The other day I came across a term—a pun, actually—that I thought was perfect: “starchitects” (the reference being an interview in the British online news magazine Building Design with HOK chairman Bill Valentine). Mr. Valentine's point was that many of today's architects seemed more interested in appearing on the cover of magazines than in truly embracing the challenge of green (or sustainable) design. He stirred up some controversy, with architects in the same article disputing this view—in short, a mini-debate on sustainable design that would be worth an editorial in its own right. For now, though, the “starchitects” term really struck me.
Part of it is timing: the Showcase article in this issue (“Beyond the State of the Art,” p. 80) reviews the plans of the Cleveland Clinic in creating a “hospital of the future,” the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Hospital in the United Arab Emirates. The Cleveland Clinic is, and has been for years, a power in healthcare design—locally, nationally, and now internationally. We Clevelanders are accustomed to seeing the cranes swinging and the welders’ sparks flying as structures of all shapes, sizes, and purposes go up around its campus. The Clinic spends hundreds of millions of dollars on this sort of thing and, needless to say, has its pick of architects and designers to work on these projects.
Certainly today's starchitects—Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Sir Richard Rogers, et al—are all fair game. So who, after an international competition, did the Clinic pick for this megaproject? HDR architects of San Francisco, California—perhaps not a “star” in the sense I'm using, but definitely a highly experienced and accomplished healthcare design firm.
This is one sure sign (if we needed one) that healthcare design has arrived as a deeply respectable, highly influential architectural field in its own right. Skyscrapers, hotels, mansions, bridges, sports/entertainment venues, step aside—make room for your (relatively) young cousin.
The reasons why the Clinic moved in this direction are fun to speculate about. The Clinic has not, so far as I know, gone on record explaining why they preferred HDR over the “stars.” My guess would be this: Healthcare facilities demand so much knowledge of such “non-design-y” disciplines as human health, medical technology, 24/7 staffing, and accommodation of widely varied visitors under stressful circumstances, that there might not be much room left for the sculptural “statement-makers.” Don't get me wrong, I love some of the stars’ work—have had occasion, for example, to mention in this space the sheer delight of watching headlights and taillights shimmering off the strange, waving titanium exterior of Gehry's Weatherhead School of Management here in Cleveland at night. It's just that provocative flash does not take priority in these projects. Combining hospitality and high-tech does.
Admittedly we have displayed the work of the stars in this magazine—the big names working, paradoxically, on a small but striking scale: specifically, the Maggie's Centres of Great Britain (“Welcome to Maggie's Centres,” HEALTHCARE DESIGN September 2005, p. 20). Gehry, Hadid, Rogers, Piers Gough, David Page, Richard Murphy—all weighed in with versions of intimate, patient-friendly cancer outpatient clinics, under the auspices of landscape architect Charles Jencks in honor of his late wife Maggie Keswick Jencks. It was an intriguing exercise, of course.
So, if Santiago Calatrava submits a healthcare facility for possible Showcase treatment—well, we'll consider it! Meanwhile, although it's unlikely that the great Derek Parker, FAIA, pioneering healthcare architect for Anshen + Allen (coincidentally, the subject of this issue's From The Center, p. 10), will ever find his path obstructed by teeming paparazzi (I could be wrong), that's OK. HD
RICHARD L. PECK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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