Architecture and Rock-n-Roll are dead.


Architecture is dead…

Oh, yeah… In case you have forgotten also Rock-n-Roll is dead.  Europe is dead.  Civilization is dead… Too many bodies, don’t you think so?

Don’t worry I know how unoriginal exclamations of this sort are since Oswald Spengler’s prophecies. Unfortunately a rationale for such raw emotion is rarely provided by the authors. Thus I’ll make an attempt to bring some logic to it by comparing my beloved Architecture (which is pretty narrow field) to the Rock Music – an industry with billions of fans and enormous interest from the masses.

So let’s start.You can turn on  Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock-n-Roll is dead” as a background. You’ll enjoy the ride. Lenny always rocks.

Generally speaking from the Roman times there are two types of functioning systems: “Business” and “Show-business” (Romans fairly called it “Panem et circenses” – “Bread and circuses”).  “Business” template works fine in industrial production, high-tech, banking, retail, constructions, energy and even science. It’s called capitalism. (Lately we might have a problem, but this would be a totally separate discussion). “Show-business” model works even better for all so called entertainment industries, primarily sport, cinema and music (gladiator fights in Rome). Prior to that, main entertainment industries were called Art. But the showbiz model works so well that no one seriously considers modern cinema or a pop-music to be an art. Nowadays showbiz is omnipotent. The rest are marginal occurrences (theatre, opera, arthouse cinema, independent labels, etc…) supported by the governments or private charities. That’s the basic structure of our society and there is no field of human activities that can escape fate of rapid commercialization and further glamorization of its substance.  (I guess, TV ads are the apotheosis of it.)


Stairway to heaven

As technical progress gained momentum architecture had no other choice but to move towards commercialized model. However at the very beginning it was different kind of business comparing to the conventional capitalistic template a-la Ford’s conveyer. Architect still was a highly respectable figure with influential individualistic position (think Mies or Frank Lloyd Wright) regardless to the fiscal returns. Architect’s major concern was creative design carefully balanced between the newest building science and traditionally accepted aesthetics.

Then the ideologies of mass-production and mass-consumption kicked in. It is pointless to discuss the objective necessity of it. Obviously, 20th century (wars, population growth, scientific developments, etc.) has required new ways for the development of architectural profession. Yet, I am not so convinced that chosen path that has transformed an Art of Architecture into the architectural business (a tedious mechanical business full of standards, licenses and beaurocracy) was the only answer to the challenges of time. Nevertheless as a result we have had a dull business environment (envisioned by Corbu’s dogmatic utopias) where architects were conducting orthodox business and people were getting dull boxes of orthogonal housing. On a public front it was even worse. After stylish innovative chic of Chicago School (Architecture was still an Art) and pseudo-classical yet impressive Fascist Architectonics (Architecture served dictators’ pride) ugly brutalism of 50s-70s with those over-scaled concrete monsters was a very explicable result. That was the price Architects paid for becoming businessmen.

60s were the best years for Rock-n-Roll though. It wasn’t business yet. It was like architecture of 20s. Intelligent, melodic, bold. Funny, but the best rock ballade of all times sounds very architecturally, it’s called “Stairway to Heaven”… I think Frank Lloyd Wright would love Led Zeppelin, after all in the Guggenheim Museum he introduced pretty cool solution for such stairway…


Where the streets have no name

But rock-n-roll has changed very quickly. In the 70s it’s free hippie spirit was replaced by serious business dress-code. Producers have quickly manufactured numerous hairy clones, extravagant clowns called glam-rockers or disco stars.

By that time architecture and rock music were practically in sync:  scary brutalism has been substituted by architectural version of glam-rock – post-modernism.

Both were really “bad medicine” (remember Bon Jovi I hope?).

Yet there was a chance. In the 80-s most talented musicians as well as architects were trying to break through the rotten system. They openly challenged the fundamental rules of business. Metallica refused to produce video clips for MTV, U2 filmed live their legendary “Streets…” fighting police on the rooftops, Zaha and Libeskind were obsessed with their creative codes and artistic freedom without any fiscal constraints or construction codes. (I bet you  Lebbeus Woods could’ve shaped uber-stylish album cover for Metallica). In the early 80s amidst fake tunes of glam-disco-post-modernism those rock bands and deconstructivist architects both played real rock-n-roll. It was loud. It was angry. It was real. It was an Art, a wonderful mirage in the middle of a business desert…


Oops I did again…

Toronto, Daniel Libeskind | Bucharest, Zaha Hadid | Barcelona, Jean Nouvel


If you can’t kill’em – buy them. That’s how it works in showbiz and that’s how it worked for Architecture and Rock-n-Roll in the last decade or so. Mirage has evaporated. In the midst of business desert-like landscape of hard-working, low-paying, primitively-thinking architectural practices (which is an architectural profession today) grand figures of super-stars have been shaped. No surprise that the stars were recruited from those talented former rebels: Zaha and Libeskind sold their soul just as Metallica or U2. For architects showbiz found a catchy nick: STARchitects. STARchitects happily joined the club of their rock-pop-star buddies and began… making money. Their present projects and albums are large and noisy yet empty and soulless. The music has gone… God’s touch has gone.

Let’s be fair, those ex-nonconformists were extremely skilled artists. And even though their today’s creations are completely commercialized they are quite sound professionally. Bono has great vocals just as Libeskind has terrific imagination.

Now I would like to know “what’s the next”. I think that soon we will remember those glam-rockers and post-modernistic buildings with great sympathy, as new generation is stepping in. There are no more architectural motives in the songs. There is no music in the buildings.

The new tune is: “Oops I did again…” Frankly, don’t you think of Britney Spears seeing those latest proposals done by starchitects?


Final accord

Today there are tons of records on the web, thousands of cool bands and concerts, new high-tech gadgets make music available everywhere practically for free (please pay 99c to iTunes don’t steal)…

Architects easily produce super-precise drawings based on CAD applications; they enthusiastically design super-tall buildings. A propos nowadays we need to design and to build on a much larger scale than at any other previous period of time…

Yet as a form of art, as an exclusive intellectual position of the creator, as an independent expression of human talent Architecture is very dead. And so is Rock-n-Roll.


P.S. Enjoy it… They had no HD back then, but there was a music. Live music.


P.P.S.  Got some funny afterthought… You can read it here >>


19 Responses to “Architecture and Rock-n-Roll are dead.”
  1. David says:

    Really neat analysis. Got any links to those architecture projects? And how about listing a couple of ‘still-surviving’ non-conformists in today’s architecture? Surely, there are a few creative minds left who haven’t been bought yet. Or are they too small to ever get on the map?

  2. Michael B. says:

    I think that romanticizing early (50s-70s) R&R era as being “art” vs. today’s showbiz, is not an entirely correct stance. In particular, Led Zeppelin is a very questionable example. They were a very commercial act right from the start. (Not that it makes their music any worse). Ironically, I think there are less million-selling acts and superstars in the music today and more musical diversity then they were 10-20 years ago when everyone was watching MTV and listening to the same radio stations. The success of e-commerce and sites like Amazon & Netflix builds on this phenomenon of the long tail , where a lot of the income comes from the less popular items. You speak about this in the “Final accord”, but I disagree with your conclusion (at least on the part of R&R): R&R is not dead, and it might just be the opposite

  3. Ilana says:

    Awesome article. It reminded me of my Art History class in college – where I first learned how in every generation art reflects on what’s going on socially, economically and politically. However, I too disagree with the “total death” of architecture and quality music. I strongly believe in the “wheel of life”. There are going to be new faces bringing back what was lost. (You’re actually one such example!) Most probably it won’t be the same, but that’s not a bad thing. This can be compared to fashion. Styles always come back in an effort to create balance. If a previous style was too ostentatious, people will begin to crave simplicity; and in turn, a more austere style will surface, etc. So too in architecture, music, and so on. After having enough of commercialism in architecture people will start craving the beauty that was sacrificed which will again become a top priority. The world constantly evolves in every aspect of humanity – architecture being one of them.

  4. Adam says:

    Good piece, witty and elegant. I am sorry but I strongly agree with nearly all of the comments the author had made. Here in post-communist Europe, everyone keeps parroting the merits of a certain “green simplicity”, the utterly minimalist, “sustainable” design. In the end this naive ideal manifests in immense and brutally inhuman office blocks, where “transparency” and “trans-lucidity” wipe off every kind of intimacy (along with some fin de siecle-style historical buildings that I’m so fond of). I am not an architect but I am appalled by the phenomenon of completely uniform glass-towers mushrooming around me. If I have to find a musical reference, then I would cite Frank Zappa’s song entitled “Cheapness”. Yes, I is suitable indeed.
    I love new things. But while my city is hosting Central Europe’s greatest music festival…(bands like Muse, Radiohead, etc. perform here)… well, I can’t hear nor can I see (raising my look at the skyline) how post-modern cheapness ‘sustains’ or serves Humanity (as I perceive it in some old-fashioned way). Anyhow: I listened to Robert Plant live at Sziget festival in Budapest some three years ago, and he’s still great. I like the article, keep it up Mate! Listen to this yet, after the first line you will see how it comes to this matter:

  5. Roll says:

    Immature, unoriginal, and dimwitted rant by an arch school reject. If u did actually finish schooling, it was probably one of those no where school from insignificant geography. If u have anything with substance to say, use a medium that’s more fitting to ur cognitive handicap, like twitter or myspace.

    • Albert says:

      I doubt the person using expressions such as “school from insignificant geography” deserves any reaction. Those for whom geography (and along usually come the race, language, nationality, etc…) has a “significance”… those better to be ignored.
      I keep Roll’s post to show the world that moral bestiality & ugliness – I’m trying to condemn in my blog – exist. It’s good to see how my writing brings them to light…

  6. mynystry says:

    Rock music and architecture are not dead.

    They may seem dead for those who only watch MTV or Architectural Record, there you’ll find only “commercial rock” and “commercial architecture”.

    Seek the underground of rock, have a ride in the underground of architecture, i’m sure you´ll find some great examples that both remain Art.

    Rock and architecture are alive!

  7. Eusebia says:

    Its such as you learn my mind! You appear to know so much approximately
    this, such as you wrote the e-book in it or something. I think that you simply
    could do with a few % to pressure the message house a little bit, but other than that,
    this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

  8. Lenore says:

    Hello! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a
    quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the
    same subjects? Many thanks!

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