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I am not exactly sure where I should begin on this subject. I guess by just saying that Pharrell Williams, the singer everyone knows from Daft Punk’s massive summer hit “Get lucky”, is designing a prefabricated house with Zaha Hadid.

It must have all started in 2005 when he was voted the world’s best dressed man by Esquire magazine (even though the award should probably be given to his stylist because I am sure he had one). I think that this success led him to believe that design was his true calling thus he started producing some chairs and other objects along with a clothing line. It is known that Pharrell has not received any sort of formal education in design, which might seem irrelevant to many.

Pharrell and Zaha pictures from Wikipedia

Pharrell and Zaha pictures from Wikipedia

At this point let me share with you that due to my architectural training I have a very stable hand and that I am additionally a huge fan of medical shows. Deep inside I always dreamt of being a surgeon and I have not yet given up on the hope that one day I will take a scalpel and cut someone open. According to the omnipotence of branding in our culture today, I guess going to medical school for a couple of decades could be skipped. If I were hugely famous like Pharrell is, I would be able to convince everyone that I do not have to study in order to be a good surgeon. I guess some starstruck teenager with a death wish would surely agree to let me cut into them.

This seemingly absurd analogy is not nearly as absurd as one might think. In places struck often by earthquakes like my home country Greece, architects train to be engineers as well. There are also laws that can throw us in jail if a building we design collapses, because architects do hold the lives of people who live or work in their buildings into their hands. Architectural students in most universities that I know of, go through arduous training that tests their intentions. This is done to educate them but also to strengthen their convictions and theories on which their designs are based on. This process is very psychoanalytical and most of us question ourselves and ours skills at one time or another. To be frank I think we should never stop to contemplate whether we have what it takes to make an addition to the built environment. I strongly believe that if the hint of humility that instigates this question of ethics disappears, all that we are left with is a horrible thirst for posthumous glory. Or even the vanity that architects have the power to build the world for the simple folk to live in. After all god is mentioned as the Great Architect in the bible!

Going back to Pharrell and an interview I read on his collaboration with Zaha in “Hyperbeast” (read it here), I was even more outraged to find out that he believes there is no difference between music and architecture other than the materials one uses. I cannot even find the words to express how generic and utterly naïve (I am being very kind in my choice of words) I find this quote. This statement truly does not signify anything. How can music notes be compared to bricks? I guess in a very poetic and symbolic way. But we all know that buildings that put roofs over peoples’ heads are real, not symbolic. They are as real as the food we eat, otherwise we would be fed with music.

I could go on for days but let me close by saying that Pharrell is not satisfied with designing any house (not even his own house) he dreams of. He wants to design a prefabricated house, which means a house for mass production. How about that for an illusion of grandeur? Not only he will decide on how one person lives but he actually has an opinion on how ALL people should live! And Zaha is there to facilitate his dream of producing humanity’s ultimate dwelling as I am sure she believes in him and his unique talent and not because she wants his extreme pop-stardom to rub off onto her.

And here I rest my case, having witnessed the architect’s true death. May he/she RIP

riparchit

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The reviews for the OMA/Progress exhibition at the Barbican have been quite positive and this can be easily justified . The layout is rather unique, mainly because it was curated by the Belgian collective Rotor and their non-architectural point of view is certainly refreshing. Their goal was to make the exhibition accessible to the general public and not just to architects. Even though the choice of exhibits is quite unconventional and one is intrigued  to figure out the architects’ rational (or is it the curator’s way of thinking?) it does imply that there is an aura of genius around anything that OMA is involved with. This might possibly explain why we need to read with religious piety hundreds of emails OMA exchanged with their clients, or see random snapshot of their computer screens. Even trivial things seem important …is this what makes them so wonderful? Or is it the fact that they feel confident enough to publicise without editing  thoughts, documents and possible mistakes?

Actually the publication of private office information does not help that much the visitor  to grasp the whole  ‘work in progress’ idea . It rather seems to be an expression of an architect’s inflated ego (an unfortunate occupational hazard) that urges them to show off in a childlike manner. Not to mention the advantages of advertising and most importantly the establishment of OMA as a ‘brand’ which does not stand out because of a specific design style but through their ‘special’ approach in solving architectural problems . Nevertheless there is something unique about this architectural practice. What is special about OMA  is featured quite explicitly in the exhibition and it is a sort of old-school approach and devotion towards the architectural synthetic  procedure.

It is obvious that they take the time to experiment on materials and models, when other practices have hardly produced any physical scale models since 3D CAD was invented. Apparently it costs too much and offers too little. Still the building materials on display (often developed and patented by the practice) along with the substantial number of models remind us something OMA know well. That architecture is an art and it ‘speaks’ its own language, the elements of which are those mundane tiles and bricks and the possible ways of experimenting with them.  OMA  do take the time and the risk to step into unknown territories and find new ways to speak the architectural language, even if at times they fall into the trap of believing they speak it better than anyone else.

As far as the aesthetics of their architectural idiom or the ethics of their practice are concerned, the exhibition offers loads of material for the visitors to make up their own minds. After all, one thing OMA cannot be accused of, is being afraid of criticism. Any publicity is good publicity.

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