The final day of the conference had two main speakers. I unfortunately missed the full presentation from the first speakers Atelier Bow-Wow, a Tokyo firm consisting of Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kajima. Though working with them at the Master class will provide some opportunity to gain insight into their way of thinking, I'm hoping.
Architecture as commodity...
Ghanian born, David Adjaye was possibly one of the most publicised speakers due to present at the conference, and his work definitely reflected the appropriate hype, though I think it lacks the humility and sensitivity of the work of Rahul Mehrotra and Joe Osae-Addo. He has developed a high profile and reputation as an architect and has thus acquired some weighty commissions, which have provided him with a lot of creative and intellectual freedom. The question that begs is, what opportunity is there for architects who are still making their way in the world to express themselves on similar canvasses? Indeed I found his approach to come from a decidedly western, first world stance, where the subtleties of the developing world are simply not adequately understood. He is in a priviledged position and I appreciate the intellectual integrity, theoretical rigour and artistic expression that comes out in his architectural language, but I wonder whether his architecture hasn't become a commodity - a formula.
He says that he doesn't have a signature style (in the Frank Gehry sense) but he has found that there are about twelve "tropes" that he has been exploring and developing over his career so far - the "building within a building" for example, seen in the Francis Gregory library, Washington, USA. There is no doubt (in my mind) that his buildings are beautifully crafted objects that are works of art as well as architecture. Though they seem to be missing the essential "spirit of place" that is the essence of Mehrotra's work. The buildings are self referential as opposed to "softening thresholds" (Mehrotra's term).
Who are the starchitects?
I managed to ruffle his tail feathers during our interview when I asked him what he thought about being labelled a "Starchitect". I heard this term for the first time several years ago in Architectural Review and since then the term has surely made its way into the dictionary. Adjaye says that the term is essentially derogatory and though, after the fact I had a lively conversation with some colleagues on the topic who disagreed, I have often used the word myself in a somewhat derogatory manner. To me it speaks of celebrity architects that develop their style into a brand so that a client will ask for a building by...so-and-so because they know that it will look a certain way. And then the architectural "style" of the architect is applied as a dressing that doesn't necessarily respond to the sensitivities of site, location, etc. It's a complex topic, and though I think that each of Adjaye's buildings stand with their own unique architectural integrity, the more I thought about, the more I was convinced that he is actually a starchitect whether he likes it or not. Not in the sense that he makes precocious applique architecture, but in the sense that it is self proclaimed architecture, slightly arrogant and not entirely underivative. And he is a true celebrity - charming, handsome, well-spoken - its not surprising why. Even the way the interviews were being conducted in such an "official" manner I felt as if I was interviewing the president!
My day at the conference didn't end there as I went on a walking tour called "Reclaiming Camissa" with architect and historian Caron van Zyl. A completely fascinating look at original water sources and systems in ye olde Cape Town which had me at one point wading in my jeans though thigh-deep water (300 ecoli count which is apparently undrinkable but perfectly safe) in one of the old spring chambers in Vredehoek. I also enjoyed taking some interesting pictures of the city from a different perspective. They'll be up in a photo journal shortly.
On the whole, I have been overwhelmed by this conference. It has come at a time when I really needed an inspirational injection and I'm coming alive again and getting excited about all sorts of crazy project ideas. One more day at the Masterclass tomorrow - its not over yet!