Vanity Fair's World Architecture Survey: Where's The Green?


28 votes: Frank Gehry, Guggenheim, Bilbao

When I entered architecture school, a charming and brilliant Wayne Lawson taught a wonderful survey course on culture and communication. It was a hot couple of years at the University of Toronto (now John Daniels) school of architecture, and almost everyone passed through. Professor George Baird and Chairman Peter Prangnell snagged the likes of Peter Eisenman, Charles Jencks, Rem Koolhaus, Kenneth Frampton, Leon Krier, Tony Vidler and I think, Joseph Rykwert.

Now, almost four decades later, Wayne Lawson is Executive Literary Editor of Vanity Fair and appears to have pulled the whole ageing gang together (along with a mix of younger architects and a few emeriti who never made it to Toronto), asking them to pick " the five most important buildings, bridges, or monuments constructed since 1980, and what is the greatest work of architecture thus far in the 21st century."

To nobody's surprise, Gehry's Guggenheim in Bilbao stole the show. What is surprising is how little impact the green, sustainable design movement has had.

Peter Zumthor's Thermal baths in Vals, did come third with 9 votes; it uses local materials, has a green roof and is truly one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, although the use, a spa, does not exactly resonate among the architectural problems facing us.

Thom Mayne's Cooper Union building barely made it into the Vanity Fair slideshow with three votes. See Alex's review: 41 Cooper Square: Thom Mayne's Brazen Stair-Obsessed Marvel

But in general, I sensed a profound disconnect between the architecture shown and the problems that architects have to solve today. Barry Lehrman at Archinect noted much the same thing:

All I can say is that the folks they asked are mostly living off their pre-bubble glory as starchitects. Most of the buildings selected (with a few exceptions) fail to offer any glimpse into the future of architecture. As I see it, the future of architecture is in sustainability, networked (smart) systems, vernacular and cheap materials - not excessively expensive temples to ego, and energy guzzling/climate inappropriate design as represented by the VF list.

I think he is perhaps a bit harsh; we need the occasional Peter Zumthor and a few excessively expensive temples. But this list really represents another era, picked mostly by another generation.

See all of the 52 architects' picks here and a slideshow of the winners here

Tags: Architecture | Design Competitions