Dallas loves the words “High-Profile” and “World-Class”. We hear it in the news time and time again, referring to new developments that will really “put Dallas on the map”. As a city we are obsessed with creating “first-rate” “icons”, gleaming objects of which we can boast. We tout the Arts District as the largest collection of buildings by Pritzker Prize winning architects. In tours and marketing materials, docents and building owners are eager to communicate that a famous architect has designed their building. But are the most prominent and highest profile architects always the better choice?
I recently read this article on ArchDaily, referencing an editorial in AR. In summary, it states that all the new high-profile projects in New York are being given to the old guard of architects and no young talent is being given a chance to take on projects of this nature. I thought I would dig a bit deeper here locally and try to examine this trend. In Dallas, it seems there is a knee-jerk reaction when the city or a developer wants to build a new building. The immediate desire is to go search the world or hold an international competition to obtain the best world class talent to design the building. The results are largely the same, a "starchitect" is hired to complete the design and the city or developer gets the elevated status that comes with hiring a big-name designer.
The problem is that the same group of starchitects have dominated the profession for quite a number of years. Granted, Many of them for good reason. All architects know it takes quite a while to establish yourself and have your design abilities come to fruition. There is most assuredly wisdom that comes with years spent in practice. However, at some point in recent history, developers, governments, and landowners were willing to take a risk and allow visionary young designers the opportunity to make their proposals into reality. They allowed their headquarters, libraries, museums, or performance venues to become a young architect’s experimental canvas.
Santiago Calatrava got his start at age 33 with a train station in Zurich. Norman Foster began work on the Sainsbury Center for Visual Arts when he was 39. Renzo Piano and Richard Rodgers collaborated on the Pompidou Center in Paris when Piano was only 34. These are all prominent and noteworthy projects that served to launch and expand the careers of these young designers.
I compiled a rough list of high profile buildings in Dallas from the past 30 years and examined the age of the architects at project completion.
The average age of the architects of the Dallas projects previously listed was 65 upon completion of each project. We are content to let the same people who have been dominating the industry for decades continue to monopolize nearly all sizeable commissions. Many small projects by young designers throughout the country are demonstrating a creativity often absent in larger commissions. We as a city could benefit greatly from offering a promising young architect or practice the opportunity to undertake one of our larger projects.
I am not advocating to give a new concert hall or skyscraper to a brand-new graduate. Some time in practice is necessary for an architect to grasp many of the realities of construction. Knowledge comes from doing, and there are plenty of young architects who have been doing quite interesting work. I believe Joshua Prince-Ramus is a good example of a young architect who produced an innovative civic structure in the Wyly Theater. But I wonder if he would have had the opportunity at all had he not been employed at OMA, buoyed by Rem Koolhaus’ superstar status.
It is my hope that when a developer or the city wants to build their next “iconic”, “world class”, or “high-profile” building, that they will not default to the global search for the most aged high profile architect. I hope they will search for the best and most innovative ideas, and consider the possibility that such ideas could come from a young capable designer, even right here in Dallas.
Note: in compiling my list of prominent Dallas buildings, I did not include projects such as the City Performance Hall or Omni Hotel, which were done by firms without a single figurehead. This list is admittedly incomplete, and was limited by what information I was able to procure from web searches. But, it is indicative of the trends in the profession.