With all the twisted towers and vanity projects going up in the Middle East and China right now, one might conclude that “brand architecture”—that is, when developers choose to import a big industry name over all others to formalize their corporate aspirations—is most prevalent in Asia.
But one only has to look to Europe to see that this is indeed a global trend. The latest offenders: usual-suspects Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind, who, along with Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, are taking over a large chunk of Milan.
The new complex in question: Citylife, a new residential and business district in the historic Fiera Milano neighborhood. Its developers (CityLife SpA) have shamelessly used the celebrity architects involved to front its glossy advertising campaign.
Nevermind that the three towers forming the centerpiece of this contrived master plan are terrifyingly banal. Worse, or perhaps just more crassly, CityLife has chosen to brand its “outstandingly iconic buildings” (yes, their words) with … the names of the designers themselves.
That’s right: The Hadid Tower, the Libeskind Tower, and the Isozaki Tower are promoted on the developer’s website, explicitly linking the architects and their buildings to the executive lifestyle of their prospective tenants. Furthermore, the blocks of high-end apartments on adjacent parcels of land are titled The Hadid and Libeskind Residences.
Zaha’s and Daniel’s surnames have become the architectural equivalent of Nike or Apple. Their signatures are logos, and their studios are fast becoming factories for gilded corporate dreams. The question is, are they in danger of severing any remaining semblance of respectability from their peers, who are so often passed over for these high-profile schemes simply because their names aren’t instantly recognizable?
Isogaki’s puffed-up glass cuboid
But now onto the architecture itself. Each skyscraper displaying a bizarre lack of coherence with its garish neighbors. Isogaki’s puffed-up glass cuboid is inexplicably “supported” by comically small steel toothpicks. Meanwhile, Zaha has concocted yet another twisting tower, but makes no real attempt to justify its form with a logical foundation (as Gensler and SOM did with their own helical outings).
But Hadid’s torsion-filled effort actually appears reasonable when compared with its hunchbacked Libeskind-designed neighbor.
Zaha's twisty tower
Libeskind conceived “The Libeskind” as an “ideal sphere” surrounding Piazza Tre Torri, but the result is an awkward, imbalanced embodiment of unthinking showmanship. The building’s arching back is interrupted by an inelegant vertical column that appears to have been scarred by the architect’s arbitrarily arranged signature slit windows. These same gestures appear in the extension to the Royal Ontario Museum as well as the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Clearly, Libeskind feels that no matter what a building’s function may be, when applying his branded style, one size fits all.
Viewed as a trio, the prospective “skyline” makes for painful reading: Each tower clashes with the next, culminating in a disjointed composition completely devoid of the rich architectural character associated with Italy.
Furthermore, this complex will cater exclusively to a tiny, privileged minority in a country still ravaged by economic problems. It is almost as if the three protagonists decided it would be fun to design without looking at socio-economic context, the cultural history of Milan, OR each other’s adjacent designs… the end result is a sad example of style over substance, and even the style has been botched on this occasion.
Ultimately though, the truth is this: As long as developers are attracted to the big brands of architecture in the belief that they are the key to making the largest possibly return on their investments, this trend is set to run and run.
Agree? Disagree? State your case here.
The Angry Architect
Read the Angry Architect's previous Zaha post here, and check out the Architect's Facebook page. Want more skyscrapers? See our investigation on the rise of the supertower and our roundup of scary architectural elevations.