Why 2015′s Most Important Design In Architecture Isn’t A Building, But A New York Times Article

Looking towards the uppermost floors of the new Whitney Museum of American Art, thick clouds roll diagonally across the sky behind. Reflected in the ample window of the museum’s main gallery they dash in a different direction, while the building’s white facade flashes light and dark in response to the changing light conditions. Superimposed over this scene, bold all-caps lettering pronounces the title of an article: the simple but dramatic “A New Whitney.”

This is the sight that greeted readers of Michael Kimmelman’s review of the Whitney in The New York Times last Sunday. Scroll down just a little, and the first thing you encounter is a list of credits: Jeremy Ashkenas and Alicia Desantis produced the article; graphics were contributed by Mika Gröndahl, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas and Graham Roberts; and videos by Damon Winter (the editor behind the entire endeavor, Mary Suh, is not mentioned).

Before even reading the article’s opening words, one thing is clear: this is not your average building review. As a matter of fact, it might even be the most important article in recent architectural memory.

Michael Kimmelman Discusses The Importance Of Advocacy In Architectural Criticism

Michael Kimmelman. Image © Matej Stransky

In an interview with Erika Allen for The , Michael Kimmelman discusses “architecture criticism and the dangers of demolition.” Kimmelman, the NYT’s architecture critic, has built a reputation as someone who advocates for buildings under threat, his most well known “fight” being against renovation plans drawn up by Foster + Partners for the in Manhattan. Referencing his latest column, in which he shows support for the threatened Orange County Government Centre, Kimmelman elaborates on his critical position and why he believes that speaking out for buildings at risk is ”necessary.”

Bingler and Pederson’s Critique of Architecture for the New York Times Sparks Controversy

Somewhat ironically, the ’ own building is designed by none other than “celebrity architect” Renzo Piano. Image © Ritu Manoj Jethani via Shutterstock

Earlier this month published an editorial written by Steven Bingler and Martin Pederson in which the two discuss how and why architects need to reevaluate the profession. The article centers on how today’s architecture can adequately meet the needs of its intended users without acknowledging their input and asks “at what point does architecture’s potential to improve human life become lost because of its inability to connect with actual humans?”

As with any commentary on the very nature of contemporary architecture, criticism abounds and has prompted a scathing response by Architect Magazine writer Aaron Betsky, who claims that the New York Times ought to be above such “know-nothing, cliché-ridden reviews of architecture” and ridicules certain excerpts of Bingler and Pederson’s text,  saying “I am not making this up.” Betsky takes the opportunity to argue instead that “Architecture… is either the dull affirmation of what we have, or it is an attempt to make our world better.”

Read on after the break for more on the New York Times article and the opposing views

Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris: The Critics Respond

Fondation Louis Vuitton, . Image © Iwan Baan

The people behind Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton (FLV) in Paris, which is set to officially open on the 27th October 2014, recently invited a band of architecture critics to take a look around and pen their thoughts. Gehry’s bold approach to architectural form, most evident in buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, matches the foundation’s aim to “promote and support contemporary and artistic creation” in . According to their website, they in particular embody “a passion for artistic freedom.” How, then, has the enormous sailed structure, challenged by local opposition from the outset, settled into its Parisian parkland surroundings?

See what The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright, The Observer’s Rowan Moore, Vanity Fair’s Paul Goldberger, The LA Times’ Christopher Hawthorne, as well as the Architectural Digests’ Mayer Rus, had to say about Gehry’s latest completed building after the break.

It’s “Time For Strategic Architecture”

Bolling Municipal Center – , Boston (MA). Image Courtesy of Mecanoo /

In an article for the New York Times, Alexandra Lange discusses a number of US projects which are “transforming, but not disrupting,” their respective communities. In this vein, she cites Mecanoo and Sasaki Associates’ new Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Roxbury, Boston, as a prime example of a new kind of architecture which “comes from understanding of past civic hopes, redesigning them to meet the future.” Examining some of the key concepts that make for successfully integrated community buildings, such as the creation of spaces that actively forge personal connections, Lange concludes that perhaps it is now “time for strategic architecture.”

The idea that urban planning could build upon citizen action, rather than consisting of imposed boulevards or housing blocks (as with the urban renewal that originally gutted Roxbury) is gaining traction.

Read the article in full here.

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VIDEO: In Boston, Reclaiming the Craft of Brick

The New York Times Asks: Are “Starchitects” Ruining City Skylines?

Hudson Yards, New York by Related Properties. Image Courtesy of Visualhouse

The idea of “star architects” or “starchitects” is, if nothing else, polemic. Frank Gehry has expressed his hatred for being labeled with the term, and in 2013 we received a letter from a reader urging us to ban the phrase as it “undermines serious discourse regarding architecture and urbanism.” Now, the “” debate has reached the opinion section of the New York Times.

Following recent comments by Witold Rybczynski that “starchitects” — often unfamiliar with the cities they are designing for — are designing buildings that don’t fit into their surroundings, the NYT has posed the question: Are superstar architects ruining city skylines? Weighing in on the topic are Allison Arieff, an architecture and design writer for the NYT, Vishaan Chakrabarti, an associate professor at Columbia and a partner at SHoP Architects, Angel Borrego Cubero, a Madrid-based architect, and the director and producer of “The Competition,” a documentary about architectural competitions, and Beverly Willis of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.

Has The Surge Of Visitors to Museums & Galleries Reached A Tipping Point?

Crowds around Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Paris. Image © Guia Besana

In an article for the New York Times Rachel Donadio examines Masterworks vs. the Masses. From the Louvre in Paris to London’s British Museum, Florence’s Uffizi to the Vatican Museums, the increasing surge of visitors to these international cultural nodes “has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces.” Balancing everyone’s right to be “nourished” by cultural experiences with protecting and preserving the works of art in question is a very real problem. According to Donadio, ”even when the art is secure, the experience can become irksome.” With some museums seeing annual visitors of up to 6.7 million visitors (British Museum), addressing the issues faced by institutions that are a victim of their own success is becoming more and more pressing. Read the article in full here.

AD Round Up: Smiljan Radic

Copper House 2 / . Image © Cristobal Palma / Estudio Palma

Although previously unknown except in his native Chile, architect Smiljan Radic has recently received international attention for his design of this year’s pavilion for London’s Serpentine Galleries. His latest and largest undertaking yet, a winery outside of Santiago, has been featured in this article by the New York Times. And now, his Mestizo Restaurant has been named one of the seven most outstanding 21st century projects in the Americas. If you’re unfamiliar with Radic’s unique works, we’ve compiled a round-up of some of our favorites for you to explore, including his Serpentine PavilionCopper House 2, the Mestizo Restaurant, a bus stop for the town of Krumbach, Austria, and his renovation of the Chilean Museum for Pre-Columbian Art. Enjoy!

“Design Mind” Witold Rybczynski Discusses His Latest Work

Photo by Michael Cooper

While most of the profession looks forward, author Witold Rybczynski is focused on the past. Named 2014′s “Design Mind” by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum earlier this month, Rybczynski writes about historical buildings to give a better understanding of modern architecture. In a recent with the New York Times, Rybczynski talks about his latest book “How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit,” the dangers of “celebrity” architecture, and his favorite non-designer chair. Check out the full interview here.

The Architect Critic Is Dead (just not for the reason you think)

Arlington National Cemetery. Courtesy of Flickr user CC Stuck in Customs

As you may have heard,The New Yorker’s Architect Critic, Paul Goldberger, is leaving for Vanity Fair.

If this registers no reaction from you, let me explain why it should. Paul Goldberger is the crowned prince of criticism. He began his career at The New York Times in 1972, where he worked under Ada Louise Huxtable, our reigning critical queen, and where he won a Pulitzer Prize. In 1997, he switched media empires:

“I thought it was as perfect a life as you could have,” Goldberger told The Observer, “to spend half your career at , half at The New Yorker.”

But, after years of “fighting for adequate space” in an increasingly shrinking column, Goldberger won’t be finishing his writing days as Architect Critic of The New Yorker, but as Contributing Editor of Vanity Fair.

Many will conclude that this is a death knell for architecture; that if architecture cannot justify its own column at The New Yorker, one of the most influential publications in the world, then it must no longer be deemed relevant. This is what happened when Michael Kimmelman, an Arts reporter with no architectural training was appointed to cover architecture at The Times. Critics tweeted: “NYT to Architecture of NYC: Drop Dead” and “Architecture: you’ve been demoted.”

I too will add a cry to the din: “The Architecture Critic is Dead!” But you know what? Good riddance. Because criticism hasn’t died the way you think. It’s just been changed beyond recognition. And frankly, for the better.

Read more on the transformation of architecture & its criticism after the break…