A critique of prominent architects’ approach to digitally driven design and labor practices over the past two decades
With the advent of revolutionary digital design and production technologies, contemporary architects and their clients developed a taste for dramatic, unconventional forms. Seeking to amaze their audiences and promote their global brands, “starchitects” like Herzog & de Meuron and Frank Gehry have reaped substantial rewards through the pursuit of spectacle enabled by these new technologies. This process reached a climax in projects like Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao and the “Bilbao effect,” in which spectacular architectural designs became increasingly sought by municipal and institutional clients for their perceived capacity to enhance property values, which author Pedro Fiori Arantes calls the “rent of form.”
Analyzing many major international architectural projects of the past twenty years, Arantes provides an in-depth account of how this “architecture of exception” has come to dominate today’s industry. Articulating an original, compelling critique of the capital and labor practices that enable many contemporary projects, Arantes explains how circulation (via image culture), consumption (particularly through tourism), the division of labor, and the distribution of wealth came to fix a certain notion of starchitecture at the center of the industry.
Significantly, Arantes’s viewpoint is not that of Euro-American capitalism. Writing from the Global South, this Brazilian theorist offers a fresh perspective that advances ideas less commonly circulated in dominant, English-language academic and popular discourse. Asking key questions about the prevailing logics of finance capital, and revealing inconvenient truths about the changing labor of design and the treatment of construction workers around the world, The Rent of Form delivers a much-needed reevaluation of the astonishing buildings that have increasingly come to define world cities.