[ Editor’s Note: The following is a reader-submitted letter to the editor that ran in print edition, AN10_07.24.2013. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ]
I have been writing to publications I respect in hopes of influencing the way the profession is covered. I sincerely believe that the use of “star architects” or worse, starchitects”—which is not a word—undermines serious discourse regarding architecture and urbanism. An argument could be made that the use of any popular expression or jargon undermines the seriousness of the message; I believe it is a problematic, derogatory term that is both insulting to the architects described and to the profession in general. It doesn’t serve any real purpose except to denigrate a few individuals and to signal the “hip” or “in-the-know” sense that the journalist has of himself, except that now it communicates that the user is out-of-date. If nothing else, the expression starchitect has passed its shelf life. Unfortunately, it has begun to spread to mainstream culture along with its toxic effects.
These architects are serious, skilled individuals who are at the pinnacle of their professional careers; why use expressions that denigrate them? I have read several uses in the past week in professional journals and websites and cringe each time I come across the expression. I believe these publications are extraordinary platforms to generate discussion and influence thought. When such expressions are used commonly in articles, it sets an unfortunate tone and precedent.
The problem is not with the architects who have achieved a level of fame but the cult of celebrity that permeates our culture. It shuts out other very worthy architects and focuses on a select few that the media is complicit in favoring. Just as certain news organizations have banned the word “foreign” for the connotation that word suggests, I urge you to take a positive step and restrict or ban these terms by writers on your team. By using starchitect as a quick, easy term, it shuts out more serious discussion of the underlying issues. It comes across as something a tabloid would use and I am dismayed that so many serious journals of architecture have allowed a word that might be used at a cocktail party to slip into their writing. It also comes across as self-hating by members of the profession who use it.
Rather than be envious, why don’t we create a way of opening up the conversation to be more inclusive of other architects who are doing worthy things around the world? Rather than exclude all but a few, focus on the many. We have a select few architects who have won Pritzker Prizes and do excellent work, but there are so many others who are just as competent and deserve recognition. When journals endorse the cult of celebrity, it does a disservice to all of us.
Principal, Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects