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7 Signs You Are A Superstar Architect

1. You have your own, unmistakable ‘signature’ style.

Metallic fragments with slit windows? Libeskind. Parametric globules of fiberglass and concrete? Dame Hadid. Undulating waves of titanium or stainless steel? You get the picture. If people look at your building and can name its architect before its location, then you may well fall into this elite group of architects, famed for their signature style, applicable anywhere on earth for a handsome sum.

No matter what the context may be, and regardless of a building’s intended function, clients employ these architects for their brand: having seen the success of public projects in revitalizing entire city districts – see ‘The Bilbao Effect’ – they want the architect to reproduce this perceived utopian elixir for them. Many major architects appear to be happy to oblige formally, unconcerned about the increasingly formulaic nature of their portfolio. So the old saying goes: ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’… and if it is broken, but people are still willing to pay you for it, continue blithely onwards!

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Guggenheim Bilbao: The birthplace of Starchitecture?


2. Your process is almost as famous as your buildings.

Perhaps the most infamous example of an architect’s design process is one that never actually happened: Frank Gehry made a cameo appearance on The Simpsons, in which his crumpled ball of paper was transformed into the Disney Concert Hall, and has regretted it ever since. In an interview with CNN he ranted: “That's the ****. Everybody thinks I'm going to crumple a paper. Clients come to me and say crumple a piece of paper, we'll give you $100 and then we'll build it.”

In contrast, Daniel Libeskind milks the myths of design conception for all their worth: his sketches, which may or may not have been scrawled on cocktail napkins, have been framed and sold as artworks in their own right. Either way, when your process comes under as much scrutiny as your buildings, you can be confident you are well on your way to architectural stardom.

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How Gehry did NOT design the Disney Concert Hall...


3. Imitations of your creations begin to emerge.

Architecture is no stranger to copying: from classicism to, well, neo-classicism, it has long been accepted that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. These days though, some firms are taking it to another level: last year, it emerged that Zaha Hadid’s design for Wangjing SOHO was being unceremoniously replicated in the eastern city of Chongqing.

Satoshi Ohashi, the ZHA project director overseeing the project, speculated that the counterfeiters may have gotten their hands on digital files containing the firm's original plans. This is an ordeal that will be familiar with many a firm in the digital age, but how often does plagiarism merit international headlines? If that is the case with your stolen design, like Dame Hadid, you probably have yourself a spot reserved in the architectural hall of fame.

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Zaha's Galaxy Soho... or is it?


4. You have a building designed by you… named after you.

As I reported last year, the generic glass pillars of banality ascending in the Citylife Milano master plan took the term ‘Brand Architecture’ to a whole new level. The developers in question chose to embellish its “outstandingly iconic buildings” (yes, their words) with … the names of the designers themselves.

That’s right: The Hadid Tower, the Libeskind Tower, and the Isozaki Tower are promoted on the company’s website, explicitly linking the architects and their buildings to the executive lifestyle of their prospective tenants.

Just as Brittney Spears and David Beckham have their own lines of perfume and aftershave, it is now apparently permissible to utilize the celebrity of architects to sell buildings as luxury products. Rightly or wrongly, if a developer sticks your name on the label, you can be sure you have made it!

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Citylife Milano: Eau De Libeskind... et al


5. You and your buildings are parodied all over the Internet.

The phenomenon of the internet meme will be familiar to anyone who has spent even a modicum of time procrastinating on social networking sites – LOLcatsPhilosoraptorTrollface and Forever Alone are some of the biggest web-based celebrities out there. Architecture, as a niche sector of online interest, is generally not considered to be ‘meme-worthy’… but if you are famous enough, exceptions can be made.

Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry in particular have had their fair share of ‘homages’ go viral, some of which are hilarious, others… well, a little harsh perhaps. But hey, it comes with the territory. Some are positively adorable, like this Libeskind-related image: if one of your buildings was ever coupled with a kitten and shared across the information superhighway, you have surely reached the upper echelons of the industry.

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Starchitects + Cats = Meme Heaven

6. You feel the burn of the media spotlight.It is a fact of celebrity life that everything you do comes under the scrutiny of the media, and this is no different in the architectural industry – everything that occurs within your practice, both good and bad, will have the rule run over it by everyone from the New York Times to the lone arts blogger next door.

Take the trials and tribulations of RMJM for example – a particularly spikey email between two of the firm’s top dogs was somehow leaked to Building Design, who have chronicled the rocky relationships and political wrangling within the practice ever since. It is highly unlikely that a smaller, altogether more mediocre firm would have their dirty laundry washed quite so publically: you had better keep your nose clean, otherwise fame may be followed by its evil twin, notoriety.

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Zaha's Serpentine Pavilion: Museum-Come-Superyacht Showroom

7. Critics critique you… clients, not so much.

Perhaps the most significant sign you have become that most provocative of portmanteaus, a ‘Starchitect’, is when your creations are being critiqued from every conceivable angle. The cost and resulting quality sought for the largest public projects in the world – such as Jean Nouvel’s Abu Dhabi Louvre, or Santiago Calatrava’s PATH Terminal in Manhattan – is subject to the kind of critical dissection that lesser developments may not be exposed to.

Such projects often receive severe criticism from analysts such as Oliver Wainwright - case in point, Zaha Hadid’s Serpentine Pavilion: ‘A wedding marquee battling a stiff breeze’, according to The Guardian columnist. However, what is clear is that those holding the purse strings – councils, governments, and developers – are rarely this skeptical. They desire landmarks, centerpieces, table decorations at the centre of their urban banquet – and they know just who to ask.

Hence, the commissions for Starchitects keep rolling in, and the big names continue to grow larger by the day – if the critics are wary of the monopoly you appear to hold over the most prestigious design briefs on the planet, you can laugh them off. Along with Frank, Zaha, Santiago, Daniel and Rem, YOU are dining at the top table…

Yours famously,

The Angry Architect