Every Recession needs its Architectural Show Ponies

It’s a big scarey world at the moment: Side-lining RMA trauma, capitalism getting egg on its face, the planet going down the climatic toilet, and Memorial Park on hold. Let’s not even mention the National Library. It’s in times like these that irresponsible flippancy becomes one of the few critical tools left unshakable.

Enter the Architectural Show Pony …

While the OED defines the Show Pony of the extra-equestrial as “a person who is overly concerned with his or her appearance; an ostentatious or showy person,” you’ll no doubt be pleased to know that “show pony” (in the non-equestrian sense) is a word of Australasian origin and dates from the 1998 paperback Dingo.

The Urban Dictionary is equally productively in its description.   Here a Show Pony is: “A person that shows off in the public eye and does things just for the hell of it, usually dyeing hair regally” or “someone who not only looks better than the rest but just is” … and I recommend these definitions of the term over more peripheral and icky ones (such as the “backyard show pony“).

The Show Pony has even become somewhat of a designer cause célèbre – in that soft toy sense – sprouting at least one UK design company and an earnest teenage fashion & art “installation” in California.  Even young-ish stallion Brad Pitt has been taking architectural lessons from the Starchitect Pony Trainer of them all: Frank Gehry.

So what happens when we bring architecture into the New Zealand showjumping ring?  Flowing locks, playing dress-up, and flaunting media sluttage plus buildings. What exactly are the NZ architectural qualifications to be best-in-show?

Roger Walker might be most televised architect, Athfield the most filmed, and perhaps they once were architectural show ponies in bygone drug-infused era of the 1960s and 70s – but alas no more.  The expertise of the Urban Dictionary strongly suggests that the show pony is young, virile – and not necessarily heterosexual. Current media-flossed and blow-waved designer spots suggest: Guy Evans – architectural poster boy for the Master Builders, Tommy Honey – agent provocateur to Katherine Ryan’s nine2noon design spot. Even Sam Kebbell has been a bit-part in a national media campaign, doing social good for the Alcohol Advisory Council of NZ.  Pete Bossley (in his days of architectural show ponyship) had his own run in with alcohol – followed closely with censure from the NZIA. Rember that seemingly innocent endorsement in a Whiskey (or was it Scotch?) advertisement, which apparently brought the entire NZ architectural profession into disrepute no less?

Architectural show ponyship certainly seems to be a field where the stallions outnumber the fillies. Mitre10 Dream Home is one of the few media outings attracting the young female pony-ettes.  Perhaps then there are insufficient architectural gymkhanas for a decent display of one-up-ponyship? In these times of scarcity perhaps we need to lobby for some more.  Think of the potential of: Dancing with the Starchitects, New Zealand’s Next Top Architectural Model, Builder Swap, Client Swap, “Survivor” Architect … with a bit of imagination it’s a wonderful world!


9 responses to “Every Recession needs its Architectural Show Ponies”

  1. So – can we extend the metaphor and work out who our fillies are, our stallions and our asses…?

  2. richard Avatar

    I remember that ad with Pete Bossley in it – when was it? Someone like Robin Skinner will no doubt remember (or even still have a copy!)

  3. F – perhaps not just filies, stallions and asses – I’m sure there are a couple of stables of show ponies in town as well …

  4. Frank P Avatar
    Frank P

    Nice post – but: Surely both of your Show Pony definitions: “a person who is overly concerned with his or her appearance; an ostentatious or showy person,” and “young, virile – and not necessarily heterosexual” are to do more with the persons looks than their ability.

    Are you not conflating that with show-pony-architecture itself (not just the architects), where the architecture is frilly and show-offery, and really of not much substance in itself? I’m thinking of Will Alsop (big, fat and ugly), and his buildings (flim-flam and not much substance, but incredibly eye-catching) – and indeed the same could go for Zaha, although it’s arguable that she has more talent than big Willy.

    In NZ though? Ooooo, there’s a hard one, as the actress said to the bishop. We’re not that media-friendly, or media-savvy here, so teh architectural profession tends to not make it into the tabloids so much. Fearon and Hay are getting pretty well known, and are always photographed as a duo – so i have no idea which is which – although obviously one is more photogenic than the other. And their architecture looks pretty flash to boot – and seems to work.

  5. I know it’s true there is a “show pony” aspect to architecture – but do you really have to remind us? I’m not one of those “bring the profession into disrepute” kind-of puritans – the profession is not necessarily something worth saving – but “show pony” parading and shallowness really undermines any possibility for hard-core architectural integrity.

  6. Frank P Avatar
    Frank P

    “hard-core architectural integrity” has a wonderful ring to it, but I’m not entirely sure what it means. At the very least it has connotations with the porn industry, so may have more to do with stallions than you care to admit to – however, I’m willing to let it slide. Possiblities for more double entendres than I care to admit to: however, GT, I think you may still have the categories confused. Is the show pony the architect or the architecture? Which one has the glossy tail? Who needs to be stabled or put out to stud? Or to pasture? And lastly: who is prepared to work for peanuts (monkeys, obviously, or in this case, a shiny red apple).

  7. all this fluffing around – surely show-pony-ness is simply a matter of personality regardless of the profession

  8. The Mitre 10 show does not shine a very good light upon our female pony-ettes… In fact, it portrays a very weird client/designer relationship, and while they do identify them as “architectural graduates” rather than registered architects per se, it is not a helpful image to set for an architectural profession that is already excluded from most domestic work…

  9. richard Avatar

    M-D I have to admit to not having watched “Mitre 10 Dream Home” (though I did catch a couple of episodes of Changing Rooms) so I’ll have to believe you on this one. It is very interesting that general audience popular magazines so often present women in a show-pony light but it’s the men in architecture on the show-pony ring. I hadn’t quite realised it before this illuminating post.

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