Starchitects think journalists should toe the line
That’s not how it works, says Rory Olcayto
It’s no surprise that both Wolf Prix, in his attack on the David Chipperfield-curated Venice Biennale, and Chipperfield, with his angry response, both attack the media before rounding on each other. The press is just one more territory for both of these influential architects to exert control, and despite their dismissals - Prix says the media ‘constantly exaggerates’ and Chipperfield is ‘disappointed’ the AJ gave prominence to Prix in the first place - both of them use the press to further their own ambitions.
Both are experienced media diehards too, not Bambi-like starlets caught unexpectedly in the headlights, despite their complaints. Prix begins his tirade with a Bob Dylan quote, which asks ‘which side are you on?’ while Chipperfield frames his letter with a witty headline-friendly pun aimed to belittle his foe (Though I’m not sure with ‘Kicking against the pricks’ if he’s referencing the biblical quote or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ third album.) Sometimes, however, the press won’t play ball in the way a paid-for PR consultant does. And this is as it should be.
Yet you can’t blame any high-flyer in the profession for taking this stance. As Jonathan Meades writes in his fantastic new book Museum Without Walls, ‘omnipotent, ubiquitous global practitioners possess both a PR machine and - hardly different - a deferentially aniligual architectural press to support their vain pretentions’.
Meades says the influence of such a press, which we hope you would agree AJ stands apart from, ‘increased with the advent in 1983 of Blueprint’, a glossy organ that made architecture attractive to a public unreachable by the charms of AR and AD. Wallpaper, Icon and Frame are among the others fingered by Meades as working with a select group of names who suck up to each other in a ‘vortex of mutual dependence’.
Chipperfield and his team, led by former AJ editor Kieran Long (how’s that for Common Ground?) have in fact been using the media to promote their ambitions from the moment the RIBA gold medallist’s appointment was announced. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to feel a degree of sympathy for Chipperfield. There’s nothing more annoying than when a critic slams you for not doing something, or saying something, when you have.
You’ll remember this feeling from your own university crits. But the Austrian architect’s swipe at the lack of political engagement or exploration of matters such as the messy episode the building of Herzog & de Mueron’s concert hall in Hamburg has become, is a clear example of this kind of swipe in action. Sadly for Prix, it devalues his broader point - and it’s a good one, well worth reporting - about how far removed from vital political discourse the profession has become.
What’s up with the British Pavilion?
Here’s a nice, simple idea that will show how vibrant, strange and cultured our tiny Isle of Wonder really is - without trying to please all of the people, all of the time as this year’s has done. Give the curation of the British pavilion over to the four nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland over the next eight years. Who wants to go first?