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noun [countable]

a very famous architect, especially one who has designed a well-known building in the recent past


noun [uncountable]

a style of building design which has become particularly famous





'In these important markets, many hotel projects are large, iconic structures employing some of the world's most famous starchitects and designer groups …'

Hospitality Net 9th October 2007

'Starchitecture on Campus – Colleges and universities from Boston to Chicago are hooked on celebrity architects whose signature designs can help boost a school's reputation …'

The Boston Globe 22nd February 2004

'Now the Bilbao effect has spread slightly south to Rioja, one of the richest wine-producing areas of Spain. The starchitectural branding is being applied to some of Rioja's oldest and most respected wineries.'

Belgrade Design Week May 2007

Do you have a favourite building? If you do, and your choice is a product of 21st-century architecture, then the chances are it was designed by a starchitect.

a key characteristic of the work of starchitects is what is popularly referred to as 'the wow factor' – the creation of an impressive building which incorporates unique features and is highly visible within its location

A blend of the words star and architect, starchitect is a recent coinage used to describe a famous architect who has been responsible for the design of an 'iconic' 21st-century building. This is typically some kind of public building which attracts a degree of media interest, and thereby imparts a sort of 'celebrity' status to its designer. Examples of such buildings and their respective starchitects are: the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, designed by Frank Gehry, the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, UK, designed by Daniel Libeskind, and the headquarters of Swiss Re in London (informally known as 'the Gherkin'), designed by Lord Norman Foster.

A key characteristic of the work of starchitects is what is popularly referred to as 'the wow factor' – the creation of an impressive building which incorporates unique features and is highly visible within its location. Current technology and the influence of mass media in the digital age mean that the wider public get to see and appreciate such buildings a long time before they actually, if indeed ever, visit them for themselves. The buildings therefore quickly assume a kind of iconic status and turn their designers into starchitects renowned for a particular 'signature' design.

On the model of the words architect and architecture, the noun starchitecture is also sometimes used, along with the derived adjective starchitectural and adverb starchitecturally.

Background – starchitect

Used since around 2001, the terms starchitect and starchitecture are clever blends of star and architect / architecture. The concept of starchitecture is thought to have arisen from what is referred to as the 'Bilbao Effect' in architectural contexts. This expression refers to the aforementioned Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which opened in 1997 and was designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Now hailed as a landmark project, the seductive architecture of the museum put the old, industrial city of Bilbao on the international cultural map. Cities on both sides of the Atlantic followed suit, inspired by the transformation of a run-down area into a magnet for tourists. The Bilbao project proved an influential example of how new architecture had the potential to revitalise cities in economic decline.

Starchitect has mildly pejorative overtones, and has also been used in a more tongue-in-cheek fashion to refer to popular celebrities who have become involved in architecture, like Brad Pitt .

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 26th November 2007.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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