The following article by Oliver “Olly” Wainwright (Architecture and design critic at The Guardian) was featured on Fulcrum #67 “The End of Critique”, which also included an article by ArchDaily’s co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, David Basulto.
Baubles on Pedestals
It has become increasingly fashionable to trumpet the death of criticism. Barely a week goes by that there isn’t a new blog declaring the end of architectural critique, the slipping of standards, the domination of our screens by an unmediated slew of images.
“Criticism is in crisis,” wail the critics, seeing their traditional role threatened by a torrential tide of websites that funnel an incontinent splurge of unadulterated visual stimulation. From Dezeen to ArchDaily, Designboom to Architizer, we are bombarded with a never-ending deluge of projects, freed from any sense of context or meaning. It is easy to believe the cries that architectural culture is being flattened into a homogenous soup of saturated colours and oblique geometries – a cascade of effortlessly digested eye-candy to be liked, retweeted, pinned and shared across the infinite social media network.
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.
“Take Five: A Titan of Architectrual Criticism has Died, but Architects are Best Prepared to Carry on the Conversation” was originally published in AIArchitect.
In a stirring call-to-action written for AIArchitect, Robert Ivy, FAIA and AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer, reflects on the state of architecture criticism today. He recognizes that the late, great Ada Louise Huxtable was unquestionably the best critic of our time. However, the time of the singular architectural voice has passed; in the 21st century, and with the rise of the Internet, we have all become architectural critics – architects, informed citizens, and, often most vociferously, not so informed citizens. In this world of critical noise, Ivy proposes that the architect must step up to take on the role of architecture critic… and advocate.
Read Ivy’s stirring article in full, after the break…
The New York Public Library has a plan to save millions of dollars, improve efficiency, and reverse the cutbacks that have been plaguing it. How? By sending little-used resources off-site (after all, most people use the library for its online resources these days), the Library will consolidate three libraries into one Mid-Manhattan branch, renovating the building with a streamlined, efficient design – courtesy of Foster + Partners - to create “the largest combined research and circulating library in the country.”
It sounds like a wonderful, modern solution. Ms. Ada Louise Huxtable would beg to differ.
The former New York Times architecture critic and current critic for the Wall Street Journal has come out swinging against the plan. First, she builds on the critique that others have made, that by moving volumes off-site (to New Jersey, or “Siberia, as she puts it) to make room for more modern amenities, the library will devalue its primary purpose (making resources readily accessible). To put it another way, as Scott Sherman did in his article for The Nation, it would turn the library into “a glorified internet café.” Then, Huxtable makes her own argument: that removing the current, intricate system of stacks would be an enormously complex, expensive, and hopelessly misguided structural challenge.
But, ultimately Ms. Huxtable’s argument comes down to the intrinsic architectural and cultural value of this Beaux Arts Masterpiece: “You don’t “update” a masterpiece.”
More on the Ms. Huxtable incendiary critique of The New York Public Library’s Central Plan, after the break…
There’s a saying that goes “Those who can’t do, teach.” But many could also claim: “Those who can’t do, critique.” Criticism, particularly Architecture Criticism, tends to get a bad rap for being subjective, impenetrable, and – ultimately – useless. But Paul Goldberger, a champion of the craft, would disagree.
In his acceptance speech for the Vincent Scully Prize earlier this month, Goldberger, the long-time architecture critic for The New York Times and current contributor to Vanity Fair, suggests that Architectural Criticism isn’t just vital – but more important than ever before.
With the advent of visually-oriented social media like Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, it’s never been easier for the architectural layman to observe, share, and consume architecture. However, in the midst of this hyper-flow of image intake, Goldberger argues, meaning gets lost.
That’s where the critic comes in.
It’s rare to find someone willing to pay for opinions these days, and rarer still to be known for them. Yet, Paul Goldberger has crafted a career by objectively navigating the subjective. As an arbiter of quality in architecture and design for nearly four decades, he spends a few moments with me to reminisce about the “short break” he took from journalism that led to, among many accolades, the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and, more recently, the Scully Prize.
Andrew Caruso: You’re being recognized this year by the National Building Museum with the Vincent Scully prize. Given your relationship with Scully began when you were a student at Yale, this must be a very meaningful award.
Paul Goldberger: Scully was very much a teacher and mentor to me. Actually my first exposure to him was a high school visit to Yale. I observed one of his classes and was blown away. He was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Yale in the first place and I was lucky to work with him through college and as my thesis adviser.
The complete interview after the break…