America’s Next Top Architect?

Agbar TowerSupermodels do it.  So do singers, dancers, chefs, even jugglers.  Dozens of shows feature these people competing before judges.  Gordon Ramsay alone has four shows featuring food.  He’s on the boob tube so much one would think he has an identical twin with a full schedule too.  But here’s the thing: no viewer can actually taste what’s on the screen, so all you get are adjectives describing that taste.  Of course there are visuals, with artful plates judged for presentation.  But the primary criterion for food is nonetheless taste, and so shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef and all the other competitions produced by the Cooking Channel and the Food Network fail to deliver the primary sensory requirement the judges must use to determine the winner.  Why not a competition which actually can deliver its most vital attribute–a sense of visual style and functionality?  Such a competition, based on architecture, would not only enrich viewers appreciation of design, but it would sharpen their cultural and aesthetic senses while enthralling them at the scale to which ideas are transformed into the size of skyscrapers.  In the past decade the world has seen amazing buildings being erected throughout the world, from Dubai to Shanghai to Chicago and New York.  Such a show could tour these buildings as part of telling the judge’s stories, and so be the first time a mass audience sees them and hears from the people who dreamed them into existence.  Architecture has its stories to tell, after all.  Like novels and movies, it has its genres, too.  For horror you have gothic.  For romance you have neo-expressionism.  For science fiction you have neo-conceptualism.  The materials used are like plot structures following themes.  Plot twists are told in curves and angles.  So creating great architecture is much like creating great fiction, with even a utilitarian purpose or theme or underlying moral present.  In this way, architects have something in common with writers or movie makers, and so whether your name is Gehry, Meier, Burke, or Spielberg, you are using established conventions to create flow and purpose while bringing to bear your own unique vision.  How do glass and steel conjure imagination as do words on a page?  By pointing toward something beyond itself—something which flowers in the human mind, in a constant flux, to inspire us all through expanded horizons.  Time to call Mark Burnett or Bravo TV or PBS, and get this show on the road.  As Donald Trump put it, in building Trump Tower, “think big, and live large.”  (Instead of saying “you’re fired” to celebs trying to sell ice cream cones in Central Park, why not say “you’re hired” to the winning architect for his next building design?)   –J.L., Editor, Tower Review

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