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The Rent of Form

Architecture and Labor in the Digital Age

2018
Author:

Pedro Fiori Arantes
Translated by Adriana Kauffmann
Foreword by Reinhold Martin
Revisions by Timothy Frye

The Rent of Form

A critique of prominent architects’ approach to digitally driven design and labor practices over the past two decades

Analyzing major international architectural projects of the past twenty years, Pedro Fiori Arantes explores how “architecture of exception” has come to dominate today’s industry. Critiquing the capital and labor practices that enable many contemporary projects, Arantes explains how circulation, consumption, the division of labor, and the distribution of wealth came to fix a notion of “starchitecture” central to the industry.

In this story, all is extraction, and the construction site is like a mine for the primary accumulation of symbolic capital. Form becomes function not in any useful way, but as a locus of value, forcing signifier and signified together through the raw power of the command: measure this and make this, in this way.

Reinhold Martin, from the Foreword

With the advent of revolutionary digital design and production technologies, contemporary architects and their clients developed a taste for dramatic, unconventional forms. Seeking to amaze their audiences and promote their global brands, “starchitects” like Herzog & de Meuron and Frank Gehry have reaped substantial rewards through the pursuit of spectacle enabled by these new technologies. This process reached a climax in projects like Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao and the “Bilbao effect,” in which spectacular architectural designs became increasingly sought by municipal and institutional clients for their perceived capacity to enhance property values, which author Pedro Fiori Arantes calls the “rent of form.”

Analyzing many major international architectural projects of the past twenty years, Arantes provides an in-depth account of how this “architecture of exception” has come to dominate today’s industry. Articulating an original, compelling critique of the capital and labor practices that enable many contemporary projects, Arantes explains how circulation (via image culture), consumption (particularly through tourism), the division of labor, and the distribution of wealth came to fix a certain notion of starchitecture at the center of the industry.

Significantly, Arantes’s viewpoint is not that of Euro-American capitalism. Writing from the Global South, this Brazilian theorist offers a fresh perspective that advances ideas less commonly circulated in dominant, English-language academic and popular discourse. Asking key questions about the prevailing logics of finance capital, and revealing inconvenient truths about the changing labor of design and the treatment of construction workers around the world, The Rent of Form delivers a much-needed reevaluation of the astonishing buildings that have increasingly come to define world cities.

The Rent of Form

Pedro Fiori Arantes is an architect and urban planner, professor of art history, and Pro-Rector of Planning at the Federal University of São Paulo.

Adriana Kauffmann is a translator in São Paulo, Brazil.

Reinhold Martin is professor of architecture and director of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University. He is author of Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (Minnesota, 2010) and The Urban Apparatus: Mediapolitics and the City (Minnesota, 2016).

The Rent of Form

In this story, all is extraction, and the construction site is like a mine for the primary accumulation of symbolic capital. Form becomes function not in any useful way, but as a locus of value, forcing signifier and signified together through the raw power of the command: measure this and make this, in this way.

Reinhold Martin, from the Foreword

This timely translation of Pedro Fiori Arantes’s book into English explores the political and aesthetic dilemmas of contemporary architecture practice and theory from an opportune viewpoint. Firstly, it speaks from the South of the globalized world by entering and leaving conventional Western discourses. Secondly, it stems out of a little-known yet commanding line of historical-materialist criticism of architecture shaped up in Brazil since the 1970s, especially at the University of São Paulo. The Rent of Form sheds light onto obscured aspects of architectural production as well as onto the challenges that continue to tie it to unequal economic and social practices.

Zeuler Lima, Washington University in St. Louis*

The Rent of Form

Introduction · Stars of Exception
Chapter 1 · The Forms of Rent
Chapter 2 · Programmed Design
Chapter 3 · One to One: Full Scale Construction Site
Conclusion -The New Frontier
Distribution of Medals
The End of the Era of Excesses?
The Green Wave
Annexe
Architecture in Review
Bibliographic References