Beware of the young doctor and the old barber. | Benjamin Franklin
Biological age is an ultimate factor defining human existence. Young person is a curious creature. Energetic, active, daring. Young human-being generates revolutionary ideas, seeks for real answers, discovers amazing possibilities, opens new horizons. Such person is a fighter, who doubts antique axioms about “flat Earth”; he is a discoverer exploring the world by conquering the impossible and bending the rules.
Old person is different. Yes, there is wisdom, mental maturity and understanding of life. Old person carefully guides the next generation ensuring that the “revolutionary force” of young rebels goes into the right direction. Yet old person can’t lead the process. Old person is a steering wheel while youth is an engine. And that’s the law of nature. The way of life.
In the last half a century the very definition of age has been changed. “Young” doesn’t mean a teenager or a 20+ years old only. 30-40 even 50 years old people are considered relatively young by the modern society. The same shift has occurred in the “old age” group. Today so called “senior citizenship” starts probably at the age of 70…
Since our existence is objectively defined by our age the same thing is true for our professional activities. After all such activities and the knowledge related to the profession are the main part of human’s life. In other words, as long as we don’t have AI robots working instead of us, any professional sphere or industry is objectively defined by the AGE of the humans shaping and leading the industry.
So welcome to the brave young world of the professional architecture. The figures currently shaping the architectural industry are:
- The most powerful: Foster (76 yrs old) – “Fosters & Partners”
- The most artistic: Gehry (82 yrs old) – “Gehry partners, LLP”
- The most stylish: Ando (69 yrs old) – “Tadao Ando Architect & Associates”
- The most intellectual: Koolhas (67 yrs old) – “OMA” (The Office for Metropolitan Architecture)
- The most inventive: Nouvel (65 yrs old) – “Ateliers Jean Nouvel”
- And eventually the coolest and the youngest girl in town: Zaha (60 yrs old) – “Zaha Hadid Architects”
Average Age: 70 (remove from the list the young lady and the average goes to 72…)
These top-architects (to whom I pay enormous respect) have reached the peak of their careers being on the average 70+ (sic!) years old. The main bulk of their works has been built in the last 10-15 years. Meaning their real career has started when they were 60+ years old. So Zaha is really a “kid” by the architectural industry standards. I’m talking here about the most successful architects in the world. Isn’t it tragic?
Meanwhile this kind of “ageism” is typical for the entire industry. Not only for the upper echelon of grand-masters, but for every level. Architecture is an absolute gerontocracy. Isn’t it pathetic?
The one might wonder why architectural industry is so conservative, why it’s functioning by the antique set of rules, why is it governed by the obsolete authoritarian organizations. The one might also ask why it’s so different from the other industries, such as high-tech for example. Well… let’s see then who defines the high-tech – the most revolutionary, the most energetic, the most important and the most fucking lucrative industry on Earth:
- Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg (26 yrs old). Founded Facebook when he was 20 yrs old. Became a billionaire when he was 24 yrs old
- Google: Sergei Brin (37) and Larry Page (37). Started Google when they were 22 yrs old. First billion roughly by age of 28…
- Twitter: Evan Williams (38) Founded Twitter by age of 33. Actually he became rich by age of 30. He was a founder of “Blogger” in his twenties… (Can you imagine?)
- Groupon: Andrew Mason (29) Founded Groupon by age of 25. Recently made his first billion
- Napster (first torrent service – yes first free downloads of music and movies): Shawn Fanning founded it when he was 19! It became super-popular overnight.
I can go on and on. I don’t even bother to calculate the average age. (Another classical example would be Bill Gates. He founded Microsoft when he was 20 years old. He stepped down as CEO in the age of 45 dedicating his life to the philanthropy. 45 years old!)
Age of the industry leaders is the main reason for few more nuances!
Look at the names of the high-tech companies and the architectural firms? Feel the difference? Feel where the past is and where is the future?
You think “name” is not that important? Fine, look at the money then. Dare to compare?
The most dominant architectural office on the planet “Fosters & partners” in its 2007 deal with the Private Equity Group “3i” was valued at $ 593 mil (today in after-crisis realities it’s probably twice less). Norman Foster was 72 years old in 2007. Facebook’s recent market value is 50 billion dollars. Mark Zuckerberg is 26 yrs old. Do you want to know what Google market value is?!
Can you see now why they are more dynamic, more interesting, more fucking lucrative? You can’t trick the nature. You don’t have an appetite for exploring new things when you are in your eighties. If the peak of the professional career comes when people are biologically old and physically tired, such profession is doomed. You know… people define the profession. And people die. And I am sorry but old folks die more often than young people. It’s a nature.
P.S. Do not take my radical conclusions directly. It’s a mere generalization. I wish to all mentioned people (be that 30 years old computer geeks or 70 years old architects) long and happy lives. It’s not their fault that things gone this way. All I want is to understand why things are in such a poor shape for the architecture. I wish it could be different. I wish one of my favorite architects genius Frank Gehry would get a chance to build his dreams in the age of Mark Zuckerberg…
P.P.S. This essay is not written by a 20 years old student. I wish… So you can’t say it’s a comical revolt of the silly kid. It’s not. It’s a material for thought.
In his recent interview to WSJ Frank Gehry said: “I can’t retire. I’m 82. It’s too young.” Yeah… right…