In this contribution I sketch a framework for interpreting the parallel process of banalisation of old and proliferation of new 'iconic' corporate architecture as the Janus-faced manifestation of a qualitative shift in the relationship between capital and architecture. Highlighting the change from place-bound, place-loyal urban elites to footloose transnational elites, I argue that after the 1970s the need to develop a new set of building specifications and use values to accommodate the requirements of a new urban economy was matched by an equally pressing need to institute a new set of symbolic values for a new generation of elites. Drawing upon Castoriadis's work, I conceptualise architecture as the narrativisation of the desires of elites during a given era, and as a key component in instituting a society's radical imaginary during moments of change. Within this framework, I argue that despite their common commitment to spectacular design, there are a number of significant differences between contemporary and earlier corporate 'icons'. Discerning the distinct symbolic, material, and social role of contemporary corporate buildings, I challenge their identification as 'iconic' architecture and place them instead under a new category, which I term 'autistic architecture'. © 2011 Pion Ltd and its Licensors.
- architecture, iconic, banal, autistic, corporate, footloose, urban elites, patronage, cities, serial object