In the last few weeks, a number of reactionary architectural commentators have come out of the woodwork to denounce what they see as the currently negative direction of contemporary architecture. They claim that architecture needs to be “rebuilt” or that it is “imploding.” From their indications, architecture is on life-support, taking its last breath. The critique they offer is that contemporary architecture has become (or always was?) insensitive to users, to site conditions, to history—hardly a novel view. Every few years, this kind of frontal assault on the value of contemporary architecture is launched, but the criticisms this time seem especially shallow and misplaced. Surveying the contemporary global architecture scene, I actually feel that we’re in a surprisingly healthy place, if you look beyond the obvious showpieces. We’ve escaped from the overt dogmas of the past, we’ve renewed our focus on issues of the environment and social agency, we’re more concerned than ever with tectonics and how to build with quality. But the perennial critics of contemporary architecture appear not to have examined that deeply, nor that thoughtfully either. And unfortunately the various rebuttals to their critiques, ostensibly in support of modern and experimental architecture, have been ham-handed and poorly argued.
Architect Steven Bingler and architectural journalist Martin C. Pedersen fear that architecture is loosing its credibility. In their recent op-ed on the New York Times, the pair claims that our profession’s biggest challenge is regaining public trust by reconnecting architecture with its users. Referencing his mother’s aversion to a student-built affordable housing project that he considered a “bold statement of design,” Bingler believes the key to salvaging the profession is for architects to stop dismissing and start listening to the general public’s take on architecture.