Wilfried Wang Editor, for the Akademie der Künste
Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Architecture
8.5 x 10.75 inches, hardcover, 224 pages, approximately 380 illustrations
ISBN: 9783037783351
Suggested Retail Price: $55.00

From the Publisher. Since the late 1990s cultural icons have been built in numerous cities throughout the world in order to court the attention of potential visitors in a globally competitive market. The book Culture:City analyzes this phenomenon from the point of view of artists, architects, and scientists. Does culture today still function as a guiding principle, or does it merely serve as a catalyst for spectacular buildings? Are the creative and cultural sectors the industries of the future in postindustrial societies? Do these buildings liberate or constrain the cultural activities that gave rise to them in the first place? How does the “Bilbao effect”—the revaluation of a city through prestigious cultural buildings—work? Thirty pioneers, case studies, and negative examples are assembled paradigmatically in this book. Numerous essays and illustrations provide the reader with extensive and profound insight into this phenomenon. Designed by Heimann und Schwantes.

On 1 book list
John Hill

In spring 2013, Berlin’s Akademie der Künste hosted the exhibition “Culture:City,” curated by architect Matthias Sauerbruch. Through a presentation of 37 architectural projects from the last few decades, accompanied by 15 specially commissioned short films, the exhibition asked: “Does culture today still function as a guiding principle [for cities], or does it merely serve as a catalyst for spectacular buildings?” Or to put it another way, is there validity in the “Bilbao Effect” and the trend of cities to commission well-known architects to design elaborate buildings in order to lure tourists and their money? This is a trend in serious need of critical analysis, making this companion book to the exhibition a valuable document.

The book is split into two halves: a presentation of the 37 projects following essays by Ricky Burdett, William J. R. Curtis, Richard Sennett, and many others (Sennett's piece on “the open city” is particularly good), including introductory essays by editor Wilfred Wang and Sauerbruch. The projects make up the bulk of the book, but they are not presented merely as eye candy, as architectural publications are wont to do today. Peter Eisenman’s design for the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia in Spain, for example, is discussed in both the project section and within the essays in regard to the fact that it’s only partially complete but substantially over budget. This is but one case where misinterpreting and overextending the influence of the Bilbao Effect can be disastrous.

Beyond familiar icons like Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Sydney Opera House by Jørn Utzon, and icons-in-the-making like Eisenman’s City of Culture and Norman Foster’s West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong, the selection of projects is indicative of a preference on the part of Wang and Sauerbruch for cultural production over cultural consumption. A couple of cases in point are Cedric Price’s Inter-Action Centre (completed in 1977, demolished in 2003), whose flexibility invited unscripted communal activities, and Detroit Soup, a monthly dinner aimed at sparking and financing cultural initiatives in that city today. If the editors and contributors to the book had their way, our cities would have more projects like these in the coming years, instead of budget-busting institutions in avant-garde wrappers.

comments powered by Disqus