The Franchising of Architecture

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The Franchising of Architecture
A septet of New York City architects attempts an early exercise in personal branding, becoming the buildings they designed at the 1931 Beaux Arts ball. // Office for Metropolitan History

Once upon a time, the great architecture of the world was strictly local. Travelers seeking the wonders of London, Paris and Florence saw buildings designed by Londoners, Parisians and Florentines. Or at least the English, the French and the Italians. Though architects were not necessarily tied to one city — Raphael was born in Urbino but built in Florence and Rome — most stayed close to home. Take Bernini’s attempt to spread his wings: Louis XIV invited the artist and architect to finish the east front of the Louvre but eventually turned the work over to a Frenchman, finding Bernini’s facade to be too Italian. And so it was, and so was he.

Today, European architects regularly work in the United States, Americans work in Europe and everybody works in Asia. This globalization of architecture would seem like a good thing for us, and it’s obviously good for (many) architects. If you are a city hoping to ping the world’s cultural radar, an institution looking to attract donors, or a condominium developer trying to lure deep-pocketed tenants, your architect better have a recognizable name.