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Patrik Schumacher: ‘We never aim to create an icon’

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Zaha Hadid’s right-hand man Patrik Schumacher has hit out at criticism of iconic buildings and star architects as ‘all-to-easy point-scoring’

In an impassioned essay on Facebook, the high-profile Parametricist called on critics to explain, rather than dismiss, ‘inspirational works’ holding the public and professional limelight.

Schumacher’s central argument is that the iconic appearance of buildings is merely a by-product of innovation which will inevitably one day become mainstream.

The concept of iconic architecture – he argued – was created to plug an ‘explanatory gap’ because the ‘methodology and motivation behind the unusual appearance of a radically innovative design cannot be fully explained to the general public’.

He went on to claim the ‘in-depth reasoning’ of such designs can be explained but so far only in discussions between architects.

He added: ‘What needs also to be explained is that original innovations are sometimes more pointers to future possibilities - calling for a measure of strategic tolerance - rather than fully fleshed out achievements that are already in all respects fully competitive.’

The essay – titled In Defence of Stars and Icons – comes shortly before the long-awaited unveiling of Zaha Hadid Architects’ (ZHA) Middle East Centre at the University of Oxford.

Speaking to The AJ, Schumacher described earlier ZHA projects – such as Rome’s Stirling Prize-winning MAXXI – as manifestos for ideas to be applied to more everyday problems in future schemes.

ZHA schemes labelled ‘iconic’ look different because they respond to ‘complex site conditions’ and challenging ‘programmatic arrangements that might call for an internal intensity of relations’ – he said.

The essay continued: ‘The result is often visually surprising and stimulating. But we never aim to create an icon. Our buildings become icons, temporarily, until our methodology and style becomes more widespread.’

We never aim to create an icon

Schumacher went on to warn against clients ‘trying to exploit the taste for icons’ such as in Dubai and China ‘where plentiful resources were not always matched by a sufficiently developed ability to discriminate between serious, original work and superficial spectacles.’

Star architects have become ‘trusted brands’ thanks to a ‘competitive process of peer selection’ Schumacher also claimed, admitting this system has its shortcomings.

He said: ‘Only a few names become visible and as a result these names get perhaps an undue share of the overall work opportunities. Their worthiness remains unexplained, becomes a dogma.’

He continued: ‘Therefore they might stay in the game perhaps a little longer than is merited, while younger talent remains obscure for longer than they should.’

Concluding the essay, he said: ‘The critics only distil what the expert discourse among architects and architectural theorists has already selected and confirmed through a proliferating influence within the discipline.

‘Promoted by the mass media’s architectural critics, the star-system and iconic architecture work hand in hand, and both are here to stay as necessary mediations that convey the most important reputations and innovations to society at large.’




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