With every new innovation architecture is creating its own obsolescence. The race for taller, greener, more cutting edge building narrows the window of time each preceding iteration can be marveled. If every few years there is a new city chasing the Bilbao effect won’t there be a point of diminishing returns? Will tourists race to one city only to find they then have to turn around to get to another?
If it is the newness that is so exciting what happens when these iconoclastic buildings become old? Do they retain any value? Or do they quickly become passé?
This is not just the case for “it” buildings. In many parts of the US people don’t want to buy a “used,” I mean old, house. It’s like a car. There is always a newer model. So instead of maintaining, renovating and adapting their homes to their changing life circumstances, they trade up. Vast tracks of spec homes will be abandoned after they are no longer new. Instead of increasing in value these homes are losing value. As they should be actually. They are usually built of such poor quality that they are not meant to last more than 30 or 40 years. Then what happens? Are they demolished? That costs money too. Not to mention the waste. THE WASTE. That is the real issue.
We see it in fashion. The world is covered in our discarded garments. There are not enough needy people in the world to give them too, and most are of such poor quality that many don’t even want those hand-me-downs (Samson). Then there are the waste byproducts of clothing production as well as the enormous water use.
Starchitecture has been terrible for architecture and the built environment.
Every building is an ICON, so then none of them are. The explosion of architecture blogs and publications has been feeding the frenzy of consumption, with every day a new batch of exciting buildings being published online. Design is tailored to the image it will produce, the “money shot.” Because perhaps that is all that really matters in the end? Very few people will actually experience the building and very few people will care after the initial glow has worn off. The media cycle will have moved on to something else. The trend will pass and when the newness has worn off it will likely be replaced with something else.
Design and construction is moving faster and faster to keep pace with technology. But Starchitect Rem Koolhaas still laments its slowness (Koolhaas). But it is speed that is the problem. Architecture can and should not be fast and should not compete with technology. Architecture has a 3,000 year history. It is the (second) oldest profession. The Great Pyramid at Giza took 20 years to build by 100,000 workers. Chartres Cathedral was built over a period of 30 years. Both of these structures have survived more than 1,000 years and are celebrated as world treasures. That’s not likely to be the case for anything built today.