The following article was featured on Fulcrum #67 “The End of Critique” and includes texts by Oliver “Olly” Wainwright (Architecture critic at The Guardian) and me, David Basulto (Founder and Editor in Chief of ArchDaily). Thanks to Jack Self for the invitation and for his thorough editing.
Towards a new architecture
Since the early 1900s, modern architecture has undergone incremental development, where each new iteration has been informed by previous findings and solutions designed by other architects. This process started at a very slow pace, when a young Le Corbusier went east and published his findings and observations in Vers une Architecture.
The book became very influential among his contemporaries, who, based on his observations, produced their own iterations, second, third and forth waves, very quickly. These architects then started to unite. CIAM is an instance of where this early knowledge was shared, replicated, and published, therefore advancing at a faster pace.
Since then, architectural knowledge pursued a steady curve of advancement, accelerated by architectural publications that made this knowledge available to different parts of the world. Ultimately, the Internet arrived, making the exchange rate of information so fast that new iterations of modern architecture are today accelerating this curve in unprecedented ways.
But when this general phenomenon met the Internet, it also adopted some of the particular advantages of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 permitted for an Internet where users could interact and collaborate with each other, changing the way digital content was produced, and enabling users to generate their own content. This took the form of blog posts, comments and updates on social networks. This new way of using the web allowed for individual voices to arise, offering architects a channel to express their inner critic.
This new critique was able to reach new audiences, not only restricted by those directly related to our field, and the language naturally evolved into something more digestible for the layman.
Don’t take this as a simplification of the development of architectural discourse, but rather, a way to effectively adapt and share the tools of the critic for the general population, enabling them to engage in a closer way with the architectural discussion.
Now, this presents a particular moment on the curve of architectural advancement.
Critique is not just something static, but it is also an important way for architects to get feedback about their work, and it accordingly forms part of the iterative and incremental evolution of architecture. Often restricted to a small number of critics (in relation to the amount of buildings and architects), you could say that only a few high profile architects, whose work was more public, were receiving this useful feedback. But with the proliferation of Web critique, more critics were criticizing (and giving feedback) to more and more architects, taking criticism to the long tail of architecture and, again, making architecture advance faster.
Thanks to this new availability of the critic’s tools for the general population, they eventually entered into this dynamic of feedback, as architects started to hear the opinions (and critiques, often more in the form of criticisms) from these people outside the field, but who have an important role as the users of the buildings, bringing to the table a perspective that was traditionally left outside of this dynamic.
This flattening of the landscape of critique thanks to the Internet does not mean the end of it, but rather offers a tremendous opportunity to actually reshape its role to become a fundamental part of the process of advancing architecture, with all stakeholders (architects, critics, and the public) on board.