Autistic Architecture: The Fall of the Icon and the Rise of the Serial Object of Architecture
Workaround: In current version of Panels 3.8, it seems this body field needs to be populated in order for title above to appear. This note is hidden by custom CSS style. Jack Latimer.
Over the last 30 years, a new generation of corporate architectural ‘icons’ have sprouted across the globe. These commissions are hailed as ‘iconic’ often even before they are erected, receive wide media attention, and have become the object of academic enquiry in architecture, geography, sociology and urban studies. However, as intellectual inquiry focuses on the proliferation of contemporary corporate ‘icons’, the question that Gottman (1966) posed back in 1966, i.e. whether, as the skyscraper spreads around the world it still has the same meaning and function as it had in the beginning, remains unanswered and becomes more relevant than ever. An analysis that links the proliferation of new to the banalisation of older corporate ‘icons’ is still to be undertaken.. In this contribution, I sketch an interpretative framework for interpreting this parallel process of ‘banalisation’ of old and proliferation of new ‘iconic’ corporate architecture as the Janus-faced manifestation of a qualitative shift in the relationship between capital and architecture. Highlighting the shift from place-bound, place-loyal urban elites, to footloose transnational elites, I argue that, after the 1970s, the need to develop a new set of building specifications and use-values to accommodate the requirements of the new urban economy is matched by an equally pressing need to develop a new set of symbolic values and a new radical imaginary for a new generation of transnational elites. Using Castoriadis’ analysis of the radical imaginary I conceptualise architecture as the narrativisation of the desire of elites at any given era, and argue that, if place loyalty was the driver of urban change in early 20th century, when urban tycoons funded monuments to their life and their city, it is the evasion of place loyalty alongside urban managerial practices that fuels urban renewal today. Within this context, I identify a number of siginificant differences between contemporary and earlier corporate ‘icons’ and argue that these set contemporary corporate commissions apart from the category of ‘iconic’ objects, and closer to what Baudrilliard terms ‘serial objects’. The different symbolic, material, and social role of contemporary corporate buildings, I argue, puts them into a new category, which I term Autistic Architecture.20117105