Specifically, Mercer believes the decisions and news stories surrounding the rebuilding of the World Trade Center add to our interest in architecture. Years of war forced other cities with big architectural buzz, such as Berlin, to reinvent their space by the sheer ne­cessity of re-creating many buildings. But for America, the World Trade Center offers a huge test case - an important re-creation of an architectural icon, and Mercer believes it is destined to become a major tourist destination. "The loss of a symbol is a major thing," Mercer says. "It's part of your identity as a nation, and so to try to reconstruct it is not just a matter of putting up steel beams and glass façade. It's about trying to figure out your identity going forward and what you can use the space to promote, what kind of ideas to put forward."

But the interest in architecture goes beyond buildings in general and high-culture spaces like museums in particular. "Design is more accessible, and what's happened is that high design has been harnessed by a very powerful force, which is retail," says Alec Zaballero, associate principal and design director of the retail studio for TPG Architecture in New York. He points to the spectrum of design-meets-consumerism experiences that stretch from architect Michael Graves' work for Target to Rem Koolhaas' Prada store in SoHo, New York, and Peter Marino's soon-to-open Louis Vuitton store in New York. Stores like Ikea and Pottery Barn, and even the Ralph Lauren town house in Manhattan, provide shopping experiences that emphasize design and offer ­consumers a chance to create an identity for themselves and their space.

To prove his point, Zaballero offers this formula: "For every person hour that is spent looking at Bilbao, there are a thousand person hours being spent in the Prada store." And, "I'll suggest the idea that while someone might spend an hour in the Tate [London's high-profile modern art museum in the refurbished Docklands area, which wears its modernism on its sleeve], they will take the family to Harrods for the entire day."