Issue #10: Why Gossip?

June 26, 2012

Once upon a time, people compared with their neighbors. Your neighbor was your point of reference and thus the most desirable object of gossip and eavesdropping. Not so anymore. In the world of global networking, you are driven by ambition to compare yourself with the most clever or world-renowned exponents of your trade. Even a critique, satire or parody of the star-system of architecture is an affirmation of its hegemony. Who doesn’t want to be the object of architecture gossip? After all, it’s giving the “stars” more attention, no matter how critical the original intention was. For addicts of gossip, all news is good news, the worst thing is silence, and even a well mediated “scandal” can actually promote your career.

The current issue of CONDITIONS investigates the function of gossip in architecture. Gossip has always been around in architecture as one of the oldest ways of sharing, maneuvering and convincing. But how does it manifest itself today within the instant culture of internet and social media? What is the role of gossip in contemporary networking? Has the logic of gossip and instant gratification also penetrated what we used to call architectural critique?

Today in architecture, as in other fields of culture, professional criticism is gradually replaced by the like/dislike discourse and gossip of social media. Are the fall of criticism and the triumph of amateurism signaling a new function to gossip? On the one hand, it has the possibility of turning every participant into a creator, blurring the line between the producer and the consumer. This we see more clearly in other cultural fields, as in music where production has become simpler and everybody can create their own music and find an audience. The dependency on labels and expensive studio equipment is waning. In architecture, this has not yet happened to the production side of the business, but certainly the evaluation of architecture has witnessed a rise in amateurism and gossip. It is still an open question whether this represents an opening up of the field, building collective intelligence, or if it is reducing all discussions into short attention span one-liners.

The retweeting act, or passing along of gossip, is such a big part of architectural culture these days. The risks of being the first one to voice an opinion, is replaced by a viral building up of a “collective opinion.” That’s what gossip has always done, building up a sense of community among the “people who know.” This has implications far beyond the social media world. Decision makers, governments, architecture competitions are not resistant to the effects of gossip in the form of viral marketing. Talk is cheap, as they say, but in this case, it works.

With the Venice Architecture Biennale again approaching, we must reopen the discourse on the festival character of architecture in the international scene. Never have there been so many venues for the celebration of architecture, and most are following the gossip-strategy of biennales and triennales, focusing on personal and national representation at regular intervals, rather than as communication of actual content and messages as the need arise. The national chambers of architecture support this trend by clinging to the nation state and its starchitect citizens as the prime focus of identity on the festival grounds of architecture.

The jungle telegraph of architecture moves fast. The constant stream of gossip is a far more effective tool for moving out of local differences and peculiarities to a global “movement” than any other organizational form like the CIAM(s) of the past. Architects today are not organized by common agendas, but are more united and connected than ever through social and information media. Gossip, in absentia of any pronounced agenda beyond the urge to be connected, updated and influential, still is, for better or worse, the closest thing we have to an international “movement” in architecture today, transgressing the biased views of national interest, organizations and the egos of individual starchitects.

Enjoy the issue, we hope you will find here some new gossip, and see you in Venice!



Joana, Anders and Tor Inge




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