes, with its excess, and for architecture that modestly serves human needs.

Without an architecture of excess, we wouldn't have Versailles, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, Bilbao, and many other monuments to mankind's capacity for egomaniacal yet wondrous feats of imagination. Without the concomitant human capacity to use architecture to better serve humanity, we would not have had the arts and crafts and garden city movements, the Bauhaus, decades of efforts by enlightened architects to provide housing solutions for the poor, and, today, Sinclair's Architecture for Humanity....



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I am sorry Frances, but it is not an irrelevant debate. Virtually none of the "Starchitects" paid a moment of attention to the issues of climate change, of building green and sustainable buildings until the very end when they were dragged kicking and screaming into it. Zaha Hadid could probably not tell you what the intitials LEED stand for.

It isn't just Cameron who is cranky, it is every architect trying to promote sustainable design to clients who want the splashy au courant names. It is every local architect paying his or her dues in cities around the world, only to lose the big one to the Starchitect dropped into town for the Bilbao effect.

Jack Diamond, a talented Canadian star, wrote recently in the Globe and Mail:

The extremes of individualism, and its accompanying greed, have ruined financial systems and left chaos in its wake. And once more this is reflected in architecture. The so-called iconic buildings (more egonic than iconic) were monuments to ego and extreme individualism. The emphasis was on the dramatic exterior: the way the building looked, rather than how it worked. The interiors could be perfunctory or dysfunctional.

Many iconic buildings are a direct reflection of conspicuous consumption. Instead of exploring engineering, electrical, mechanical and materials technologies to determine the most economic systems, there is a flagrant disregard for cost. Excess is celebrated: the highest, most expensive, most dramatic. The pick-a-shape school of architecture. It isn't simply the money unnecessarily spent on construction, but the energy necessary to heat and cool the building, the steel used to build it.

I am sorry Frances, there has been a split between 'architecture with a big A' and architecture with a big G for Green, S for sustainable and H for Humanitarian. It is too bad that it has taken an economic collapse to bring it to the forefront.

More on the architectural debate:
Quote of the Day: Cameron Sinclair on Ten Years of Architecture for Humanity
Quote of the Day: Jack Diamond on Beauty in Economy : TreeHugger
Mocoloco Dumps Sustainable Design

Tags: Architects | Architecture For Humanity | Cameron Sinclair | Designers