Forget Seven Years in Tibet, if Brad Pitt is serious about a career in architecture he’d better start thinking about seven years in the classroom, says Tarek Merlin
What do Brad Pitt, Chris Lowe (the quiet one from the Pet Shop Boys), Justine Frischmann of Elastica, Suede’s Brett Anderson, and Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) have in common? Well, at one time or another they have all either studied or wanted to study to be an architect.
Now even Lily Allen has joined the dubious ranks of celebrity architectural aficionados, publicly threatening to take up architecture if her next record flops. A clever marketing ploy (what better way to encourage an entire profession to get out there and buy the new single en masse), or serious ambition?
Apologies for the snobbish tone, but I can’t quite see Lily sitting down to study for seven years. Architectural education is a demanding, challenging experience, which takes hard work and determination to complete. It’s like some sort of drawn out rite of passage, one that can’t be bought or traded into.
Some architects positively court the fickle fortunes of fame as part of their daily duties
Only those who have delved into its murky depths truly know of its sea of troubles and outrageous fortunes. And although it’s nice to think that some famous people want to be an architect some day, it’s also kind of insulting that some celebrities think they can wander in and out of the profession at their whim.
I’m sure those in the office loved having him around, but the rest of us couldn’t help but feel a slight affront at the news of Brad Pitt’s “informal apprenticeship” at Gehry’s office, whether the rumours of this new collaboration were true or not. Was Brad so unsatisfied with his extraordinary acting career, arguably the most beautiful woman in the world on his arm, a blossoming brood of children and untold riches, that he felt the need to muscle in on our careers? Swanning nonchalantly into the office of a world-famous architect while the rest of us slaved through years of heartache to get wherever it is we are today.
Gehry’s ego must have reached new levels of inflammation, but he is not alone in his appreciation and delectation of celebrity and influence. Indeed some architects positively court the fickle fortunes of fame as part of their daily duties. All the greats have done it, some working just as hard on their image as on their architecture – Corb and his black, thick-rimmed round glasses, Louis Khan and his bow ties, Zaha with her big Issey Miyake gowns, Daniel Libeskind and his snakeskin cowboy boots, and that chap at Rogers with his red outfits.
Now even Lily Allen has joined the dubious ranks of celebrity aficionados, publicly threatening to take up architecture if her next record flops
But it does seem to be Frank Gehry who has emerged as the Latter Day Saint of Architecture in breaking, nay moulding, the US market’s perception of what an architect is. He has even received the highest accolade ever bestowed on a living architect, one cherished above all others – an appearance in an episode of The Simpsons. He is featured designing Springfield’s new concert hall, inspired by the sight of crumpled pieces of paper on the ground (apparently bundles of discarded fan mail).
In fact, there has been no shortage of representation of the profession from the silver to the small screen, ranging from the divine to the insane. From Ayn Rand’s epic romantica novel turned film The Fountainhead in 1949, with Gary Cooper depicting what is believed to be a story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life (re-envisioned as some sort of Mills & Boon fantasy), to the weirdly inane Mike Brady of the Brady Bunch, and the bizarre depiction of an architect addicted to poker who meets a transsexual stripper who can see the future, in 1998’s Heaven starring Martin Donovan.
Other great moments in architectural movie history that cannot go without a mention include: Paul Newman in The Towering Inferno (1974); Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987); Wesley Snipes (!?) in Jungle Fever (1991); a manic Steve Martin in Housesitter (1992); and, of course, Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle 1993. More recently, there has been Michael Keaton in White Noise (2005), and the insipid Jude Law in Breaking & Entering (2006), but he was a landscape architect so I don’t think that counts. And it’s not all men, who could forget the inimitable Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996)?
With such a high profile, who wouldn’t want to be an architect? Yes, it’s a torturous start, grappling through years of education only to be faced with the choice of either graduating into a recession or working your way through the next one, and with absolutely no guarantee whatsoever of becoming the world’s next top archi-celeb. But as we all know, there’s so much more to it than all that.
Tarek Merlin is director and co-founder of Feix&Merlin Architects