Architecture and Rock-n-Roll are dead.
Architecture is dead…
Oh, yeah… In case you have forgotten also Rock-n-Roll is dead. Europe is dead. Civilization is dead… Too many bodies, don’t you think so?
Don’t worry I know how unoriginal exclamations of this sort are since Oswald Spengler’s prophecies. Unfortunately a rationale for such raw emotion is rarely provided by the authors. Thus I’ll make an attempt to bring some logic to it by comparing my beloved Architecture (which is pretty narrow field) to the Rock Music – an industry with billions of fans and enormous interest from the masses.
So let’s start.You can turn on Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock-n-Roll is dead” as a background. You’ll enjoy the ride. Lenny always rocks.
Generally speaking from the Roman times there are two types of functioning systems: “Business” and “Show-business” (Romans fairly called it “Panem et circenses” – “Bread and circuses”). “Business” template works fine in industrial production, high-tech, banking, retail, constructions, energy and even science. It’s called capitalism. (Lately we might have a problem, but this would be a totally separate discussion). “Show-business” model works even better for all so called entertainment industries, primarily sport, cinema and music (gladiator fights in Rome). Prior to that, main entertainment industries were called Art. But the showbiz model works so well that no one seriously considers modern cinema or a pop-music to be an art. Nowadays showbiz is omnipotent. The rest are marginal occurrences (theatre, opera, arthouse cinema, independent labels, etc…) supported by the governments or private charities. That’s the basic structure of our society and there is no field of human activities that can escape fate of rapid commercialization and further glamorization of its substance. (I guess, TV ads are the apotheosis of it.)
Stairway to heaven
As technical progress gained momentum architecture had no other choice but to move towards commercialized model. However at the very beginning it was different kind of business comparing to the conventional capitalistic template a-la Ford’s conveyer. Architect still was a highly respectable figure with influential individualistic position (think Mies or Frank Lloyd Wright) regardless to the fiscal returns. Architect’s major concern was creative design carefully balanced between the newest building science and traditionally accepted aesthetics.
Then the ideologies of mass-production and mass-consumption kicked in. It is pointless to discuss the objective necessity of it. Obviously, 20th century (wars, population growth, scientific developments, etc.) has required new ways for the development of architectural profession. Yet, I am not so convinced that chosen path that has transformed an Art of Architecture into the architectural business (a tedious mechanical business full of standards, licenses and beaurocracy) was the only answer to the challenges of time. Nevertheless as a result we have had a dull business environment (envisioned by Corbu’s dogmatic utopias) where architects were conducting orthodox business and people were getting dull boxes of orthogonal housing. On a public front it was even worse. After stylish innovative chic of Chicago School (Architecture was still an Art) and pseudo-classical yet impressive Fascist Architectonics (Architecture served dictators’ pride) ugly brutalism of 50s-70s with those over-scaled concrete monsters was a very explicable result. That was the price Architects paid for becoming businessmen.
60s were the best years for Rock-n-Roll though. It wasn’t business yet. It was like architecture of 20s. Intelligent, melodic, bold. Funny, but the best rock ballade of all times sounds very architecturally, it’s called “Stairway to Heaven”… I think Frank Lloyd Wright would love Led Zeppelin, after all in the Guggenheim Museum he introduced pretty cool solution for such stairway…
Where the streets have no name
But rock-n-roll has changed very quickly. In the 70s it’s free hippie spirit was replaced by serious business dress-code. Producers have quickly manufactured numerous hairy clones, extravagant clowns called glam-rockers or disco stars.
By that time architecture and rock music were practically in sync: scary brutalism has been substituted by architectural version of glam-rock – post-modernism.
Both were really “bad medicine” (remember Bon Jovi I hope?).
Yet there was a chance. In the 80-s most talented musicians as well as architects were trying to break through the rotten system. They openly challenged the fundamental rules of business. Metallica refused to produce video clips for MTV, U2 filmed live their legendary “Streets…” fighting police on the rooftops, Zaha and Libeskind were obsessed with their creative codes and artistic freedom without any fiscal constraints or construction codes. (I bet you Lebbeus Woods could’ve shaped uber-stylish album cover for Metallica). In the early 80s amidst fake tunes of glam-disco-post-modernism those rock bands and deconstructivist architects both played real rock-n-roll. It was loud. It was angry. It was real. It was an Art, a wonderful mirage in the middle of a business desert…
Oops I did again…
Toronto, Daniel Libeskind | Bucharest, Zaha Hadid | Barcelona, Jean Nouvel
If you can’t kill’em – buy them. That’s how it works in showbiz and that’s how it worked for Architecture and Rock-n-Roll in the last decade or so. Mirage has evaporated. In the midst of business desert-like landscape of hard-working, low-paying, primitively-thinking architectural practices (which is an architectural profession today) grand figures of super-stars have been shaped. No surprise that the stars were recruited from those talented former rebels: Zaha and Libeskind sold their soul just as Metallica or U2. For architects showbiz found a catchy nick: STARchitects. STARchitects happily joined the club of their rock-pop-star buddies and began… making money. Their present projects and albums are large and noisy yet empty and soulless. The music has gone… God’s touch has gone.
Let’s be fair, those ex-nonconformists were extremely skilled artists. And even though their today’s creations are completely commercialized they are quite sound professionally. Bono has great vocals just as Libeskind has terrific imagination.
Now I would like to know “what’s the next”. I think that soon we will remember those glam-rockers and post-modernistic buildings with great sympathy, as new generation is stepping in. There are no more architectural motives in the songs. There is no music in the buildings.
The new tune is: “Oops I did again…” Frankly, don’t you think of Britney Spears seeing those latest proposals done by starchitects?
Today there are tons of records on the web, thousands of cool bands and concerts, new high-tech gadgets make music available everywhere practically for free (please pay 99c to iTunes don’t steal)…
Architects easily produce super-precise drawings based on CAD applications; they enthusiastically design super-tall buildings. A propos nowadays we need to design and to build on a much larger scale than at any other previous period of time…
Yet as a form of art, as an exclusive intellectual position of the creator, as an independent expression of human talent Architecture is very dead. And so is Rock-n-Roll.
P.S. Enjoy it… They had no HD back then, but there was a music. Live music.
P.P.S. Got some funny afterthought… You can read it here >>