In the introduction to her essay "Losing My Illusions About Open-Source Criticism" in Volume's 2013 edition "Critical," Naomi Stead writes: "There was a time not so long ago when many of us, myself included, thought that a brave new world of architectural commentary and criticism was about to open, by virtue of the democratizing capacities of web 2.0." She goes on to describe her former hope that a diverse and networked discussion would overthrow "the tyranny of the cultural gatekeepers" in the same way that Rotten Tomatoes or TripAdvisor revolutionized reviews of film or travel destinations, respectively. But she concludes: "By and large the blogs didn't eventuate, the comments didn't come, or if they did, they were likely to be in the form of a flippant one-liner or a nasty unfounded attack."
Since I read Stead's piece, this attitude has concerned me. Are we really ready to dig the grave of collective criticism? What steps, if any, have been taken to remedy this situation? At ArchDaily, we believe there is still hope for the comments section, and I've written about the importance that our readers play in shaping architectural culture before - we even consider this collective criticism an important part of our editorial strategy, as implied by my introduction to Mark Hogan's article about shipping container housing. That's why in the discussion in the comments of Hogan's article, Hisham's suggestion that it would "be interesting to 'post-post' a second comment article... so that your readers get hinted to the broader public discussion" caught my eye. It's an idea that we've had before, but the timing was never right... until now.
On Internet Comments and ArchDaily's Editorial Strategy
First up, I would be remiss not to feature the discussion which prompted this article. The debate on Mark Hogan's article was a pleasure to read and to take part in, and while there are too many excellent things said to feature a specific quote here, anyone with even the slightest interest in how criticism and comments are approached in architectural media (and by ArchDaily specifically) can read the whole thread by starting with Nico Wright's comment here.
The 3D Printing Process for SOM's "AMIE" House
In the comments of our article on SOM's 3D-printed house and car, some of our readers questioned our presentation of the design, with user MarkM1 commenting "this project has 3D printed parts, yet the headline reads as though a humongous 3D printer just ran for days, and this is what it produced." This prompted Lonnie Love, the project lead at Oak Ridge National Lab on BAAM, to impart his personal technical knowledge of the scheme, explaining "yes, 'a humongous 3D printer ran for days (actually weeks) and this is what it produced.'" He then goes on to describe the process in detail - here is just a small snippet of that explanation:
"For costs, the material is approximately $5/lb, the deposition rate is 70 to 100 lb/hr and hourly cost of the machine (full ownership cost) is approximately $150/hr. AMIE is WAY over designed (each spar can hold 8000 lbs so roof can hold 70,000 lbs). You could likely print something leaner, say 5000 lbs. With this, the cost to print would be ~$25K for material, ~ 70 hours to print at a cost of ~$10K. So the whole structure would cost under $40K to print."
Those interested in the full explanation can read Lonnie Love's comment here.
Gensler's Own (Questionable) 3d Printing Process
Commenting on an article about four experimental 3D printing techniques that utilize robots and drones, Joshua Young highlights the significant challenges facing Gensler's 3D printing drone:
"This is kind of laughable. 'No other production process brings massive amounts of material to one place.' Yes, very true. And no drone I've ever seen can lift more than the weight of a brick, and that's with 10 inch props. If this were a reasonable solution to building, we would be constructing things manually with helicopters already, and then naturally the process would evolve into full automation. Concrete weighs at a minimum 100 lbs per cubic foot. Is Gensler proposing that the world of the future be built out of lightweight ABS plastic 6 square inches at a time? And that's not even considering what happens when you try to build a structure in high winds? They can barely get the quadcopters stable 2 feet off the ground in the video, and it looks like it's pretty calm weather. Robots, I can fathom. Drones, though? Come on. There are better places to focus your creative efforts."
This is a good argument, and you can clearly see in the video how far the process how far the experiment has to go before printing anything of use. What do you think? Are these deficiencies something that can be overcome with further development?
Grupo TOMA and the Staying Power of the Superstar Architect
Star-architects are being replaced by new star-architects. That is the nature of a diverse profession that relies on a diverse type of clients.
We would be interested to know our readers' thoughts on this topic. Much has been made of the supposed shift in architectural culture since the financial crisis - but is the profession too diverse, as mv argues, to move on?
China's Unconventional Bridge Choices
A number of readers expressed doubt about the glass-bottomed bridge opening in China's Shiniuzhai National Geological Park, but perhaps no criticism was more cogent than the one by Joshua Young (again):
"People come to a national geological park, presumably to see nature, and then have to put booties on in order to cross this futuristic looking glass bridge? It may not have made the ArchDaily newsletter, but I think going with wood like they had originally intended would have been an apt decision considering the environs."
This criticism also touches on something that - though unacknowledged by designers and press alike - was undoubtedly important in the design of the bridge: publicity. Does the benefit of bringing tourist attention to the new bridge, and by extension to the national park, outweigh the fact that the bridge is perhaps not suited to the area? We'd like to know what you think.
Floating Farms, Futurism, and Human Failure
Forward Thinking Architecture's proposal for floating farms to improve food supply to the world's major cities prompted a long and considered response from John Delaney:
"I think humanity is truly at an impasse as to how to deal with it's problems of limited / nonexistent resources. It's not much of a stretch to say that technology, information, societies, and populations have propagated far beyond our ability to evolve our minds, bodies, and intellects to adapt to these changes. The answers are starting us right in the face (reverse the rate of global population growth to a population decline, end the use of fossil and nuclear fuels, discontinue our disposable commodity-based economies, reduce our intrusion into non-urban habitats, temper our dependence on animal meat as a primary food source, end the destruction of animal populations, etc.)... These sorts of proposals are emblematic of the "grasping at straws" approach that futurists and technologists have resorted to."
The full comment is here, and it's worth a read. However, I personally would urge John Delaney to consider that - contrary to appearances - we are actually making good progress at solving many of these problems (check out the TED Talks of Hans Rosling and this video by John Green if you don't believe me). Furthermore, a few of these advances have been made with technology that once upon a time would have seemed impossibly futuristic. What do our other readers think? Are futuristic proposals simply "grasping at straws," or do they deserve their place in the architectural debate?
Solving Drought With Cacti
Finally, regular commenter Walt takes issue with a proposal to alleviate California's drought with cactus farms:
"Dream on. It's not ignorance that fuels Cali's water problem. You can't drive a golf ball on Cacti and it can't replace almonds. Architects aren't about to say no to a high end client that wants an infinity pool I don't think enough cacti can be grown to sustain Cali's petro industry and Nestle.
"For the same reason that medicines bought at a pharmacy often win out over homeopathic solutions,"...lobbying, media brain washing and subsidies?... the internet is your friend. In order to provide credence to its 'scheme', this proposal blatantly disregards the external factors that have and continue to contribute to Cali's drought.
A fair comment, but I think it should be remembered that a key part of the proposal involves harnessing eco-tourism to improve the farms' viability - and that this is the state with the highest number of hybrid and electric cars per person in the United States (discounting the District of Columbia). Can Ali Chen's proposal solve California's drought? I'm not sure. But if golf courses and cactus farms can coexist anywhere in the world, it's California.
Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.
This article has been altered to include more of Walt's comments about the cactus farming proposal featured at the end of the article as a result of his comments below.