Friday, February 19, 2010

hipster architecture

Culture appears to come from nowhere and to be heading nowhere.
- Ben Agger, “The Thesis of the Culture Industry”

Hipsters… Hipsters are a subculture of “cool” youth, with a taste for the cultural non-mainstream. ‘Hipsterism’ is the catch-all term used to describe the specifics of its lifestyle and culture, specifically of the hipsters of recent. In short, hipsterism is “fashionable nihilism”. It is culture without meaning or authenticity.

The following is an unofficial, incomplete, and unreliable manifesto for ‘hipster architecture’, if there ever can be such a thing. ‘Hipster architecture’ for the sake of argument becomes a catch-all for contemporary architecture. It is an unapologetic comparison/criticism of contemporary architecture through the lens of hipsterism, and probably guilty of being as unproductive as hipsterism itself. It fails to define specifics and evade further, in-depth explanation. It assumes everything and takes responsibility for nothing. It is already late to the scene. You either get it or you don’t.

if you don’t give a damn, we don’t give a fuck

Hipster architecture, rooted in cynicism and apathy, prefers a relativist, apolitical ground (Zaera-Polo, “Politics of the Envelope”); more specifically, it is an architecture devoid of ideology, that throws a bone to politics through its effects (peripheral: skins, façades; experiential: atmospheres, environments). In reality, hipster architecture is relieving itself of political responsibility, allowing it to do what it pleases for whomever it wants, relative to the client’s own whims (surfing).

fetish, fashion, kitsch, camp

Hipster architecture is not a trend, but trendy. Hipster architecture cannot be nailed down. What is definitive is if the “cool/new thing” in hipster architecture gets too popular, it gets abandoned for the next cool/new thing (Moussavi’s Function of OrnamentFunction of Form). Calling it “camp” would be giving it too much credit (Sontag, “Notes on “Camp””).

Not there yet. (Koolhaas’s own take on the Five Points; OMA, Villa Dall'Ava)

Here we go. (FAT, The Villa)

ironic, cynical, sarcastic

It's too easy to jump to conclusions to who’s responsible for hipster architecture (the Dutch, if anyone)…. it’s endemic. Hipster architecture is the inevitable conclusion to the Avant-Garde tradition of imitating imitation (see the lump known as Decon: imitation Constructivism; Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”). Perfected in its stripping of subversion and originality, hipster architecture shrugs at history and context, too clever and self-aware to its own machination as a culture-industry output. But then again, hipster architecture is not serious, or doesn’t let itself be taken seriously.


Because hipster architecture could be used to describe a lot of architecture, young firms/architects get lumped together into the same group, primarily because many hipster architects start and/or live off their parents' wealth or trust funds. Hipster architecture’s cultural elitism is inherent in its economic/educational elitism. This may be a below-the-belt statement since it’s not specific to hipster architecture, considering when was this ever the exception and not the rule in architecture history?

→ critical?

Hipster architecture is full of uncritical criticality, that is, criticism for criticism’s sake (was Criticality that productive anyway?). But then again, hipster architecture avoids labels and being labeled (Plevin, "Who's a Hipster?") (Alter-Modern? Neo-Modern? Or maybe still Post-Modern? Are we in for a dichotomous loop? Post-Post-Modern architecture? Has novelty itself become bankrupt?).

Aren’t you tired of asking ‘what’s next’ and lamenting our sorry state of affairs? Unlike with Haddow’s Adbusters’ conclusion, hipster architecture doesn’t represent the end of architecture. It will just have to take someone with the historical perspective and distance to make the proper connections and make better sense of our current milieu. I do really think architecture is not trapped in an endless sequence of mindless cultural production and consumption, but I don’t know if right now the current anxiety is just about appropriating and consuming the “next thing” in architecture, or to really get out of this vicious cycle and move on.

Douglas Haddow – “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization”, Adbusters
Christine Haughney – “Parents Pulling the Plugs on Williamsburg Trust-Funders”, NYTimes
Hipster (contemporary subculture), Wikipedia
RE: ‘hipsterism is “fashionable nihilism”’, cited to Zachary Kamel on Wikipedia, but who the hell is that?
Robert Lanham - Look at This Fucking Hipster Basher
[many thanks to Andy and Dave for their input!]


  1. Further developed from Andy and Dave’s comments:

    The idea of media as facilitator of hispterism is a strong concept. Social networking, whether through calling, texting, tweeting, emailing, or Facebooking, brings about a culture of constant connection, as well as exhibitionism. In tandem with blogs, especially of art, fashion, and design, this manufactures a market of constant cultural consumption -- taste and fashion are now faster than fleeting. “Surfer architect” takes on a new meaning, as the architect that now browses blogs, consuming as much as producing. What this also does is reify the architect’s place in the architecture world much more immediately and intimately than before. Architects browsed magazines that came once a month -- now we can visit and contribute to sites that are updated a few times a day; everyone knows what everyone is doing. Chris Anderson’s Long Tail becomes applicable to architecture too: the web made a variety of international, non-mainstream, and eclectic architecture familiar and accessible, forcing a constant updating of one’s own taste, opinion, and philosophy to the ones that are most appropriate to ‘now’.

    Koolhaas’ irony and lack of a position is always in-vogue, since that kind of attitude can never be wrong (Just like Vice Magazine, Koolhaas has become the serious unserious-authority for architecture). Snark becomes the norm, followed by petty sniping and one-upmanship follows, along with the systematic and conscious practice of "creative intimidation". What is say about “Hipster architecture is being uncritical” is that it is full of uncritical criticality. Like for hipsters, architecture criticism is reduced to being for only criticism’s sake (peer and professional).

    “This kind of cultural fragmentation (…) leaves us without an official narrative, making it hard to justify a complete investment of one's self in any specific direction for too long. So it seems to me that the elusive, noncommittal approach is a reasonable response to the conditions of the last 15-20 years.” [Dave]

    Unfortunately, hipsterism is resilient because of its ability to mutate. A moment of hipster culture may become mainstream, but within the hipster culture, it’s already expired. The reason that there is no ‘next’ is because hipsterism appropriates the ‘next’ before it becomes a singular phenomenon. The parallel in architecture is the same. The ‘new’ or ‘next’ comes and goes by so fast that we are in something of a blur, unable and unwilling to take a stake on a relentlessly shifting ground. As architects, we are so self-aware that we won’t let ourselves become unfashionable for the sake of staking a position.

    Rosalind Krauss’ "Sculpture in the Expanded Field” has the same legitimacy for pluralism in architecture as for art: sustainability, parametrics, minimalism, information architecture, landscape urbanism, etc. all live under the same umbrella of the architectural zeitgeist, all while being open to new relationships, inclusiveness, and diversity. The latter are just factors of having to exist in a globalized, ‘flat’ world (Thomas Friedman). As with hipsterism, hipster architecture may be a response to the loss of authenticity or the local, through not by searching for authenticity, but for its lack. This is along the same lines as Venturi and Scott-Brown’s ideas of pop culture being the new vernacular in “Learning from Las Vegas”, and Koolhaas’ observations in “Generic City” and “Junkspace”.

  2. is there any room for "barbarian architecture"?

  3. Funny... I read that at Wegmans® while my brother was picking up his drugs (medicine, actually, but this sounds so much more edgy).

    "But we grew up too comfortable, played too much Nintendo, watched too much Saved by the Bell, read too much Chuck Klosterman and not enough Frantz Fanon. We naïvely drank the consumerist-credit card Kool-Aid, and now that the Final Fantasy is upon us, we’re in danger of sliding into a delusional techno-utopianism."

    This guys pretty hilarious. As he mentions from Mark Fisher's k-punk, it can look pretty bleak.
    I guess how one can go about "barbarian architecture" is either go "nature-tech will save us" route or animism, I guess "barbarian architecture" can mean "informal architecture", "nomad architecture", "ad-hoc architecture", or "evil architecture".

    We can create the kind of architecture (and culture) we want. Rather than scoff, architects can be the people who find and nurture original and great ideas when they emerge, or we can lament the sorry state of the medium. We can be conventionalists and conformists, or we can truly be innovators, curators, and creators.

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  5. I'm Zachary Kamel and I demand a little more respect. You used my quote as the defining quote of the entire article. Who says what I have to say isn't as valuable as Douglas Haddow or Christine Haughney? I'm sure you had no fucking clue who they were before you decided to research for your blog on hipsterism. I'd like to be cited as "Zachary Kamel, social commentator and philanthropist." Thank you and good day.

  6. Wow! Zachary is one righteous dude - an obviously smart sounding one at that too. Tell tale signs of greatness are cursing and demanding. I look forward to his future published works as a social commentator and philanthropist, I can't think of a more productive and substantive life title.
    Zachary, I take my hat off to you and your noble quest to better our culture by commenting on it.