The Real Deal New York

You may not have seen it, but you will: “Starchitect” comes into verbal vogue

November 27, 2007
By Tom Acitelli

Like the appreciation on a Central Park West co-op, use of the quasi-word “starchitect” has risen in the past several months, though reputable dictionaries still keep their pages closed to it.

Dating from around the turn of the last century, the word basically describes an architect known beyond the corridors of real estate publications and brokerages, someone both academics who study architecture and plebeians who live inside it know at least in passing a Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava or Richard Meier, for instances, all of whom have projects dotting Manhattan.

It can sometimes be a compliment, sometimes be an insult.

“Starchitect,” according to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “is normally a pejorative term used to describe architects whose celebrity and critical acclaim have transformed them into idols of the architecture world. The term seems to have gained widespread currency in the first decade of the 21st century, perhaps as a result of the real estate boom.”

Starchitect has found media homes in New York, according to a search by The Real Deal, perhaps because the city has been drawing the very sort of star architect that defines the word. The New York Times has used the word once so far to describe Calatrava’s plans for the Fordham Spire in Chicago and put it in quotation marks. Other city print publications like the Post, the Daily News, the Observer, the Wall Street Journal, and New York magazine have yet to bestow such credence on starchitect, but the blogosphere has showered it with usage. (A Google search turned up 10,500 hits in less than a second.)

Curbed.com, for one, in mid-September noted the existence of “starchitect fans” in a posting about Calatrava and the late Philip Johnson; and a sister site, the Gutter, linked to a March essay on starchitects by Arthur Lidsky in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“One-time signature architects, or celebrity architects, are now called star architects, and they have a lot of fans in academe,” Lidsky wrote, noting that the first starchitect was “the Egyptian Imhotep, who built, for King Djoser, the Step Pyramid at Saggara, the precursor of the iconic pyramids at Giza.”

No word, though, on whether Imhotep had an agent to rep his star status.

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