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Imagery as Architecture

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It’s not just me who’s thankful the most egregious examples of CAD architecture will never get built, but it’s pointless being thankful if we’ve already imagined them. It’s entered our lives already and is already as real as it ever needs to be. When imagery of architectural propositions is debated, discussed and consistently reacted to as if it were real, it makes absolutely no difference. It still feeds this new monster we know by the same old name Architecture.


Sure Chernikov produced his 101 Architectural Fantasies


and Sant’Elia did some drawings too but we understand that building them was never on the cards. They were illustrations of theoretical positions, not unbuilt proposals. The now quaint term ‘paper architect‘ used to refer to an architect whose designs repeatedly failed to get built. The term has lost its air of sadness along with the paper for designs now exist independent of any validation functional economic or for what it’s worth architectural.

Design has now atrophied to imagery alone but that’s a tangential point. Once we have architectural reputations built on imagery alone then we have to admit that images are architecture. If we don’t want to do that, we could always admit it’s possible for architectural reputations to be formed on the basis of images alone but this leaves us with the tricky issue of the building bit being obsolete. This seems a better fit. The unfortunate corollary is that, in the absence of any coherent intellectual or moral challenge, what gets presented as architecture gets perceived as architecture.


I first learned of Klyukin and his work at the 2013 Cityscape Global exhibition here in Dubai. I’d put him down as the kind of chancer you usually find lurking around property, furniture and design fairs here or anywhere else for that matter. I know how easy it would be for some dude with too much money to swing by his stand and exclaim “Now that’s what I call Architecture!” and before you know it there it is, in a city near you.

Klyukin and his architecture have received spatterings of media coverage these past years. Some recent mentions how ‘designs like Klyukin’s point to the toll that weird design has taken on the public’s conception of what architecture means’. In an elephant-in-the-room kind of way, there’s no discussion of the toll this has taken on architects’ conception of what architecture means. It’s not as if Klyukin is doing anything vastly different from any of the other chancers out there and this is why, even as ideas, his architecture makes uncomfortable viewing.

This is OUR problem. We’re the ones who’ve been groomed to form opinions and make judgments about architecture on the basis of images alone. In our minds, images are architecture. By this I don’t mean they’ve become another type of architecture. They’re it. All there is. A is B. Making some analogy to online pornography vs. actual sex would be trite if the medium, process, addiction, commodification and resultant dysfunction weren’t all exact matches.


Personally, and as far as the architecture of Vasily Klyukin is concerned, I don’t go much for the forms, but accept it’s a natural consequence of the system. Gotta take the bad with the good, etc. But where’s the good? Who gains from such a system?

There’s never much evidence of construction or internal function on display but hey we don’t want to be living in the past do we?  The proposition above, for example, could be for offices, mixed use, apartments, a hotel – nobody cares and certainly not Vasily Klyukin or the rest of the world. He creates artistic statements out of building volumes in the same way as Michelangelo once used blocks of marble.

I cringed when I wrote that. Please tell me you did too. It means there’s still hope, that we’re still alive and sentient, that we’ve discovered a line we’d prefer uncrossed, a door opened we’d prefer firmly shut again. But how would we feel if a sculptor who was Michelangelo’s equal or better came along with a similar proposition? How would we feel about it today if someone had decided Midtown was the best location for Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi‘s The Statue of Liberty?


Or how would we feel if The Colossus of Rhodes was still standing? Or rebuilt, as it may yet be? – there’s plan afoot.


These are just speculations on one of Vasily Klyukin’s many propositions. What they all have in common is they’re big, not tiny like the piano and violin music school building or the book library building we all laughed smugly at.

What’s more, they’re not intended for somewhere in China, some Gulf or country with a name ending in -stan. These proposals are provocatively montaged into locations that include some we know. We’re immune to this.


Here’s one of Klyukin’s takes on a superyacht – seen worse.  (c.f. Showboating).

Here’s Zaha Hadid’s.
Conceptually, it’s a fine line in sea creatures inhabiting the shallow end of biomimicry. Back on land, here’s Klyukin’s In Love.
Here’s Gehry’s Fred and Ginger.

I prefer the Klyukin – it’s less contrived. I can’t hate it even though we probably have the Gehry to thank for it. It could just as easily be called Fred and Ginger were it not for the fact that, at 5’9″, Fred was never that much taller than any of his partners. Gehry probably added the head feature to the corner tower in order to make the name work with the building volume and stop Ginger being a head taller. The more I look at the abominable Gehry … the arm-balcony … the doubled shapely legs …  yes, I definitely prefer In Love but I could happily live without knowing both exist as equivalent ideas in the virtual world of architecture.

Confession time: I once designed a building to partner SOM’s Rolex Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. The idea was to have a slightly ‘feminine’ building adjacent, a muted rose pink to Rolex’s sea green etc., together dominating the board. As far as aesthetically efficient concepts go, it’s not bad IMO but I’m still waiting for that call.

But whether singles play or doubles doesn’t time just fly! It’s only been a short hop, step and a jump from this


to this,


And so on.

It’s all flashing before me as Vasily Klyukin forces us to reflect upon where architecture is at. We may dismiss his propositions as architecture but we do so uneasily. This isn’t because we know our luck won’t last forever, but because we know in our hearts how little different they are to anything else posited as architecture these days.

This, as I said, is our problem but, when anything can be proposed as architecture and be considered such, it’s architecture’s problem as well – not that anyone cares. The world of architecture as represented by its media overlords has embraced the instant production and dissemination of imagery as if it is architecture, as if the provocatively proposed is somehow superior to the intelligently realised, as if the difference between the built and the unbuilt, and between fantasy and reality no longer matters.

We should all thank Vasily Klyukin for reminding us why it should.

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  • Thanks Graham for the Nice article,
    But hey, isn’t that more interesting to put the parallel of image use and story telling ?

  • How many drafts do you go through until the white-hot anger simmers down to a manageable temperature? Love your passion, please keep writing.

  • Totally right, somehow these towers seemed eerily similar to this big boy (, the method seems to be the same, maybe just the aesthetics is a bit different.

    At least Klyukin is rather up front about his aims: “A famous building is much more commercially attractive, and, at the same time, a complex form or facade doesn’t involve a huge rise in costs. The status of a fashionable and famous tower or building brings very substantial dividends to its owner.” (

    • You’re right! It’s refreshing to see someone upfront about the intersection of aesthetics and economics. Our ‘avant-garde’ commercial practices deny the connection at the upper end whilst courting it at the lower, and our populist commercial practices attempt to rebrand the connection as hedonistic laissez-faire. It’s all a bit crap. Imagine if whole cities went the Klyukin route of gratuitous imagery without shame! Perhaps someday we could learn from it like we did from Las Vegas, and it could be almost all right like Main Street? It’s one possible future. Every now and then I get the feeling we’re still in the Postmodern era and that all these differences that seem so great to us today will fade into nothing.

  • Mr. McKay, you have an interesting point of view that often makes me laugh. Another great article. Imagination is the ART in Architecture…may it never die. I am only disappointed when I see someone design an actual basket for a basket company. Good art is open to interpretation & makes the subject feel.