The condition of publicity (and its effects on architecture) (2005)

Art Design Publicity at ADC | 1 August 2010
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The commercial break

In the advertisements ("commercial breaks") that were seen in the pages of magazines or broadcast on television, the environment of representation that Americans lived in simply seemed to be viewed, re-presented; the magazine spread and the television screen were both offered as and taken to be "windows on the world". These representations took on the guise of transparency: they made a play to their audience (for such a long period projected as and conceived of as relatively homogeneous) to not be representations at all. They purported, instead, to be truth.

In the making of an advertisement, much effort is made in getting all elements and aspects of the scene to be consistent in their illuminated portrayal of their subject, which or who serves as the support, the vehicle for a particular product or service. In the case of post-war nuclear family America (it is always important to remember the reliance on images and stories of the family as opposed to stories of society), the representations were focused on reiterating the fictive typical so that it became typological: what the man is like, and what he wears going to and returning from work and when he is relaxing with the family or "with the boys"; what the mother wears at work in the home, attending to her children, meeting friends, going shopping, at the hairdresser or the manicurist, greeting her husband, preparing the meal and eating with the family, going "out" with the husband on either business or friendly occasions; what the children wear at home and at school, and how this is different for different ages, particularly as they approach adolescence or even the beginnings of adulthood. Even the family pet can be taken to be an index of family values and traits: a sleek animal reflects seriousness and application; a hairy animal reflects sentiment, simplicity and decency; a decorative animal reflects indolence. All of these appearances are laden with meaning, with significance that is legible on conscious and unconscious levels to the viewer or the consumer.

Once the signification is manufactured, what is its purpose? The viewer is asked to recognise the protagonists of the advertisement, and then to identify with them: either as reflections of themselves, or as role models for the kinds of people they think they ought to be. The correlative attachment to the product is obvious: if the people in the advertisements are reflections, then the product they promote (usually indicated through casual, natural use or expressions of amazement about its special properties) should be purchased as though "second nature"; if the people in the advertisements are perceived to be role models (better in terms of behaviour or social class, both indicated by attire and environment), then the product they promote will be seen as a vehicle for self-improvement, a stepping-stone to class improvement. The real inter-relationships between industry, production, advertising, private financing and government policy meant that these formalised scenes of American ambition were devised as didactic demonstrations of how society as a whole was expected to operate: as autonomous family units looking after themselves (associating with others only when absolutely necessary or obliged by duty), keeping themselves intact (otherwise moral and administrative chaos), respecting authority and making money.

This description of a relatively simple American example of nearly forty years ago is not obsolete. First, it shows that publicity and its projected environment–– the condition of publicity–– is political by nature, establishing or reinforcing relationships between certain people in society while discouraging others; defining and even instituting relationships between producers and consumers; and describing desired relationships between people and authority ("just consume as you are told, and everything will be fine"). Another aspect of this "condition" is that consumers are consumers and not producers––until the demise of industrial production in the West, the consumer was almost certainly also, either directly or indirectly, a producer.

Publicity’s condition has become much more complex, in response to extensive changes in "society" at social and economic levels. One might say that changes to strictly political structures have been relatively modest over the past forty years. Yet publicity’s efforts to shape responses to products to induce the desire to consume (more powerful than the urge to possess) remain undimmed, even refreshingly old-fashioned, despite their increased diversity and responsiveness to new audiences, markets and niches.

"Il existe un café…"

In the construction of advertising, everything is transformed into a representation, whose purpose is to contain something: a group of people, an idea, a fixed point for desire. The representation stands for something and stands in for it: a version, a limited thing, a frozen symbol. In the case of advertising, the representation is a debasement of reality. This is anecdotal, but concerns the experience of being a participant, indeed, a subject of this debasement.

About ten years ago, I was asked to attend an audition for an advertisement, for a brand of coffee, to be made in France. The agency who handled me (who passed around my photograph and physical dimensions), were rung up by the French publicity agency Publicis, whose team of art director and copywriter had devised a scenario, with settings, shots, subjects, characterisations, and actions, all remarkably detailed. The audition consisted of the usual formalities: name, age and agency spoken to camera, frontal and profile views, front and back of hands; and the "special task", in this case, the drinking of fluid (orange juice) from a small coffee cup. This was to be done, in the words of the Publicis scenario "so that the aroma of the coffee invaded the senses", and in the words of the casting director, "with intensity".

The successful audition resulted in my casting for the part, which required a week of shooting in the western suburbs of Paris, on a film studio stage, with a French film director and a crew of about seventy people, excluding the caterers. After having lunch with the core of the crew in a small restaurant nearby, I was settled into my environment. A dressing room with a star on the door (some other star), mirror, lights, couch, vase with fresh flowers, and the drink of my choice, which at the time was champagne. As it remains. I had a "dresser" or stylist named Clémentine and a make-up artist, and since I was to be the only actual protagonist of this little film, these people were obliged to attend to me at each and every moment. Both in the dressing room and on the set–– a three sided room of ample height, hand-painted in wistful terra-cotta and salmon tones, with a parquet floor and a comfortable leather club chair and a small table beside it featuring a bonsai tree–– I was pressed into being a man of a certain age, who had lived wisely and well, and had a family of a beautiful wife and similar children, present through numerous wooden toys scattered about the set, and ersatz framed family photographs (of at least four women and some eighteen children) arranged on a ledge which ran around most of the room. The scene was a cliché of the French bourgeois interior, somehow typical and recognisable, yet with nothing correct about it. It was a sign for such an interior, and its choice of colour and minimal indication of materiality were ample enough to convey the message that my character was comfortable, and lived in "normal" bourgeois comfort in some French urban centre, though not so urban that the pleasure of the elements could not be enjoyed: there was a tall window at the back of the room to one side, through what appeared to be sunlight shone. Upon a closer look, this turned out to be three high-wattage lamps, one above the other, blasting the construction of polythene stapled to roughly-sawn softwood. This was to be my "home" for the next five days of shooting.

My dresser and make-up artist had the task of making me appear to be a normal man of a certain age, comfortable in his achievement and his leisure. After many alternative costumes for such a role were mooted, which involved much undressing and redressing, ironing, pinning and primping, the stylist, make-up artist and director arrived at the conclusion that I looked best in my own clothes. Brand-new versions of these were sought and purchased at a local outlet of the international retail chain from whence they came, and, after more fussing, pinching and pulling, I was ready to be made up. Before this mysteriously laborious procedure began, I saw in the mirror that I looked like a version of myself as dressed by my mother or by someone who did not know me, which, in fact, was the case. The make-up artist proceeded to disguise all my facial features with a heavy foundation and then various rouges and blushes, mascara and lip-paints which gave me the appearance of being at once drained of all life and in the full bloom of health. I was assured it would be the full bloom of health that would be registered by the camera. In my mask of powder and paste, I carefully moved to the stage for my close up.

Indeed, the camera was very close, within 15 centimetres of my face, as the shoot began. The reason for the make-up was so the skin would not appear as skin does when looked at so close to: horrible. I realised that in front of the camera, I was a version of a person, a simulation of a real person who resembled me or who I resembled. The shoot demanded that I do simple things, like hold a cup, lift it to my lips, pretend to ingest its contents (which was petrol, rather than coffee: the colour of real coffee does not look enough like coffee), appear to enjoy it, allowing it to "invade my senses", "with intensity", put it down again, look satisfied, satiated. All of my movements, which had to be made at both regular speed and in slow motion for the benefit of the computer operators of the post-production team, were re-enactments of real actions, representations of them. The procedure was not particularly comfortable, because it seemed so artificial, an artifice which in this case betrayed falseness. (This was not because I performed these actions badly; I was told on a number of occasions that I, like other English actors, were so sophisticated compared to Frenchmen or other Europeans). [Pimlott is in fact Canadian, known to the audience.] As we looked at the rushes at the end of each day of shooting (it was shot on 35mm film and not video, for the sake of the authority of its quality and its resemblance to "real" film––cinema), it was clear that I had been transformed into a person who resembled me, and who moved in a particular way. I had been made into a representation of myself, my own Döppelganger.

Publicity and design

Publicity exploits the power of association in order to capture its perceived market. The surface of representation is beguiling, suggesting in its forms its continuity with actuality, or at least its continuity with desire. On a simple level, publicity is merely the dissemination of a message intended to draw attention to something, so that something attains a place in the mind of individuals, or groups, of the public. The object of publicity is to lodge the attended-to something in the mind so that it is not forgotten, and that it thereby acquires associations which must find some form to fix upon, to fulfil an unconscious desire that has been provoked, to provide a relief, through some form of subscription, specifically consumption. Ulysses’s Leopold Bloom constantly wonders at the cleverness of advertising’s ways of making products and services delectable to the mind.

It is apparent that this has become a fascination for architects, particularly, I would suggest, because of its associations with the worlds of glamour and celebrity, and the equivalence drawn between the achievement of the status of celebrity and success. The current tendency to an object/surface/decoration-led architecture assists in the apprehension, dissemination and consumption of architecture as commodity. Currently prevalent in the public imagination is an architecture in which the architect assumes the role of auteur, in the manner of a couturier, albeit intellectualised.

It seems to me that the first "architecture" so oriented–– in the sense we recognise it today–– is the design work of Philippe Starck. The work is quite often taken not so seriously, perhaps because of its lack of seriousness, its eclecticism, its wilfulness, its disregard of architectural rigour. But it is exemplary in its creation of surfaces which are not only extremely media-genic, but transformative. They enact fantasies which demand the transformation of their users–– their consumers–– into aspects of those fantasies, into representations and consumer objects.


I sit with a monograph on Philippe Starck before me: by Taschen, of course. On the cover, Philippe poses, shirtless, tatooed in marker-pen (not permanent!) with his own mock-60s slogans. He is half-serious, half-ridiculous. But there he is, an icon: Sta®ck as brand and as body. A body of work represented by his body. The book unfolds section by section, from Architecture, through Interiors, Furniture, Industrial Design, Magma (a potted autobiography), Words (potty theory) and Overview, where the page spreads are considered as design artefacts in themselves. All the photographs in the book are in the style of advertising images. They are in fact advertising and marketing images. Of course, we all make photographs our work in ways that are conscious of their reception in the world. But the images in the Taschen monograph have no delusions about their positioning. The images constantly direct one’s attention to the commodity-value of the item depicted. The crafting of the images are matters of lighting, setting, the presence of Starck’s genius, his persona, his aura, his trade-mark. There are a lot of photographs of him in this book. He appears on every second or third spread, hanging out right alongside the other commodities, legitimating them. The photographs, taken out of their original context as publicity images and located in a monograph, accord the pictured objects a special status, which allows them to transcend all other designed objects (and the objects designed by others). Starck makes his appearance in this context as a kind of God, the creator of the objects, equal to the objects (they are all his children), equivalent to the objects. He appears posed (a kind of on-going self-publicity); snapped on holidays; set up for publicity shots with Herr Taschen or Ian; in advertisements. His daughter Ara is photographed with the love accorded to the products––in this case, a true product of his loins. Looking through the monograph is like looking at a very fat magazine, or the scene of the wreckage caused by the collision of several magazines, where objects and pictures of Starck pile up. In this special edition, the only commodity on offer is Starck. It is a strange and not altogether comfortable experience. One is aware of an acute artificiality. Part of the artifice is Starck’s; much is due to the way the objects are framed and positioned before our eyes, eyes which are asked not to contemplate, but to devour.

The commodity-nature of the objects and the notions of accumulation, abundance and equivalence that accompany them are key to looking at the interior designs of Philippe Starck.


However, such interiors would not exist were it not for their patron, Ian Schrager. The framing of the world of celebrity as a representation of society is characteristic of his enterprises, manifested in scenes in which fantasy supplants reality. Schrager–– "Ian"–– is a New Yorker, and there exists a vibrant tradition of scenes of fantasy, as eloquently described–– not accidentally–– by Rem Koolhaas in Delirious New York. His history is quite well known. Ian, with his gregarious business partner (the late) Steve Rubell, created Studio 54 in New York in the 1970s. Everyone who was anyone went there. It was famous for the hedonistic behaviour inside, complete with young men in silver briefs and wings serving the drinks, and famous for its ruthless door policy outside, based entirely on the appearance or je ne sais quoi of the potential customer/reveler. Studio 54 was a scene.

When Ian and Steve had to disappear for a while for some accounting inconsistencies, the scene vanished. But then they came back and created the Palladium, an enormous nightclub: "… acting as conceptual consultants’ on their new project because of past legal problems. [7] That’s when they brought in big-name designers (Andrée Putman, Arata Isozaki) and big-name artists (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf). [8] The stellar quality of the venture (the big-name designers were in alignment with the big-name guests) made it a rarified thing. The commissioning of top-designers and works of contemporary art, and the advertisement of such, added to the club’s aura of exclusivity:

"The twin stimulants of contemporary night life–– perpetual novelty and the aura of exclusivity–– were taken to dizzying heights during the seventies by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager in their Studio 54, the undisputed hit of the Disco Decade. But times quickly change, and the myth must be constantly reinevented if the magic is to hold. A fresh gimmick is always need, and in the eighties it has become art."

— Martin Filler in "Evening Star" article. [9]

Studio 54 and the Palladium had the atmosphere of an unattainable commodity-world that could be dwelt in only for a limited period of time. Its fantastic scenes ignited desire, for those ogling others inside and those waiting outside in the interminable queues. Andy Warhol was a habitué of Studio 54: in love with its artifice, he was an accidental prophet of its ascendency. The people that were attracted to "54" and the Palladium wanted to be continuous with their environments. They wanted to become part of the surface of glamour and celebrity (if they were not part of that surface already). The whole scene was a continuous party, with the design, the designers and the clientèle all constituent elements of it. Then Steve died, and Ian carried on with a project that they had begun. They had asked: What if you never had to go home from the party? What if you could stay all night and the next day and the next night and do that for as long as you wanted? They answered: You had to design a hotel, of course.

The first Ian Schrager hotel was Morgans, designed by Andrée Putman, which has just celebrated its twentieth anniversary (I went to the party and received a very nice T-shirt). The hotel was very nice. The next hotel was Royalton, designed by Philippe Starck. The hotel is across the street from the Algonquin, where Dorothy Parker and that crowd hung out, talked, and generated a little corner of New York culture. And that New York thing to do with people and scenes became the raison d’être of the design of the Royalton’s public space. The hôteliers wanted to make the hotel lobby a place where people were to be not hotel guests, but people who lived in and made the city. They said they wanted to make a place that was part of the city; that could be considered to be continuous with its social life. Referring to the days of the Algonquin’s popularity, they said they wanted it to be part of, a manufacturer of the cultural life of the city. This, of course, was a fantasy. But one that had to be manufactured.

Spaces of publicity

Starck’s spaces are characterised by an accumulation or pile-up of scenes, of effects, of things. This accumulation is not one of likenesses, but of contrived, eclectic contrasts. The big thing finds itself next to the little thing, the modern thing next to the baroque thing, the naturalistic thing next to the technological thing, the functional thing next to the useless thing. In the hotel interiors designed for Ian Schrager, scenes are at once meant to be seen as both serious and "sexy"; as sophisticated and silly. They are knowing. They are chic. They are designed by a Frenchman, goddammit. They are hedonistic and utterly of the moment (hence the urgent necessity of frequent renovations). They are also correctly anachronistic, evoking the great ages of twentieth-century hedonism: the ’20s, ’30s and ’70s. The hotels champion pleasure, the pleasure to be had in consumption and moral immolation. For the visitors and guests, who are on parade as much as the interiors and their objects are on display, there is the promise of cool by association. All of the qualities of the interior are passed onto the consumer of the interior. The hotel designs (or productions) reflect connoisseurship of what is of the moment, akin to the knowledge that is necessary to survive in the world of fashion and advertising.

The designs’ prospects are presented in the media (a list as extensive as well as targeted as possible) before they exist. One is made aware of an upcoming product that will bear the hallmarks of the collaboration of protagonists whose reputation precedes them. There are interviews, pictures of previous projects, reports of excitement gathering around the project (particularly amongst celebrities in film, fashion and music), who authorise the "news" reports and sprinkle glamour over the enterprise. The hype increases as the opening approaches. The interiors are photographed; careful packages with a selection of images are developed and sent to areas of the press attached to target markets; to potential customers (bigger spenders get bigger packets with more goodies); to potential corporate clients (with the same class system of gratuities). The audience is asked to become part of the pictured interiors, not just to experience them, but to become continuous with them. The interiors are essentially spaces of publicity, all surface of media potential, and by becoming continuous with the interiors (through complete identification) the audience participates in bringing about its own reduction to the fantasy of being commodities.

This, of course, is what made Philippe Starck such an ideal designer for the Ian Schrager Hotels. He is one of the very few designers who can work like a fashion designer works; who can change direction season upon season; who can make his own persona part of his designs; who can be at ease with Fame. It is necessary for him (and for the Hotels) to be famous, because he must be known, because what he does must be known. This renders him a figure of Publicity and his work a subject of Publicity and his interiors spaces of Publicity. And Publicity makes it very difficult to talk about his interiors in the way one would talk about interiors normally. Because the question that always comes with Publicity is: What are we looking at? To the publicist, we are firstly looking at publicity: publicity for the thing which is being located or positioned in the World. In this case, it is the Ian Schrager Hotel that must be consumed, an object with certain physical characteristics that act as prompts for certain kinds of social behaviour which involve certain kinds of people (the public of publicity) spending lots of money. The better the publicity is, the greater the lure of the attraction, the more frenzied the response, the more money gets spent. That is the point of publicity. And in the case of the interiors of these hotels designed by Starck, it is difficult to see the seam between publicity and design, or between publicity and experience. [10]

The interiors resemble those from the mountain of advertisements that depict a world of fine clothes, bags, watches, shoes, and the lifestyles that go with them. It is a world of continuous leisure and luxury, with the added frisson of sex, intoxication and rêvérie. The interiors do not exist on their own, in space, but in the media. Their appearances in proper architecture magazines are far outnumbered by their appearances in magazines dedicated to lifestyles and fashion.[11]


Herein lies the attraction for the architect of today: the appearance of architecture in the world of couture, commodity, celebrity. An increasingly common tendency in Dutch architecture, for example, sees buildings described by one photographic or neo-photographic image, by a one-line description in the form of a sound-bite; buildings whose internal organisations can be described by a series of stacked words whose size reflect their dimensions within the projected or realised building; designs where branding is seen as significant, important and good.

Architecture that does the work of branding (quite different from an architecture of identification) generates a Louis Vuitton building that looks like a Louis Vuitton product, or a Tod’s building that looks like the work of Toyo Ito as auteur, so-called signature architecture. There is the freshman stuff of making images which are taken to be the thing, in the manner of Venturi’s "ducks". [12] In such cases, representation is misunderstood and abused. Consistent with this trope, for example, is Daniel Libeskind’s proposition that a building that resembles a fragmented globe symbolises a shattered world and therefore says: "war museum". Consistent too, is the mawkish publicity that accompanied Libeskind’s winning design for the site of the destroyed World Trade Center: a press release with a manipulative schtick describing the genesis and design of a 1776-foot high tower (1776 was the year of American Independence!), purporting to symbolise the triumph of American freedom and democracy over the forces of terrorism. Its fractured forms symbolised "pain". All of this was set against the schmaltzy backdrop of the apocryphal scene of emigration and the first sight of the Statue of Liberty.

There is nothing new in this unctuous, ingratiating, self-aggrandising and vain production. It has been with us since the wane of the Renaissance, when vanity (of the client or patron) became part of the architect’s programme. There comes with it a kind of infantilism, evident in the patrons, certainly, but also, lately, in the work of the architects bewitched by their either real or fantasized associations with power. Therein is an explanation of the work of Boullée; of Melnikov, Tschernikov and Leonidov; or lately of Santiago Calatrava; of most -ism architects. Such work classically confuses form with content or promotes form without content; confuses process and science, or architecture and art; confuses juvenile and "creative" "research" with avant-garde-ism. Magazines of all stripes say all of it is "great" material: easy to publish, because it shifts copies. Publish, or perish: motto of the publicist and the publisher.

Publicity and architecture

Publicity offers a particular kind of relationship between architecture and its public, its audience. We will not say users or participants because the form of publicity’s address is contrived very precisely to invoke desire, to submit the individual into a precisely relational contract. Therein, a distance is assumed that can only be bridged by consumption, which may occur in a variety of forms. This is indeed a contract–– a one-way contract–– whose terms are acceptance (or rejection). Reinterpretation, re-use, mis-use, abuse are not on offer. In architecture, it means a product for the market, a market of individual consumers, held together by averages of desires, averages of means. How different this is from an architecture made for a public, a society of association. This kind of market, so often argued for by monetarists as the true representation of human interests, is opposed to the idea of society if it means collections of people who associate unpredictably. It is opposed to the public, the civic. It likes consumers. The market we now describe does not respect the particular. It is global–– flexible only in order to take economic advantage of local circumstances.

The political aspect of this is self-evident: in order to consume, one has to accept and choose. The public (a term that can be bandied about very loosely) is rendered passive. This gives the producer power: it makes the producer a player, whose interests consequently assume undue importance, which furthermore require protection through government legislation, and influence the formation of general state policy. On 18 April 2005, the media magnate Rupert Murdoch sought assurances from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair that his Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown would not become Prime Minister under his watch, or… he would withdraw his support. Mr Blair assured him no such thing would happen. This is equivalent to John de Mol determining the policy of Dutch government: “You don’t do as I say, I won’t deliver your voters–– my consumers–– to you.” This kind of market (characterised by monetarists in cosy, “every-guy-has-got-the-right-to-make-a-buck-and-feed-his-family-and-fulfil-his-dreams” ways) is opposed to society. But then, as Margaret Thatcher famously said: “There is no such thing as society, only individuals and families.” The ideology of this attitude should send out all sorts of warning signals to architects.

The design of objects for a market, the projection of those designs to a client who wishes to project himself in a particular way to a market, the projection of those designs by the architect to a public to secure a particular niche and status, all serve to diminish the nature of the architectural commission, architecture, the architect and finally, the relation between the public and the built project, the city and thus society. Many good minds are wasted in producing rubbish.

Is the architect motivated by business and playing to the market? If so, why does the soi-disant avant-garde participate in such tactics? To destroy the beast from within? Or to make some money? Or to feed their egos? Or is the avant-garde just deeply, essentially conservative? It seems that even criticism, or rhetoric disguised as criticism, is obliged to the condition of publicity, and the types of relations with an audience that publicity demands. I cite the case of Rem Koolhaas’s often brilliant, often vain and hectoring book S, M, L, XL, and its back cover "press release", in praise of itself:

“This massive book is a novel about architecture. Conceived by Rem Koolhaas–– author of Delirious New York–– and Bruce Mau–– designer of Zone––as a free-fall in the space of the imagination, the book’s title, Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large, is also its framework: projects and essays are arranged according to scale. The book combines essays, manifestoes, diaries, fairy tales, travelogues, a cycle of meditations on the contemporary city, with work produced by Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture over the past twenty years. This accumulation of words and images illuminates the condition of architecture today–– its splendors and miseries–– exploring and revealing the corrosive impact of politics, context, the economy, globalization–– the world.”

— back cover notes S, M, L, XL. 010 Publishers, (1995). Rotterdam

The work that tends to the condition of publicity treats the public in a certain way, as a group of consumers, whose desires it anticipates, preconditions, predetermines. A one-way address: the flip-side, the response, is the rise to the bait, the purchase. The work that tends to the condition of publicity agrees to the terms and ideology of publicity. The work does not, cannot, contain any critical aspect. It can be sophisticated, knowing, aware of its context, it can communicate, but it cannot exchange, it cannot allow the possibility of interpretation. Interpretation is not the same as so-called "interaction". Interaction is merely another interface for pre-determined responses.

Surfaces, appropriations and the avant-garde

The making of identifiable objects is consistent with the task of an avant-garde. To be identifiable, its work has to be distinct from the production that surrounds it, as distinct from other architecture as that architecture is distinct from the unconscious world. This renders its works specific, necessarily unique. Uniqueness or unique visibility has a value (the USP); [13] it can secure a position in a market where uniqueness itself is equated with quality. Within the market, a system of exchange, the work becomes an object, subject to realities of supply and demand. The work is rendered equivalent to other luxury commodities and as such, adheres to the mechanics of demand in much the same way as other luxury items, which, though mass-produced, carry fictions of their uniqueness, their unrepeatability. Architecture is virtually unrepeatable but utterly reproducible. It is obliged to be at once permanent and ephemeral; iconic and adaptable.

The most successful soi-disant avant-garde architectural practices have recognised both these contradictions and the authority of the market and have appropriately marketed themselves to comply with the obligatory processes of publicity. All commodities require publicity, and luxury items require widespread publicity that appears across different media outlets and communicates to different audiences. This obligation to communicate effectively across media and people tends to flatten and simplify the material being publicised (though its presentations tend to be tailored to suit each situation). There are magazines of various kinds where publicity material might make its appearance: trade magazines, cultural magazines, feuilletons, fashion magazines directed at all possible consumers, men’s magazines, consumer magazines, travel magazines, magazines to be read on trains and airplanes, gossip or “people” magazines––all with news, features, short columns, gossip pages, advertisements, leads and links. There is television, with its spots, advertisements, “info-mercials”, “news” items, gossip items, documentaries, psuedo-documentaries and “reality” shows. There is radio (for Marshall McLuhan, the last legitimate medium), the mass-“word of mouth”. Despite their variant manifestations, these presentations take on typical forms that follow from the supplied photographic or neo-photographic image, the press release and the biography of the “author” (both factual and fictional). The image being presented must be both durable and flexible because it is presented again and again, and its repetition across media exaggerates its legitimacy. The image, and with it, the story and the personality (however complex, for example Starck/Schrager) are valorised, validated through repetition. When one turns to contemporary architects, there are only a few who have come through the media filter: Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Philippe Starck, Jacques Herzog. One will know the icons produced by these designers, but one will also know know their faces. Their faces appear in publications and on the covers of their own monographs as frequently as the buildings and interiors they design. It is perhaps only Gehry’s, Starck’s and Herzog & de Meuron’s products that can be identified as singular.

The mediated, fetishized image of the luxury item stands in for its actual counterpart. The image replaces the artefact; its representation becomes the artefact. Conversely, the artefact becomes a token of its representation, confirming its media representation as real (and not the other way around). The audience takes the representation to be the object. Publicity creates a similar condition for the work of architecture. The mediated version of the architecture/text/author acts as a substitute for the architecture, to the point that the architecture is often taken as congruous with the publicity that surrounds it and makes it visible. There is no true congruity, of course. Architecture exists in the world, with actual characteristics, physicality, spaces. But it also exists as its mediated image; exists as a product of its author; exists as an object in the space of culture and commodities; exists in the world of gossip and personality. And the nature of its mediated existence affects its nature in the actual, physical world.

The obligation to publicity affects architecture itself, moving it towards the condition of publicity. Publicity affects not only architecture’s presentation but its form. The association of architecture with other luxury commodities, particularly those connected with "cultural production", makes it tend to the condition of those commodities, to assume characteristics in common with them. Hence fashion and contemporary art become associated and confused with architecture, and architecture confuses itself with fashion and contemporary art. In both, primary importance is given to surface. In both, mediated, two-dimensional representations reinforce the primacy of surface.

The producer becomes a celebrity, producing ornaments for the city: either as buildings for the culture of celebrity (fashion houses, designer hotels) or institutional public buildings (museums, stadiums, towers, not-towers). The buildings become baubles, spectacles in a system of entertainment, where amusement is a substitute for engagement, a contemporary panem et circenses, where the viewer or the citizen is reduced to a spectator of events that cannot be affected by his existence.

Mark Pimlott is an artist, designer, photographer, filmmaker, and art/design historian.

Publicity & Architecture, page 1 | 2


[7] Martin Filler. (October 1985). "Evening Star". House & Garden (USA), p. 217.

[8] Filler, ibid., p. 262.

[9] Filler, ibid., p. 217.

[10] R.J. Preece. (1999). The problematic discourse on "Philippe Starck’s Delano hotel, UK MA dissertation, 123 pages.

[11] ibid.

[12] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown & Steven Izenour. (1972). Learning from Las Vegas.

[13] USP is "Unique Selling Point", a term in marketing/ communications.