05 June 2008


Edited by Tim Anstey, Katja Grillner and Rolf Hughes. London: Black Dog Publishing. 2007

We have by now become accustomed to the fact that Richard Rogers and Frank Gehry enjoy celebrity status as household names, while every great modern building is, by necessity, attributed to the hand of an identifiable ‘master’ or office. The status of the architect, and the authority of their role, relies in no small part on this cult of personality whose influence can be seen as a symptom of the absence, for better or worse, of commonly held architectural values and principles. Of course this state of affairs is not a prerequisite to the creation of worthwhile architecture. From the sphinx to the Parthenon, the authorship of the vast majority of the monuments of the ancient world was not celebrated by their respective societies and remains unknown to us. In the twentieth century, a number of architectural theorists attempted to refocus the attention of the architectural profession and society at large away from individual authorship, most notably through Bernard Rudofsky’s study of ‘architecture without architects’ (first published in 1964), Leslie Martin’s work on the universal logic of specific forms, and Colin Rowe’s emphasis on the role of collage and the work of multiple hands.

In this engaging book, the editors attempt to answer the key question as to how the developing concept of authorship has shaped the modern architectural profession. Comprising 16 essays on such diverse case studies as the Renaissance theorist Leon Battista Alberti’s definition of rhetoric and its lasting influence on the latter-day architect’s role, to the notion of architectural creativity in Lewis Carroll’s writing, the book examines both novel and familiar material from a fresh perspective. Indeed, although Andrew Saint in his book of 1983 studied the architectural profession’s evolving status and public image from the eighteenth century to the present, this remains a neglected yet vital topic. The advent of digital media has once again called into question the role of the architect in the production of buildings and spaces, with the emergence of industrial-style construction processes which resemble car manufacture whose designers are largely unknown. Whether or not this will lead to the death of the celebrity architect and even a new era of architectural anonymity only time will tell.