Icon is the way to go. In a world where each human is affected by millions of images everyday, novelty becomes obsolete very quickly and “banal! Gets installed. Like trying to choose a new perfume, after just a few trials, our nose can not distinguish anymore one scent from the other (or to be more precise, our brain), except for a very few percentage of the worlds population, our eyes suffer from the same defect when it comes to images. Our brains can only perceive a certain amount of information at a certain speed until it gets numb, after that only extremes will stand out before our eyes.

I guess the principle makes sense. In a competition with 500 participants, considering an average quality level, an icon will always work, if for nothing else, to amuse the jury and wake them up from numbness. For better or worst your work will be notest, stand out and, today more than ever, image counts: at first it might look strange, weird, after a while it grows on you, and finally it doesn’t come out of your head… So basically this means that we are back to Darwin’s theory: the survival of the fittest, the natural evolution of species.

Architects emerge as strong imagetic from producers. Our hasn’t it always been like that? Have architects always been icon producers? Maybe yes, reformists came, even before modernism talking about healthy living conditions, functionality, hygiene, green for everyone and we convinced ourselves that we were social reformers, that we could serve the new society, the new men, in a more profound sense: find the shelters of the democratic society…

But an old friend still remains: political power, despite all the discourses. An iconic image suits perfectly the daily competition between countries, cities, municipalities on the race for being in the “front line”. Architecture and Power are close cousins.

So nothing has changed right? Architecture serves power whether it comes in the form of monarchy, dictatorship, democracy, communism in search for symbols and architects use power patronage to immortalize themselves in their work.

Well, I am not so sure…

Taking into consideration architecture history of the last 20 or 30 years. Do we understand its reasons? Have we reflected on them? And if so, are we ok with it?

Haven’t architects given up on architecture, or is just my impression? What is the purpose or “big picture” behind a form reflecting the search for a real spatial architectural experience? How can an iconic building conceived as an empty shell, capable of hosting all functions and none provide real quality space?

Casa da Música”, Porto, Portugal, designed by Rem Koolhas has concert halls where you can enjoy all kinds of concerts and also has several (a lot) non configured or classified spaces that “locals” love to appropriate for after-night parties and events. I must confess, that I kind of appreciate the idea of leaving some freedom to the user for appropriating space, but if that is all it does, what is the purpose of architecture? Are this leftover spaces part of the architects intention for spatial experience or just a consequence of form?

I guess that in todays culture of use and dismiss, architecture should become careless as well…

What is more curious in this phenomena is the replication of icons. Like gothic cathedrals, the ability to reproduce from is remarkable. The power of religion before, gives way to the power of pride once, again, weren’t religious icons about pride as well?

The form is envied and, as all envied “objects” we all want one, so there has to be one in each corner. How to solve this dilemma? I only see 2 options:

1.We have to create our own icon (which takes some work);

2.We try to replicate the icon we like in our homeland;

I am going to focus on the last option, because, the first, at least, implies effort, and also because the second one produces results that I find particularly hilarious.

Let´s use the same example of Rem Koolhas, Casa da Música. Once upon a time, OMA office was commissioned a project to design a private house. The creative team developed the concept of a prismatic meteoric shape that would hold together the different programatic functions of the building, seen here as content boxes, inserted on the shape. The extraterrestrial meteorite would host the different housing functions so SHELTER=FORM.

Says the story that the client didn’t like the meteorite so, the architect, stores it on a shelf.

Then, around 1999, another a town in a foreign kingdom was preparing a big international festivity and wanted to mark this event with the construction of a concert hall to serve the population. A big international competition was held, and imagine the surprise when the meteor appears amongst several renowned participants and makes its “criptonic” magic. The meteor had travelled Rotterdam to Porto, landing on Rotunda da Boavista, reshaped and resized. FORM=NONPLACE.

The building finally comes to life in 2005, the event had long gone but the public was anxious for the new concert hall, despite many criticism as much as appraisal.

Now what I consider really interesting is not the story of this particular building but the effect that it had on its surroundings.

The meteor was criticized, wished by many it would roll down the Boavista Avenue ending in the Atlantic Ocean and drawn; the surroundings had to be re-designed accordingly to the new Icon but, eventually, as always, it started growing on locals and they came to like it.

In 2009, Vodafone Headquarters are inaugurated on Boavista Avenue just some few kilometers away from Casa da Música. Curiously enough (or not) it remains me of something I have already seen…Oh! The meteor, of course!

Like Gothic, Baroque or Modernism, contemporary architecture doesn’t have a recognizable style but has a recognizable shape…

This time however, the meteor is located on a narrow plot between 2 residential buildings with backyards make it adapt to a more rectangular shape. As we had testify before the METEOR=METAMORPHUS, it can take any shape so, it has no shape.

The concept is no the same: a sequence of open space for office use and, on the ground floor, auditorium, refectory, Vodafone store, among some other spaces on underground floors. Obviously the open space character of the 4 top floors helps to reduce leftovers but you can still find them, and the internal spatial quality can again be questioned.

Tells the story that the client was more inclined for a more integrated and discrete approach but, as soon as he saw the magic meteor worked is thing again and Vodafone Headquarters Porto were born. It has won several international prizes. THE METEOR NEVER FAILS TO DELIVER.

The other day cruising thru Porto city, I turn into one of its many streets and as approaching the end of it something new strikes my attention: a new meteor has fallen down from the sky and is being carved as I write this words. It was the place of a pharmacy so, I guess the owner, not knowing what to do with it and also being magnetized by the power of the rock decided to carved it from the inside to make space for his commercial activity.

I couldn’t resist: stop the car in second row and went to check it out. This sits in a narrow plot, traditional in Porto (narrow front towards the street and great depth) with a side narrow street. The surroundings are mainly residential buildings with 4 floors and some commercial activity on the ground floor. Next to the plot there is a small ancient house, a grocery store, one floor, pitched roof.

Imagine my surprise as I realize this is no meteor!!! The visible prismatic concrete facades of main and secondary street are just a shell. The wall that faces the old house is made of cement brick! What an irony I must say. The meteor is fake! It is mere form and it spreads like a plague taking everything in its way. After all it doesn’t matter the program. FORM=IMAGE.

And just for a coincidence (or maybe not) this new fake meteor is located maybe 1km from Casa da Música.

Curiously enough (or not) has I was observing meteor nº2 (Vodafone Headquarters) that, at least, makes an effort to distinguish itself as a meteor than the last one, I realize how alienated it is from its surroundings: street alignment, existent buildings, even street pavement. It stands proud of its condition: I AM ALIEN.

As turning away 200m from that place I note a dark grey form amongst old trees in a surrounding street that ends at Boavista Avenue just in the point where Vodafone Building stands. You could easily ignore it. Approach the place: It is the headquarters of some company that had bought a house on the Avenue (old bourgeois residential house from end of 19th century, beginning of 20th century) but, because the meteor had fallen a few meters from the place, they had no choice but to follow more “traditional” architectural principles (or concepts) like refurbishing the existing house, adapting it to the new program and extending the program into the garden area with a new construction. The extension respects the old trees in the garden, and opens up to it. The dark color, in opposition to the light color of the main house, fades into the shadow of the trees and blends wit the garden. Exterior sun protection allows strong connection with the garden without arming interior working conditions. Such a simple piece, so silent, anonymous.

I cant help feeling disturbed by the irony of this 2 recent buildings standing so close to each other. They seem to represent the architectural dilemma of our times: to be or not to be? AN INCON

To be a part of the mainstream iconic architecture class ans succumb to the new law FORM FOLOWS IMAGE and design empty shells with no real architectural reflection and be published by all media, our, try to reflect on what does our time stands for, what are the issues relevant in todays society and use architecture as a tool for social and cultural reflection and critique and…be blend. FASHION SUCKS.