12 February 2021
by Marco Romanelli
Why do architects wear black these days (apart from a select few who nevertheless choose to wear all one colour)? Tailored, geometric or almost futuristic suits, absolutely no logos, giving off an essential and sophisticated air. Does chromophobia help build a mysterious guru-like image? As Peter Haimerl once said: “Architects wear black … because they want to have the authority of black capes, the liberty of apes, and the visibility of nocturnal capers.” Can that be right? More importantly, has this always been the case?
Let’s work backwards. Black turtleneck, gently elasticated trousers, also black, lace-up shoes even in the summer but – perish the thought - absolutely never with socks. Black as in profound. This is the uniform of the “architect monk,” attempting to preserve a degree of professional credibility (which is where the uniform comes in). Unless, of course, one chooses to turn oneself into a poster for oneself: Ross Lovegrove’s all-white, acting as a pendant to the snow-white beard and hair, Karim Rashid’s all-pink, which shocked the still faintly homophobic Brianza producers, Fabio Novembre’s aggressive studded leather, not least because of being accompanied by a fair amount of profanity. Basically, these are all a recent phenomenon, and not an autochthonous one at that – mediated by the art world.
How did this happen? Let’s take a quick look back into the BBPR studio of forty years ago: white lab coats with elasticated wrists to stop their wearers getting grubby, protecting white shirts with dark ties and allowing a glimpse of perfectly pressed and creased Prince of Wales trousers and lace-ups (apologies, I forgot to mention the braces). This was a trend that hung on for years, long after the lab coats were jettisoned, giving way to the most impeccable grisailles, woollen pinstripes, and then vicuna trousers teamed with salt-and-pepper or houndstooth jackets with pockets full of pencils, coloured biros and felt tips at the ready for those still tracing lines and drawing freehand. This was the generation of the Magistretti (special dispensation for the red socks), the Albinis and the Viganòs. Men who looked like American actors, waiting in khaki-coloured shorts and ghastly mariners’ caps for the summer holidays to explode, longing for the absolute freedom of sailing and the islands in the south, while their brains ticked over with stunning designs for villas under the scorching Sardinian sun.
The subsequent model was hybridised with British dress codes. A prime example has to be Aldo Rossi, the architect no longer either a designer or a gifted planner. Never without a book in his hand, he became an intellectual in the ‘80s (who often produce the worst sort of architecture). All the drawings were on yellowish detail paper, with weird towers, weird pediments.
New figures began to appear alongside the architect of the ‘80s: gallerists, quick to extricate whatever little drawings the above-mentioned architect produced, as well as critics, also clad all in black, quick to fill every conceptual aphasia with words.
These days, architects are business people, astute manipulators, politically-minded. These days, architects chomp on chewing gum and claim that in order to make architecture they absolutely cannot do without biologists, oceanographers, lichen experts. Will our children go right back to the beginning again? I‘d like to imagine them on worksites in a stout pair of boots, leaving the flippers to the oceanographers.