What about Glamour?A cynical guide for a peepshow of urban frivolity
What happens when we are no longer entertained by the glitter of the stars, the waves of fashion, the high gossip of competitions or prizes? What happens when we lose faith in architecture itself, when we perceive it in the end as no more than a gentlemanly sport for educated minds and well-trained eyes?
Every other city we go, every other video, no matter where I go, I see the same…
The cosmetic is the new cosmic…
Glamour is the new black. The contemporary city lies as a catwalk for the showcase of sexy fetishistic architectural products (of contemporary Starchitects). Glittering facades, exclusive brand names, flashing lights and slick materials are the Botox and silicone of the glamorous twenty first century architecture and its urbanism. So what about glamour and the city?
The architecture of the spectacle has been running a hasty race for stardom. The survivors from the generation of May ’68 have finally reached the long sought stratospheric élite of high fashion and fame. In fact, this selected group of every-where-I-look-I-see-them architects has managed to fool an entire pop generation of groupies into copying the cynicism without the critique. Sous le pavé la plage has been reimbursed with an un-equivalent sous le pavé les boutiques Prada.
The plan of Modernism to exploit the Mass Media as its deus ex machina is finally accomplished. Now more than ever architecture is dependent on the power of branding and eye candy pleasures. Magazine covers, TV Shows, music videos, and movie sets have pushed architecture into the midst of a self-claimed glory. Not only has the architect seemed to be floating in the “amniotic fluid” of fashion and glamour, he (and a few exceptions of she) has become a superstar.
The Koolhaas’s, Hadid’s, Calatrava’s, Foster’s, Libeskind’s, and Gehry’s have become brand names like Chanel, Versace and Dolce and Gabbana; every global city wants its own. Architecture has become more infatuated by the centerfold images, the glitter of the papier couché, and by the flash of the cameras than by their auspicious role as agents for social change. The crux of the problem is that architects have become rock stars; the city their red carpet.
In order to understand the conditions of the architecture of glamour and its effects on the city we must update our jargon; glorify our lexicon. A new terminology has to be applied, (or at least proposed) to describe the urbanistic narcissism that has taken over the city like plastic surgery over a model’s face. Our previous database is outdated; it has expired. Therefore, the urban dictionary must be reinvented. In constant revision, never serious, these new concepts, or “disposable speculations” portray the zeitgeist of the modern grozsdtadt.
Bling Bling Urbanism- In Bling Bling Urbanism eye candy is applied on a one to one thousand scale. Removing all the layers of human evidence, it shows a surrealist alternative of a non-existent reality. Bling Bling Urbanism turns the world into an image; it is the apotheosis of synthesis and the meltdown of analysis.
Bling Bling Urbanism seduces into doing lèche vitrine on windows filled with empty urban promises. Graphically efficient we lie to ourselves in order to lie to everybody. Too far from eyesight; too distant from a critical standpoint, glamour is being grafted onto the city. Bling Bling urbanism is ornament the size of a city. From the palm tree shapes of man made islands, to the perfectly gridded urban blocks ―and superblocks, to the parametric spontaneities of software simulacra, entire shapes are being rendered over Google Earth images of toy sized cities. Glamour adds glitter to the city; Bling Bling Urbanism dazzles the spectator.
Sexy Shapes-Previously used exclusively to describe attributes that provoked sexual excitement; “sexy” is not longer attached to the human figure. After recognizing the power of iconography, sexy-man made machines are being raised with lust and desire. The more the tower twists, bends, or spread wide open, the more exposure it receives. In this world driven by paraphernalia, sexy describes it the best, and the expression is becoming ever more popular in magazines, public presentations, and even the most sacred events at the academia.
Like an adrenaline rush, lust anesthetizes our logic as we become unable to distinguish the obvious lack of content behind the sexy shapes. Incapable of identifying the repeated plot we fall in the scheme like a lover blinded by “the moment.” The scene has been set: a flock of birds flying through a sun irradiated, clean, happy sky; the joyous effect of a summer lapped by a gentle wafting fog, and in the background, sexy shapes are erected.
Bimbo Towers- Like a supermodel, high rise is getting prime broadcast time. In fact, clients are pouring obscene amounts of time, architects and money to erect towers that, like bimbo girls, look attractive but don’t confer anything else than their looks. The skyscraper is indeed the definitive typology predilection of the architecture of glamour. It has become a fetishistic silhouette of whatever is à la mode.
Erected as the objectification of a desire for virility, the bimbo towers dominate the urban skyline. Their sexy shapes have swallowed everything else that was urban ―monoliths of conceptual emptiness have substituted substance with “Junkspace”. A new race aiming to conquer the sky with
Sassy Facades- Distinctively stylish, these pretty faces create boulevards reminiscent of boutiques with exclusive brand names. Entire urban contexts are transformed into shopping malls; making every city look the same. The sassy facades are achieved through a surgical approach that operates over the urban epidermis ―no wonder that more than often they are referred to as “skins.” An overwhelming amalgamation of nicely done facades decorate our expérience psychogéographique as the city finally becomes a Debordean spectacle.
Libraries, churches, shopping malls, restaurants, supermarkets, and banks are induced into a collective camouflage of urban frivolity; a sassy make-up of sassy facades. Clinging to catch the eye of the spectator, a new urban swagger is arrogantly thrown in everybody’s face. Sassy facades offer to the pedestrian a peepshow of glamour, a private lap dance of urban chic.
Chic Interiors-This is the most intimate and perhaps exclusive part of the glamour scheme. The interiors seduce, but don’t satisfy. Identity is dropped intentionally in order to gain credibility. You are not longer able to identify the function of the place (or the purpose of it). All neon lit, chic interiors suggest you are in a hotel lobby. At the same time you could be waiting for food, for a shoe, for a book or an airplane. Typology is transfigured into ambience and environment. Not only the interiors are not exposed to the outside, but are totally “disconnected”; the air conditioner helped to emancipate the building from the city.
The Chic Interiors don’t clarify their intentions with the city, instead they blur them. They offer each visitor a retreat into a paradisiacal taste of irresistible attractions. And while they create an eternal flow of first-level visitors, the Chic Interiors could be nothing but a fifth category in the urban lexicon; lacking substance and just trying to be glamorous.
Blinded by the glittering features and exclusivity of architecture and the perfect neatness of man-made shapes, the city is about to be dead (again). Not only have we unwittingly surrendered to the luxurious life of high fashion, but we have become the ultimate manipulators of the urban avatar, the definitive cosmeticians of the city. We have turned the city into a gigantic decoration. If for Adolf Loos ornament in an architectural scale was a crime, then ornamental urbanism would have been a felony.
After so much gossip and camera flash our urbanism has turned self-conscious; we have turned the city into an anorexic model that cannot see itself in the mirror anymore. After modernism we have failed to see ourselves again as urban alchemists, not because our inability to remember previous Zarathustran efforts, but because we don’t care anymore. Our city has become a polished caricature of our worst urban cynicism.
Glamour is addictive. More and more we want more glamour, and in fact we get more glamour. The urban portrait of the 21st century reveals cities ignored for the sake of the prolific production of architectural artifacts. The mountains of Styrofoam models grow at the same speed that the stack of pages of architectural publications. The servers are full of speculative figurations; we show videos of our projects in development, of our buildings in construction. We are the architectural voyeur, the glamorous exhibitionists. The architectural “process” has enhanced the spectacle by letting it all be exposed.
We have become unable to do anything if it doesn’t become a spectacle. We want every image of every attempt, however futile or sterile, to become a tool for propaganda. We get satisfied not by how much substance we have built, but by how many publications we have been featured in; by how much prizes we have won. The potential of Glamour has been a miscarriage; a tool undermined. Used by the modernists to gain credibility for their ambitious vision of a brave new world, Glamour never really reached its climax. Instead, we have eroded all its potential; stopped its initial momentum. Glamour has been banalized. It has passed from a spontaneous opportunity to address an issue to an opportunistic overload of paraphernalia. Never before have we been so infatuated by the strass et paillettes of the glamorous world of Architecture with a capital A.
Luis Fernandez-Galiano asked in a soul tearing note what happens when we lose faith in architecture? What happens when the glamour issue is over and we are left standing “empty-handed” and “empty-minded” in front of a vanishing audience? Are we then to assume responsibility for what has been intentionally irresponsible? Or are we to surrender to a Mephistophelean seduction and find more ways to polish the mirrors of our narcissistic profession?
The reality check is imminent; the dream is over. We have all been shouting insipid slogans hoping they will turn into a manifesto; a contemporary urban gospel. The recent economic crisis just showed that the bubble of the architectural crisis bursted long time ago; long before Wall Street. We have been constructing ideological edifications on artificial foundations. The only coherent statements have come when we claim that we don’t make statements anymore.
A young generation of architects is left a midst the crisis of the crisis. If between architecture and the city the relationship is often problematic, then between glamour and architecture the problem has been cancelled, subtracted, since there is not intellectual dialectic anymore. We keep on trying the same formula with stubborn perseverance enforcing an opportunistic amnesia that erases the memories of a post-Bilbao glamour breakdown. We don’t recognize that while the covers of fashion magazine help promote the image of individual architects, it does very little to help the entire profession, and much less to contribute to the development of the city. Glamour has enlarged the architect to become bigger than his architecture, and his architectures to outsize the city.
An arrogant and egocentric approach towards the city has reduced the possibilities of discovering alternatives to the problems we have created. The frivolous search for glamour has turned the city into a distorted apotheosis of Rem Koolhaas’s The City of the Captive Globe (1972). In it the sensationalistic pleasure of the hedonistic mind has run out of proportion, obstructing the construction of artificial conceptions and births of theories and making it impossible for the self-centered architectures to breed on a globe which, no longer being within their attention has vanished from their captivity.
In the post-glamour city where looks don’t deceive anymore, and where nobody looks at the covers of the magazines, only those who were brave enough to reinvent themselves and maintain critical distance from the intoxicating aroma of the glamour will be the ones who can attempt to rescue the city, and perhaps the globe. Meanwhile, in the contemporary city the fashionable offerings keep on being dumped on top of the urban substance. Architecture is still a self-conscious profession that hides behind cosmetics, and the “big” and the “powerful” are still using the Glamour as a tool of self-promoting propaganda. It is time for us to wonder what will happen when the fireworks are finished and the smoke clears; will the city (or the Globe) still be there? ■
Debord Unlimited: The frivolous peepshow