Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeNuméros4SchedeLeslie Sklair, The Icon Project: ...

Schede

Leslie Sklair, The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization | Davide Ponzini and Michele Nastasi, Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary CitiesStarchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities

New York, Oxford University Press, 329 pp. – 2017 | New York, The Monacelli Press, 216 pp. - 2016
Filippo Fiandanese
p. 240-241
Bibliographical reference

Leslie Sklair, The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization, New York, Oxford University Press, 329 pp. – 2017 Hardback: $ 34.95 - ISBN 9780190464189 / e-book: $ 23.99 - ISBN 9780190464202. Davide Ponzini and Michele Nastasi, Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities, New York, The Monacelli Press, 216 pp. - 2016. Hardback: $ 40.00 - ISBN 9781580934688

Full text

1In the last fifteen years the debate on star-architects and their iconic productions has occupied thousands of pages, a multitude of publications with significant differences in contents and scopes: from glossy catalogues displaying trendy architectural images, to harsh criticism of star-architects and their works, up to critical thoughts on the success of star-architecture. The books recently published by Leslie Sklair, “The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization” and Davide Ponzini, with the contribution of the photographer Michele Nastasi, “Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities” clearly belong to the last category: they both rigorously elaborate on the reasons for star-architects and their iconic and spectacularized products to be so prominent in contemporary cities.

2Sklair investigates iconic architecture building on an explicit ideological position, rooted in a Marxist critique to the society and urban phenomena. The book’s title “The Icon Project” emphasises the struggle, or the inherent “project” more precisely, by which the transnational capitalist class (TCC), a recurrent topic in Sklair’s work, affirms the hegemony in the global urban world by means of iconic architectural and urban products, a condition epitomized by the author visiting the Peak Tower in Hong Kong. Therefore, the declared objective of the work is documenting how this process unfolds, following Ernst Gombrich’s statement quoted in the book (p. 23) that: “iconology must start with a study of institutions rather than with a study of symbols”. Sklair’s study of “institutions”, or rather of the TCC and its Icon Project, is carried out through detailed analysis supported by interviews and media analysis, besides references to a considerable literature. After having defined the expression “Icon Project”, the book explains how architecture agencies and mass media collectively mobilize for it. A sociological analysis of the architecture industry follows, investigating the four top architectural firms founded by by Gehry, Foster, Koolhaas and Hadid. The second part of the book focuses on different architectural and urban iconic projects, dedicating a chapter to each faction of what Sklair calls TCC, namely corporate, political, professional and consumerist classes. The book concludes with a call to architects to creatively work for an alternative non-capitalist globalization.

3While Sklair builds on the Icon Project stance, Ponzini moves instead from a set of questions: why do cities desire signature architectures? Are there specific expectations by different actors toward famous architects? Which is the role of star architects in the public arena? Does it change in different contexts and how? The objective here is investigating the function of “star-architecture” and the role of its designers in processes of urban transformation, looking at Scenes, Actors and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities as the introductory chapter’s title announces. Images by Nastasi are admittedly intended to provide an autonomous apparatus coherent and complementary to the text. After an introductory part, where the author states his positioning and aims, a prologue to the entire work critically deconstructs the so-called Bilbao-effect as the dominant narrative to sum up the role of star architecture in urban regeneration. The next chapters, through the observation of a number of remarkable projects, empirically detect the role of works by celebrated star-architects in three different global cities: Abu Dhabi (oligarchic city), Paris (élite city) and New York (plural city), with the addition of the Vitra Campus without a proper city environment. The conclusion remarks that the symbolic and semiotic dimension of the urban environment has nowadays a primary interest. While in Sklair the idea of the TCC dominates, imposing its consumerist-ideological hegemony to local dimension, Ponzini’s investigation points out that star-architectures are grounded in the different local conditions where they are built, where actors and economic conditions also differ profoundly.

4In both cases, the works account for a two-decade debate, fostered by the publication in 2005 of Charles Jencks’s “The Iconic Building - The Power of Enigma”, as well as previous contributions on the topic by the authors. They share some common traits: an analysis and critique of star-architecture considering decision-making processes, more directed toward the different TCC segments in Sklair.

5Yet, the two authors also emphasize their different approaches to the issue, reflecting both their own entry points and the transdisciplinary debate on the topic. As a milestone in the debate on the architectural turns toward iconic and sensationalized architecture in cities transformation, for instance, the 2006 special issue of “City” on the theme (vol. 10, no. 1) gathered a comprehensive collection of disciplines at stake, which included articles from architects Thielen and Jencks, geographers Kaika and McNeill; urbanists Hein and Ho, and Sklair himself. Sklair, a British sociologist based at the London School of Economics, aims at exploring and criticizing the whole capitalist global society and its culture-ideology of consumerism through the case of iconic architecture. Based on the same iconic architectures, the Italian urbanist Ponzini, working at Politecnico di Milano, engages instead with more disciplinary questions regarding the current architect’s and planner’s role in decision-making processes and the transformation of cities.

6Concerning the reader’s experience, both books provide two rigorously argued views of the societal role of star architects, their products and their ways of working. Yet, the value added when reading them in parallel is that such views do not overlap precisely, which best furnishes the ongoing debate on the globalized scopes of architectural work shaping contemporary cities, from Paris and New York to Shenzhen and Abu Dhabi, as well as on the tight knots between architects’ role and society.

Top of page

References

Bibliographical reference

Filippo Fiandanese, “Leslie Sklair, The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization | Davide Ponzini and Michele Nastasi, Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary CitiesStarchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities”Ardeth, 4 | 2019, 240-241.

Electronic reference

Filippo Fiandanese, “Leslie Sklair, The Icon Project: Architecture, Cities, and Capitalist Globalization | Davide Ponzini and Michele Nastasi, Starchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary CitiesStarchitecture. Scenes, Actors, and Spectacles in Contemporary Cities”Ardeth [Online], 4 | 2019, Online since 01 May 2020, connection on 26 October 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ardeth/588

Top of page

About the author

Filippo Fiandanese

Politecnico di Torino

Top of page

Copyright

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search