CityLab staffer Kriston Capps explains how "starchitect" has become something of an insulting term, digging into the complex relationship between the ideological views of critics and the architects they love, or hate.
Prominent architecture, or the design of important buildings, reflects a popular mandate which often runs along political lines. High design skews liberal, focused on museums, libraries, performance halls and other buildings that serve a public good, and often built on the public's dime.
So a whole lot of fine architecture is anathema to movement conservatism, programmatically. Not everything: Some of the finest buildings in the world are private projects driven by corporate ambition. And conservatives are invested in who and what gets memorialized and how.
This framework helps to explain why conservative critics love to hate the “starchitect.” It’s shorthand, a way of sorting the building arts into two categories—useful architecture that conservatives should approve and wasteful architecture that conservatives should disdain—without doing any of the real and difficult work of judging design.