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The transnational capitalist class and contemporary architecture in globalizing cities

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The focus of this article is on the role of the transnational capitalist class (TCC) in and around architecture in the production and marketing of iconic buildings and spaces, in global or world cities. The TCC is conceptualized in terms of four fractions: (1) Those who own and/or and control the major transnational corporations and their local affiliates (corporate fraction). In architecture these are the major architectural, architecture-engineering and architecture-developer-real estate firms. In comparison with the major global consumer goods, energy and financial corporations the revenues of the biggest firms in the architecture industry are quite small. However, their importance for the built environment and their cultural importance, especially in cities, far outweighs their relative lack of financial and corporate muscle. (2) Globalizing politicians and bureaucrats (state fraction). These are the politicians and bureaucrats at all levels of administrative power and responsibility who actually decide what gets built where, and how changes to the built environment are regulated. (3) Globalizing professionals (technical fraction). The members of this fraction range from the leading technicians centrally involved in the structural features of new building to those responsible for the education of students and the public in architecture. (4) Merchants and media (consumerist fraction). These are the people who are responsible for the marketing of architecture in all its manifestations. (There is obviously some overlap between the membership of these fractions.). My conclusion is that many global and aspiring global cities have looked to iconic architecture as a prime strategy of urban intervention, often in the context of rehabilitation of depressed areas. The attempt to identify the agents most responsible for this transformation, namely the TCC, and to explain how they operate, suggests that deliberately iconic architecture is becoming a global phenomenon, specifically a central urban manifestation of the culture-ideology of consumerism.

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