International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities
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International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities

Edited by Ben Derudder, Michael Hoyler, Peter J. Taylor and Frank Witlox

This Handbook offers an unrivalled overview of current research into how globalization is affecting the external relations and internal structures of major cities in the world.
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Chapter 24: Starchitects, Starchitecture and the Symbolic Capital of World Cities

Paul Knox


Paul Knox One of the consequences of contemporary globalization has been a transformation of the structural composition of architectural practice. Following an increasingly international clientele, more and more firms have developed a global portfolio of design work. Some of them are transnational corporations in their own right, huge architecture and engineering (‘A&E’) firms that have grown from what Robert Gutman (1988), in his pioneering study of the sociology of architecture, called ‘strong delivery firms’, commercial firms that rarely win awards but build a great deal. Others have grown from what he called ‘strong-service firms’, practices that are design-oriented but business-centred. A third group of global practices consists of what Gutman called ‘strong-idea firms’. Some of these strong-idea firms are now global brand names within the industry, and a few of them have senior partners whose individual celebrity and marketability have made them rich and famous: they are ‘starchitects’ (McNeill, 2005). These celebrity architects and their product – ‘starchitecture’ – must be understood in the context of contemporary processes of globalization and the political economy of globalizing cities (Jencks, 2005). Leslie Sklair (2005) emphasizes the role of various fractions of what he calls the ‘transnational capitalist class’. Specifically, these fractions include politicians and bureaucrats at all levels of administrative power and responsibility (who actually decide what gets built where and how changes to the built environment are regulated) and a consumer-oriented fraction (retailers and media responsible for the marketing and consumption of architecture), as well as distinctive class fractions drawn from architecture...

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