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The Reinvention of the Image of the Architect: "Never have so many been so famous to so few"

Part 2 Dissertation 2008
Daniel Harrop
Manchester School of Architecture Manchester | UK
To what degree can an architect reflect upon his or her own story and, therefore, upon its influence on their work. Is such a reflection necessary; whilst the architect may be affecting the very physical inhabited fabric, is the public really interested in trying to understand the architects personal experience and how this helps shape their work? Through the interventions that they create, the architect has a great influence over the way in which society conducts itself and the image it portrays both to itself and those around it.

This dissertation explores the notion of image within the architectural profession and the appearance of the ‘starchitect’ within the modern conscious, by analysing the biographies and autobiographies of a number of different architects.

It argues that, when taking a critical analysis of a building or perhaps an overriding architectural theme, it is important to consider not only the narrative of context and the dialogue with place, but also the stories of those who are defining the built environment. It attempts to understand the image and role that is projected onto those architects, whether by themselves or by others, and the way in which this can effect how their architectural language is understood.

It initially addresses the notion of image and the archetype of the architect, and then moves on to show how the manipulation of other media, such as writing or film allows certain architects a freedom to appear distant and heroic – both to those within the profession and, to a degree, the wider social order – whilst at the same time striving to reinsert their sense of belonging within the wider social fabric. The dissertation also covers how such a media allows others to fight for the cause of certain architects whose legacy is somewhat forgotten.

The dissertation was approached with an honest delight at the importance of understanding people. The modern architectural profession might feel that only the edifices it constructs are the shining beacons of progress, without necessarily asking for whom and by whom are such works made.

Daniel Harrop

Building on the foundations provided by Andrew Saint's "The Image of the Architect" this dissertation explores the architectural biography in the era of the star architect. It makes use of examples, especially in the written form, to analyse the representation of the architect as an heroic figure, creating buildings, a career and above all a brand easily identifiable by the cognoscenti. The image choices exploited by Wright, Foster and Libeskind as part of the apparatus with which they project their ideas and forms provides an introduction to closer consideration of specific examples.

The field covered is essentially male and self confident. The muscular and robust works of Goldfinger, Stirling and Rogers speak quite well for themselves, but when illuminated with the biographical material provided by Nigel Warburton, Mark Girouard, and Bryan Appleyard respectively one gets a stronger sense of the singularity of purpose which drove their achievements. Some gender balance is provided by the discussion of Peter Adam's biography of Eileen Gray, a figure excluded from the general view of modern architectural history. Her presence in this study underlines the constrained nature of the conventions of architectural self representation.

Although only brief reference is made to the this aspect, a more recent genre within this field of biography has been the use of film which, with its own narrative forms, offers a more accessible means of exploring the architectural character of buildings and their creators. The recent films profiling Kahn and Gehry suggest that this form might be especially suited to the laconic nature of American heroism as transmitted through film.

The process of writing the dissertation was one of careful consideration of a broad set of issues such as image, celebrity and the monocultural basis of the architectural profession. This range was gradually edited and refined to a concise study on a specific strand which also promises much for future research.

Eamonn Canniffe
Sally Stone
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