There is an emerging repertoire, often used thoughtlessly and in an imitative way, to use culture or arts in city development. The full repertoire includes galleries, museums, the concert hall, the theatre, the experience centre of whatever theme, the sports stadium and finally the aquarium. Indeed, as a perceptive commentator recently noted, 'we live in the age of aquaria'.2
Back to Rio, which in 2003 announces with a fanfare the new Guggenheim, and also a new sports stadium and a new concert hall. More recently the repertoire has been broadened to include 'creative quarters' - which in fact are usually refurbished old industrial buildings in inner city fringe areas - as well as attracting big events, either sports or festivals. The aim is to enhance image and prestige and to attract visitors and therefore inward investment. The attempt is to brand the city and richly associate its name with cultural sophistication. In the past these institutions mostly carried the name of the city in their title, like the Birmingham Rep or the Cleveland Museum of Art. More recently the trend has been to create more unique and distinctive identifiers such as the 'Esplanade' in Singapore, 'The Baltic' or 'The Sage' in Gateshead, and the 'The Guggenheim' in Bilbao, where intense efforts are made to give the word itself powerful resonance. Taking the name of an existing cultural institution like the Tate, Hermitage or Guggenheim, which have spent generations building their reputations, is an attempt at a short cut. The costs of generating brand
The urban regenerators repertoire: The concert hall and ferris wheel in Birmingham, UK
recognition through a name from scratch are immense. Not only must the power of the building - the container - entice, but the contents also need to be associated with world-class quality to get through the 'noise' of information overload in order to become a 'must see' destination. And very few achieve this.
The primary focus of these recognition strategies is outward-looking and internationally oriented. This often creates problems for locals, especially indigenous artistic communities, who may feel their needs are being neglected. This is why Tate Modern hired a community regeneration manager while it was being built to ensure that rich links with and involvement of the community were fostered. The attempt to generate international attention in a world of short attention spans has meant architects now have an increasingly powerful role and there is frenzied competition to attract those with star quality who are able to create iconic buildings, such as Gehry, Izozaki, Sn0hetta, Rogers, Foster, Alsop and Calatrava. There is a tension between the need to continuously provide innovative and technological derring-do, enabled increasingly through complex computer modelling, and the requirement to make buildings work functionally for their purpose. The latter requires a series of mundane considerations, such as 'Can I get the lorries to actually deliver the theatre scenery?' or 'Can I clean the windows so as not to disturb the building as a work of art?'
As branding has become the mantra of the age, so cultural institutions have increasingly recognized that they can have drawing power and iconic qualities. Cities seeking to take the short route to international status now pursue them with vigour. They have recognized value in their brands and have begun to franchise their names, such as when Bilbao paid US$20 million for the use of the Guggenheim name for 20 years. The Guggenheim's internationalization strategy includes outlets in Berlin, Las Vegas (built by Rem Koolhaas, another architectural star) and its oldest outlet in Venice. The Guggenheim frequently receives offers to establish new operations, from cities such as Tokyo, Rio and Johannesburg. But one day the deals are on the map, the next they seem to have fallen through. Others following this approach include the Hermitage in St Petersburg, with museums/galleries in Amsterdam and Las Vegas. The Tate in the UK has also pursued this route, although in a less commercial way. These outliers make sense given that the vast majority of their artworks are in storage.
The Guggenheim in Bilbao, one of the few iconic buildings that is etched into the world's imagination
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