MArch Unit 18: Fading Stars. Pascal Bronner & Thomas Hillier

MVRDV, The Imprint

This year Unit 18 will explore the impact of today’s celebrity and social media culture on the built environment and beyond. Ever-increasingly, architects, through decision or client recommendation, are as concerned with getting virtual likes as they are with the actual usability and longevity of a designed space. Like the superficial world of today’s celebrity or influencer, architecture is often seen as a front, a hollow façade that that can be reduced to a single image to provide the perfect backdrop for a tweet or Instagram post. Clients write briefs with this notion in mind, and architects happily comply by ‘curating’ pastel coloured renders, with lush trees that conveniently cover the ugly parts, whilst highlighting the Instagram moments.

Architecture and the selfie go hand in hand in today’s society. In 2017, the Museum of Ice Cream, designed purely to quench the thirst of Instagrammers, was the sixth ‘Most Instagrammed Museum in the United States.’ Artist and designer Sebastian Errazuriz calls these architectures ‘prop-art’, where a building becomes a prop or background that is never actually experienced, like a digital Bilbao effect or a simplified 21st century version of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s “ducks” versus “decorated sheds” from Learning From Las Vegas. One must ask the question, with thousands of architectural selfies and tweets pinging our phones daily, do we actually need to visit buildings anymore? Will the reality only disappoint?

We will investigate the evolution of celebrity and fame as an indicator for the changing face of the built environment. From the athletes of Ancient Greece to the gladiators of Rome to the celebrities earning $800,000 from a single Instagram post. From the Coliseum to the #Beautifulhome. Our current digital revolution has no doubt changed the culture of celebrity, with the ‘Instagram Influencer’ becoming an increasingly common aspirational career path. It would only take Kylie Jenner 40 Instagram posts to match Daniel Craig’s £31 million salary for two James bond films.

Celebrity culture is an inescapable part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not. We are bombarded with gleeful news and lavish images advertising the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The impact this might have on the architecture that surrounds us may not be immediately evident, but there is no doubt that the young ‘grammers’ of today will become tomorrow’s clients, setting architects digitally inspired briefs for the ultimate ‘gram’. It is inevitable that the filtered world these digital platforms offer will have a huge impact on these future clients perception of beauty and success, asking the question, what kind of built environment will they want to live in?

But social media fame is often short lived, and buildings, designed with this in mind, will find it hard to stand the test of time. Will these pastel-shaded, flimsy facades peel away to reveal a more macabre world around us?