Magoosh GRE

HR Dissertation – Iconicity and hubris

| January 16, 2017


This paper outlines the importance of iconicity and hubris in the context of modern architecture. Significant applications of the phenomenon identified as Starchitects and their contribution to developing a new mode of architecture are presented in this study. The main objective of the study is to explore the failures of iconic buildings created by Starchitects, by focusing on various aspects including economical and political, social and ethical, and environmental and evolutionary. In order to meet these research objectives, the researcher uses non-empirical research method in the sense of collecting relevant information from secondary resources. The most important conclusion presented in the study is that iconic buildings are perceived as egocentric representations of the improperly constructed ambitions of Starchitects.

Chapter 1: Introduction

            In the 21st century, global developers have demonstrated their strong willingness to use the potential of Starchitects in order to create monumental buildings. The boom of Starchitects in modernity can be explained with the rapid process of globalisation as well as economic progress and development (Marshall, 2000). Designs of such architects are usually perceived as iconic dominated by extensive visibility and unique characteristics that contribute to the appeal of these buildings. It has been argued that the use of Starchitects is an innovative way to expand tourism in different sites across the world. The design of prestige buildings around the world has been marked by the simple idea to make a difference in producing specific landmarks for cities (King, 1990). The motives for the establishment of particular landmarks adhere to the specificity of Starchitects who are a product of their sponsors and organisations, which actively seek to present continuous innovation in the architectural field. Different examples of iconic buildings can be found globally, such as the Imperial War Museum North (2002) based in Greater Manchester, UK, and the Seattle Central Library (2004) based in Washington, US. Similar buildings have been highly criticised since the time of their construction. This implies the existence of controversies surrounding some of the most famous buildings around the world especially at modern times.

Perceived as an attitude, modernity can coexist with traditional architectural patterns. Modernity is mainly concerned with transformation of the present and tries to ensure such an aspect in emblematic buildings. Modern architectural patterns as evident in the pieces created by Starchitects implement the latest in composite materials and composite structural technology (Marshall, 2000). Accordingly, the growth of the cities has generated the needs for the incorporation of all the elements that define a developing civilisation, allowing them to seek out identity in the infrastructural resources that are found within them and their capability to communicate with others and represent themselves in international entrepreneurial matters (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009). While the development of the architectural landmarks creates the possibility of increasing the tourism attraction to the sites, expositions and events are necessary to highlight and showcase these developments thus creating a means of investment for the local authorities and foreign investors.

The main aim of the study is to provide a relevant understanding of the aspects of iconicity and hubris as applied to the work of Starchitects. The following objectives have been outlined for the study:

  • To outline the economic and political failures of iconic buildings;
  • To discuss the impact of social and ethical failures of iconic buildings;
  • To present environmental (urban & natural) failures of iconic buildings;
  • To explore the relevance of evolutionary perspectives

Chapter 1 is introduction and sets the context for the present study. Chapter 2 is the literature review providing adequate information relating to the explored topic in the thesis. Chapter 3 outlines the research methodology used in the study. Chapter 4 consists of research findings, discussion and analysis of findings. Chapter 5 concludes the study and provides specific recommendations pertaining to the main research questions and objectives.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Three important subject matter terms identified in this thesis are Starchitects, iconicity and hubris. A Starchitect is referred to as an architect who is quite famous as a result of the high-profile creations being presented by him or her to the public (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009). Iconicity is a term relating to the specific characteristics of an icon or something emblematic in the context of architecture (Glendinning, 2012). Hubris indicates a high level of self-assurance and thus is identified as extensive pride or self-confidence.

In a book by Glendinning (2012), the focus is on the pitfalls of global modernism demonstrated in the creation of various architectural buildings globally. The main argument introduced by the researcher is that architecture has been apparently spectacularised, which has led to alienated architectural pieces and individuals. It has been indicated that the so-called iconic buildings have insignificant social and historical integrity, implying that the aspect of iconicity has been replaced by triviality that shows inappropriate identified architectural objectives (Jacobs, 1961). The type of iconic buildings created by famous Starchitects has expanded criticism in recent years, as outlined by Glendinning (2012). These buildings have been presented as competing for attention on the skyline and in the mass media. Similarly, Sudjic (2005) indicates doubts in the authenticity and properly intended purpose of iconic buildings.

Moreover, researchers have considered iconicity as a distinct type of architectural tourism, which reflects in buildings intended for urban travel destinations (Specht, 2014). Kent (2010) implies that architecture’s status has been changed from iconic to extraordinary in the process of exploring architectural buildings’ effect on a sense of place. Such a sense has been explored by Rybczynski (2008) with a focus on the Bilbao effect or the Bilbao anomaly representing a costly iconic failure. The Bilbao effect, as shown in an article by Martin (2013), creates controversies and thus the researcher presents a warning about the perceived negative impact of Starchitects’ iconic buildings on local cities and states.

Iconic architecture has been identified as a substantial failure, as argued in an article by Romaniuk (2010). The author of the research has presented convincing arguments relating to the manipulation of the mass media trying to create a desirable vision of iconic architecture. Such manipulation is evident in emotionally charged architectural projects including the Freedom Tower for Ground Zero (Romaniuk, 2010). It has been argued that the decline of belief and the extensive growth of pluralism have led to the emergence of iconic buildings that are unable to fulfil the objectives of authentic iconography (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009). In addition, the legitimacy of identifying particular buildings as iconic can be judged with time, disregarding the mass media’s projected implications of successful architectural buildings solely based on sociological and financial profitability. Based on the major studies presented in the literature review, it can be concluded that buildings should be constantly assessed in terms of the values with which they are associated.

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

The type of research methodology used in this study is non-empirical research design, which is suitable to explore the relationship between iconicity and hubris. Arguments are based on evidence and credible opinion provided in secondary resources (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2006). The major aspect relating to non-empirical research is the focus on data previously gathered by researchers in the field of architecture rather than gathering a new set of data. This research framework is often associated with the purposes of humanities and natural philosophy. One of the most important elements of this type of research methodology, as applied in the present study, is review of existing literature as the focus is to provide sufficient arguments in order to accomplish the previously stated research objectives (MacNealy, 1998). The systematic review of existing literature on the subject implies not only prior knowledge and adequate research skills but also ability to use a distinct form of meta-analysis in an attempt to reach conclusions which are important for the study.

It has been noted that non-empirical research analysis suggests a significant amount of varying interpretations of the information obtained from secondary resources. A strong sense of intellectual inquiry is essential in this type of research because the process of acquiring knowledge is accomplished through valid critical and analytical interpretations of the research material (MacNealy, 1998). In fact, it is important to emphasise on the reinterpretation of consolidated information on the issues of iconicity and hubris within the new framework presented in this study. Thus, critical reflection is part of non-empirical research analysis, which is demonstrated in the present research. There is a solid focus on propositions for theory relating to the iconic dimensions of modern buildings across the world (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2006). The development of a particular approach to the present study is a well-structured process that starts with the identification of a focal issue, in particular the exploration of iconicity and hubris including their impact on the perception of emblematic buildings created by Starchitects.

Once the first step outlined in the research approach is completed, it is important to move into a direction of identifying key forces contributing to a better interpretation of the research problem. The researcher is expected to postulate such driving forces as well as to present the factors that have been considered the most significant for the completion of the research (Deleeuw et al., 2010). In addition, it is anticipated that systemic logic should be used to present critically the major arguments obtained from secondary resources. The final step of the presented research approach is to submit the entire research to critical consideration (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2006). It can be concluded that the acquisition of non-empirical knowledge can facilitate the process of obtaining relevant information, which would further expand the research to a new stage in the sense of providing an adequate answer and explanation to the research question.

Chapter 4: Research Findings & Discussion and Analysis of Findings

            The main research findings obtained from the critical evaluation of secondary resources are grouped in different subsections of this chapter in order to focus on emerging aspects relating to iconicity and hubris in a more direct manner.

Economical and Political Instances/ Cases of Failure

            A significant research finding demonstrated in this study is that of the impact of creating iconic buildings on the economy. Specific cases indicating hubris refer to Calatrava and Valencia, as Valencia has been recognised as a city of arts and sciences. Starchitects’ sense of hubris is evident in these cases and comes to show that architecture has entered a new mode of development. Although praised by some and rejected by others, the emblematic buildings created by Starchitects imply a substantial amount of efforts invested in presenting the philosophy of iconicity in architecture (Glendinning, 2012). According to Martin (2013), the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao serves as a relevant example of how iconicity has been used as a substantial indicator to measure the direct impact on the economy. It can be suggested that the creation of iconic buildings around the world, such as in locations in Saudi Arabia, Australia, Albania and Brazil, has raised the question of the perceived economic effect of similar activities (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009). The dimension of commercialisation cannot be disregarded, as the sole motivating factor behind the so-called iconicity and hubris can be found in the idea of generating substantial profits from architectural tourism, which is dominated by emblematic building. Another essential aspect can be also indicated in terms of considering Starchitects’ intention to fill vast spaces, but this tends to create a negative effect among some individuals.

According to researchers, the hostage of international mega events is one of the most powerful tools that a city can use for show-casting of resources and development, as well as the development of architectural identities that have come to be defined within the industry as ‘destination images’ (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009). In this context, specific contemporary events have come to be synonymous with commercial rivalry between cities as well as the transnational environment, as different regions struggle to attract more investors and consumer spending. In light of this, with the increase in pressure for the cities to expand their entrepreneurial stance as they aim at increasing their attraction to mobile capital, the cities have to make considerations on their investments. It would be less economical for them to carry out development if they are not going to realise monetary gain after the renovations. Strong competition is existent within most of today’s cities-the competition being amongst the city investors themselves as well with other cities that may wish to host different events and expositions that are aimed at increasing the economic wellbeing of the region. For this reason, the completion of iconic buildings by Starchitects has increased from the regional and local scenes, stemming into international and global scales and requiring the integration of the political, social and infrastructural frontiers (Glendinning, 2012). Accordingly, the growth of the cities has generated the needs for the incorporation of all the elements that define a developing civilisation, allowing them to seek out identity in the infrastructural resources that are found within them and their capability to communicate with others and represent themselves in international entrepreneurial matters (Martin, 2013). While the development of the architectural landmarks creates the possibility of increasing the tourism attraction to the sites, expositions and events are necessary to highlight and showcase these developments thus creating a means of investment for the local authorities and foreign investors.

For the most part, the mere presence of a beautiful square or a religious monument within a city cannot be enough for the modern city. In order to gain recognition as a modern city of the 21st century, a large portfolio of architectural development projects is necessary so increase the output, aesthetics and general appeal of the city to the outside world, as it is illustrated in the case of iconic buildings (Glendinning, 2012). The portfolio includes various strategies that are used by the local development councils in increasing the architectural resources found within the premises as well as the input by multinational organisations within this development in lieu of the rules that are used by Starchitects. As growth is experienced in today’s cities, individuals can witness how similar design implementations are used in different cities, with transformations of the existent architectures aiding in the provision of superiority and identity (Marshall, 2000). The last two decades have seen the rise of the ‘megacity’ phenomenon, with small scale and often ‘off the grid’ cities being uplifted to city stardom through the regeneration of existent architectures and the inclusion of socio-cultural events around the creation of these resources. As global cities develop, cultural and communal events have been moved to these venues creating a sense of appreciation for their existence and a need for their improvement.

Another finding that emerged from the research is that iconic buildings are perceived as a powerful tool to redefine the economical and political image of cities and countries in which they are constructed (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009). The economic impact of these buildings has been extensively considered in order to present adequate conclusions about the state of regional economies. It cannot be denied that the presence of many iconic buildings in different locations across the world has improved the economic well-being of residents. Based on the results obtained from conducting non-empirical research, it can be argued that there are both cases of economical and political successes and failures associated with the construction of iconic buildings. This finding is confirmed in a research by Reutskaja and Nueno (2009) who provide evidence of the positive impact on employment in the region due to the emergence of iconic buildings and the essential element of hubris attached to them. The construction of such buildings is directly linked with the creation of a substantial number of jobs in different countries as well as greater contribution to the local government budgets in terms of taxes and duties. Another positive economic impact is related to additional employment in manufacturing processes for organisations that are responsible for the construction of iconic buildings. However, the negative economic effects of the erection of emblematic buildings should not be ignored (Rybczynski, 2008). For instance, a significant economic drawback is associated with the higher fees that are usually charged by Starchitects, indicating their egocentric factors of motivation used in the construction of similar buildings. A consideration of the challenges of cost estimations and over-budgeting should be considered in order to determine the precise economical and political impact of iconic buildings.

Social & Ethical Instances/ Cases of Failure

            The representation of iconic buildings has been also linked with specific social and ethical implications. There are extensive examples that indicate hubris of the involved Starchitects. These are Zaha Hadid’s Qatar Stadium and Patrik Schumacher’s rant at 2014 architecture biennale. It appears that the mentioned buildings carry out the ‘pride’ of their creators in terms of involved efforts to make a lasting impression on the public. Moreover, it has been discovered that the aspect of public alienation is among the main factors contributing to the increasing social and ethical instances of failed iconic buildings. Starchitects have been identified as losing their appeal because they have consistently adhered to the philosophy of constructing architectural buildings of excess (Glendinning, 2012). As a result, it frequently appears that architectural design of certain buildings around the world is dominated by excessive elements, which create an irrelevant perception among people. The present study also indicated that architecture is in a new era of development in the sense of focussing on the possibilities that technology has to offer. Yet, this raises the question whether such modern architecture succeeds in serving the needs of humanity (Kent, 2010). The answer to this question is complex considering the multiple effects created by the specific line or mode of architecture followed by Starchitects. However, it can be stated that architecture apparently emerges as an art that cannot be avoided by any means.

An ethical instance of failed iconic buildings is related to the morality and controversy of such pieces of modern architecture. For example, Patrik Schumacher was accused of being motivated by an aspect identified as ‘misguided political correctness’. It has been argued that architects should try their best not to confuse architecture and art. A relevant finding revealed in this context is that architecture is actually found in charge of the specific form of the built environment (Glendinning, 2012). It is important to emphasise that one of the major duties of architects in contemporary society is to deliver a strong aspect of social justice. However, it should be indicated that Starchitects’ works have raised a series of ethical and moral concerns (Martin, 2013). In Qatar, migrant workers died at a stadium which is currently under construction, as this intensifies social anxiety and fear relating to the purpose and means utilised by Starchitects in their egocentric representations found in modern buildings. It has been claimed that architects are not responsible for the death of these migrant workers, but the question of the moral and ethical parameters of such iconic buildings still remains persistent in the minds of individuals.

Environmental and Evolutionary Instances/ Cases of Failure & Evolutionary Perspectives

            The issue of discussing Starchitects’ hubris reflects in numerous examples, such as Lloyds building and Calatrava & Valencia. The main aspect that was revealed in the study from an environmental perspective is that of the creation of defective masterpieces of architecture. It can be argued that such architectural creations have been resulted of the over-ambition of Starchitects (Glendinning, 2012). The example of Lloyd’s of London as anticipating leaving its iconic headquarters clearly illustrates the assumption of environmental failure. In fact, it has been indicated that the major problem with this building is its exposure to the elements making it an extremely costly structure (Martin, 2013). Cases of failure like this one point out that the technological advances of modern architecture have outpaced the simple ability of Starchitects to adeptly utilise them. The failure of emblematic buildings to meet strict functional requirements is indicative of their inappropriate environmental impact. Another example of a failed iconic building, as seen through the environmental lens, is seen at Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences complex in Valencia. Only eight years after the completion of this project, certain parts of the construction started falling off. Such an instance of architectural failure confirms major findings outlined in the literature review section regarding the failures of contemporary iconic buildings (Reutskaja and Nueno, 2009; Romaniuk, 2010).

The research findings indicated that both architects and developers are extensively focussed on erecting icons, but the results frequently turn out in a negative direction. The ambitions of Starchitects seemed to have contributed to the emergence of inappropriately maintained pieces of architecture in modernity (Romaniuk, 2010). In this sense, it can be argued that the architectural fabric is completely disregarded by Starchitects. Yet, a main problem created with iconic buildings is that they often produce one-lined response, which has become rather problematic for the entire functioning of the cities where these buildings are situated. Assessing the environmental impact of iconic buildings is a complex process relating to the interrelations of factors such as place, function and history (Rybczynski, 2008). Based on the research findings outlined in this study, it is important to state that iconic buildings have completely changed their status in the sense that people more and more start abandoning the idea of iconicity attached to similar pieces of modern architecture. The negative environmental impact of emblematic buildings cannot be ignored in the discussion of the ambitions of Starchitects and how those ambitions reflect in the buildings constructed by them. Changing the status of Starchitects’ buildings from iconic to extraordinary one is indicative of the way the public has altered its perceptions regarding the contributions of modern-day architects.

Chapter 5: Conclusion and Recommendations

This paper explored the implications of iconicity and hubris relating to architectural pieces created by Starchitects. Numerous aspects associated with this issue have been thoroughly investigated to include different perspectives and instances of hubris, such as economical and political instances of failure, social and ethical instances as well as environmental instances of how the concept of iconicity in modern architecture has been unsuccessful. It has been concluded that these architectural creations are merely economically and socially disruptive egocentric representations of the irrelevant ambitions manifested by Starchitects. The study illustrated how these emblematic constructions built by Starchitects have presented main failures with long-term social and ethical implications (Glendinning, 2012). As a result, it was demonstrated that the creations of Starchitects cannot be perceived anymore as iconic, as the aspect of iconicity has been simply replaced by so-called extraordinary dimensions of perceiving similar buildings (Martin, 2013).

The research method used in this study referred to the framework of non-empirical research analysis, which has been found suitable to meet the study’s main aim and objectives. This type of method allowed for greater flexibility in exploring specific concepts related to the impact of iconicity and hubris on the development of modern architecture (Sudjic, 2005). Moreover, the study identified that architecture has entered into a new stage of development with both positive and negative aspects that should be discussed thoroughly to understand the specific impact of Starchitects’ ambitions (Glendinning, 2012).

However, certain limitations can be identified for the present study. The major limitation refers to the use of non-empirical research method. Instead, the researcher could have utilised empirical research method that could have contributed to achieving greater credibility and reliability of research findings (MacNealy, 1998). Another limitation relates to the specific literature that has been selected for obtaining results. Broader literature could have been used to cover the main arguments illustrated in the study (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2010).

In terms of recommendations, it is essential to note that the explored subject is quite complex and thus requires the implementation of multiple perspectives to understanding the wide array of impacts relating to the architectural works of Starchitects. Thus, it is recommended to conduct an in-depth primary research involving modern architects from different countries, as they can provide insightful suggestions regarding the development of a modern era in architecture (Glendinning, 2012). This recommendation also indicates a solid focus on including suggestions for future research in the field in order to bring the topic of iconicity and hubris of architectural buildings to new horizons of research exploration (Martin, 2013). A potential subject that may be investigated in a future research refers to people’s opinion on the impact of iconic buildings for the long-term development of their cities.



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Romaniuk, O. (2010). Failure of Iconic Architecture. Living Space [online]. Available at: [Accessed on: 18 Oct. 2014].

Rybczynski, W. (2008). When Buildings Try Too Hard. The Wall Street Journal [online]. Available at: [Accessed on: 18 Oct. 2014].

Specht, J. (2014). Architectural Tourism: Building for Urban Travel Destinations. Wiesbaden: Gabler.

Sudjic, D. (2005). Can We Still Believe in Iconic Buildings? Prospect Magazine [online]. Available at: [Accessed on: 18 Oct. 2014].

Yanow, D. and Schwartz-Shea, P., eds. (2006). Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

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