Wow Archictecture Won’t Disappear, It Will Just Move On — And Maybe That’s a Good Thing


About a month after LEHMAN BROTHERS wowed us by filing for bankruptcy, ZAHA HADID’s traveling CHANEL PAVILION, an elaborate fiberglass structure emulating Chanel’s classic 2.55 purse, landed on Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield.

New York Times writer NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF followed up the haute couture attack with a scathing review that began: “The wild, delirious ride that architecture has been on for the last decade looks as if it’s finally coming to an end. And after a visit to the Chanel Pavilion…you may think it hasn’t come soon enough.”

British architect, DAVID CHIPPERFIELD, agrees. In an interview with, he defined “Wow architecture” as “an architecture of excess, a consequence of there being too much money around.” He gambles that “we will see a mood shift — a certain sensibility coming back.”

While he may be right about projects in his native UK or even here in the United States, there are other countries who are finding the energy, space, and most importantly, the glorious dough to build big. “Form follows finance,” said ARCHITECTURAL RECORD’s DAVID SOKOL as he pointed to Dubai’s “blowout of mega-palaces for the new fossil-fuel plutocrats.”

Speaking of Dubai and mega-palaces, have you heard of the Dynamic Tower? No big deal. It’s just an 80-story building with floors rotating independent of an another, each completing a 360-degree rotation every 90 minutes. The brain-child of Italian architect DAVID FISHER, the time-based structure touts itself green with 79 wind turbines fitted between each floor.

Then there’s China, whose architecture explosion tooted a horn or two at the Beijing Olympics this past Summer. “In Beijing, architecture has become a spectator sport,” explains Record’s Clifford A. Pearson. With buildings such as HERZOG and DE MEURON’s National Stadium — otherwise known as the Bird’s Nest — and OMA’s CCTV tower, China’s glowing city is the newest beacon of the avant-garde.

Helsinki has been grappling with the draw of Wow-architecture, starry-eyed at what celebrity architect FRANK GEHRY did for Bilbao with the Guggenheim Museum and PEKKA KORIPEN, Helsnki’s Mayor for City Planning and Real Estate wants some iconic structures stat. However, Finnish architects have been known to turn up their noses at the international trend. Architect JUHA ILONEN notes, “Wow-architecture is all about dazzling and astonishing people with the mere shell of the edifice. It takes no account of the deeper significance of the building.” Like, its context.

America will most likely be granted another go-round at glitz and glamor, but our question is: should we really get on that carousel again? Or are the most interesting projects the ones that have to work a little harder to get our attention?

– Jessamyn Farkas