Published by DOM Publishers, Berlin, the English-language book Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity has combined under one cover 30 interviews Vladimir Belogolovsky has taken with famous architects from different countries and generations over the past 12 years. This is a sample of over 100 conversations that the author has conducted over the years; the reader is already familiar with some of these materials from publications in Russian architectural journals. These interviews are very interesting and individually, as an excursion into the work of this or that figure, but taken together, they acquire an additional quality, serving as evidence of the time of architects - "stars", "the era of celebrities" - as Belogolovsky calls the beginning of the 21st century.
In his opinion, this era began on December 18, 2002, when the New York public, including 250 journalists - among whom was the author of the book - were presented their work by the semifinalists of the competition for the project of the new World Trade Center. The direct connection of this competition with the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 made it the number one event in the United States, with widespread coverage abroad: architecture suddenly took the place of political debate in the media and the latest antics of pop musicians and film actors. At that time, viewers were inspired and moved by the project of Daniel Libeskind, who connected his expressive work with its somewhat superficial symbolism (for example, the height of the main tower of his WTC was 1,776 feet, in memory of the adoption of the US Declaration of Independence in 1776) with the history of his own life, including the arrival to New York in the late 1950s on one of the full immigrant ships that entered the harbor along the "classic" route past the Statue of Liberty - which was visible through the glass wall behind the architect presenting his proposal. Libeskind immediately became the hero of the day, he was attacked by journalists - but they, according to Belogolovsky, did not know how to discuss architecture, and therefore focused on the architect as a person, which was more familiar and understandable for them. He and other contestants began to be invited to popular talk shows, to discuss their appearance, including their haircuts and the frames of their glasses, in exactly the same way as the media used to treat movie stars or popular politicians. Since then, a more or less stable list of several dozen “star” architects (this term is important, although no one likes it) has been formed, from which participants are recruited to the most prestigious closed competitions when it is necessary to create an iconic, “iconic” structure, instantly riveting attention and serving as an expensive but effective advertisement - for a corporation, city or country, university or museum. The increased attention of the press to these persons is expressed in endless television and print interviews, documentaries, portraits on the covers of glossy magazines - and is quite convertible into dollars: the name of Zaha Hadid or Norman Foster successfully helps to sell an apartment or rent an office in a building they have designed. The recognizable "author's style" further simplifies marketing, although architects become, as a result, hostages of once found formal techniques.
This picture is well known to all of us, especially since even the crisis of 2008 was not the end for the time of buildings-"icons": they still appear all over the world, and the popularity of the "stars" who design them is not decreasing - as is the eloquence of those who criticize their colleagues, who accuse - often quite rightly - the notional top thirty architects of churning out non-functional, context-destroying buildings designed solely for the "wow effect".
In the analytical texts accompanying the interviews, Belogolovsky, following other experts, points out the positive aspects of the existence of “stars”: for example, they continue the “creative” line in architecture, when “green” construction and social responsibility are more important to the professional community as a whole. In addition, it is easier for universally respected famous masters to experiment with materials and technologies, to look for new ways in architectural practice - they will rather be given funds for this than less "promoted" colleagues.
But if with practice everything is more or less clear, the question of the influence of the system of "stars" on architectural criticism and, in general, on architectural journalism deserves more attention. Vladimir Belogolovsky says that in the process of preparing the book he analyzed the corpus of interviews he had taken, in fact, conversations about the creative method of great masters, and discovered that these masters have nothing in common except for their "star" status. It turns out that in our time of formal pluralism, when there are no generally accepted criteria for evaluating architecture, the only clear sign is that the author of the project belongs to a cohort of "stars" - which should be understood broadly, including "modest" but widely known "Pritzker" laureates - Glenn Mercutt, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Robert Venturi (together with Denise Scott-Brown, of course), and the conventional "youth" - Ingels, Jurgen Mayer, Alejandro Aravena, David Adjaye. This is undoubtedly a very superficial categorization, but it clearly manifests itself in the distribution of the attention of journalists: the "general civil" media tend to talk about famous architects, ignoring everyone else - but otherwise they would not talk about anyone at all, so the "stars" attract the attention of a wide public to the architectural theme (and this is another of their merit, which Belogolovsky emphasizes).
However, the lack of criteria makes, according to the author of the book, an authoritative assessment of a project impossible, so any assessment these days is just a personal opinion, even if it is expressed by a well-known journalist or architect. An indirect consequence of this is the disappearance of the rate of the architectural critic from many American publications and - a piquant detail - the transfer of authors who have lost their jobs to the PR departments of "star" architectural bureaus. Moreover, not only they, but also the journalists remaining in their post often create “advertising”, flattering texts about “high-profile” projects, and there is almost no demand for a serious, albeit neutral, analysis: in the era of Twitter, long texts are not popular.
Although Vladimir Belogolovsky is optimistic, proposing to appreciate the existing variety of styles and approaches and describe it in a positive way, it turns out that, albeit unwittingly, he states the death of criticism - or criticism. And in this case, it is interesting to consider his very favorite genre - interviews. At its core, this genre presupposes active interaction between the author and the hero - right up to a verbal duel. But in reality, especially if we are talking about an architect, and not about a capricious artist, the hero understands perfectly well that each interview is a convenient platform for clarifying his views, an opportunity for self-promotion, and one more - never superfluous - mention in the media. eventually. Therefore, even the "archstars" are ready, albeit for the hundredth time, but vividly and with vigor to talk about key career episodes, describe their projects and methods - and it is their words that interest the reader, they are taken away for quotes, sometimes they themselves become "news stories." The interview seems to be a "real" story about architecture, sincere, from the first person - in contrast to the journalists who really lose the trust and interest of the readers of the texts (although in fact famous architects are able to lead the public by the nose as well as politicians or artists provocateurs). And the interviewer, even the most skillful one, without whom the conversation would not have turned out interesting, goes into the shadows, his contribution is forgotten, he seems to be withdrawn from the dialogue - and only loud phrases of the "stars" sound.
Vladimir Belogolovsky's book Conversations with Architects in the Age of Celebrity (DOM Publishers, 2015; book page at Amazon.com) contains interviews with David Adjaye, Will Alsop, Alejandro Aravena, Shigeru Bana, Elizabeth Diller, Winky Dubbledam, Peter Eisenman, Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Stephen Hall, Bjarke Ingels, Kengo Kuma, Daniel Libeskind, Jurgen Mayer, Richard Mayer, Giancarlo Mazzanti, Paulo Mendes da Roche, Glenn Mercatta, Gregg Pascarrelli, Joshua Prince Prycev Robert Stern, Sergei Tchoban and Sergei Kuznetsov, Bernard Chumi, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, Raphael Vignoli, Alejandro Saero-Polo, as well as Charles Jencks and Kenneth Frampton.