Most design fields are dependent on the factor of self-expression. May it be as abstract as some painting, or as demonstrative as fashion design, the usage of tools and ideas by an artist creates something as per their instincts or as a structured process. The issue is that the perception of art or design related objects is subjective. While there may or may not an intention behind that particular form of art, it may not clear to everyone. But then it is also dependent upon the skills of this artist to make their objective comprehensible, or subtle.
Architecture is indeed more logical in comparison to its other design contemporaries. However, it is still open to the perception of the built, the relationship of spaces, and the arrangement of the elements such that the final completed ‘composition’ can convey its functionality and design techniques to its users and visitors. There are infinite solutions for a design problem; it is under the discretion of the architect to respond to a site, context, and situation. What varies is the efficiency of that solution; in other words, the effectiveness of the design solution for the case given to the architect. For comparative purposes, the critic must be unbiased, reasonable, and practical to ensure the critique to be a sensible and constructive one.
At this point, a question arises – what is the point of criticism in a design-related field, and specifically architecture?
The idea of architectural criticism is related to the analysis of the project, or even a theory. It is a rather data and survey intensive activity – where the entity in question is judged in totality, as well as in detail such that individual elements and aspects are studied. Criticism can be various forms depending upon the artifact criticized – factual or aesthetic, or it could be categorized on the way the critique is delivered and its nature – positive or negative. It could also be constructive or destructive depending upon the way it affects the person criticized – which is affected by the delivery of the criticism. Therefore, critics must be neutral in their comments.
The thing about criticism is that it essentially acts as the only measure of success of a project – in a world where there are both ‘good’ or ‘bad’ architects, or just those who do not have a strong concept or methodology. It is a platform to consider buildings that do not respond to the site or are just inconvenient to traverse in. It ensures that the building assessment through different perspectives that may or may not have been thought of by the architect, including the social, political, and user viewpoints. Architectural criticism ensures that building efficiency is tested at a larger scale, such that the building style is studied along with the times. This means that all of these studies and analyses add on to architectural theory.
The discipline of architecture is sometimes referred to as a discourse, and like most theoretical concepts, architectural theorists and architects put forward pointers that revolutionize and improve upon the architectural styles that are prevalent in the times. Throughout history, a new style is brought about as a reaction to the previous one. The role of discourse, media, and criticism is very closely linked to this – the faults and merits of the previous ideas concerning the new ones are examined together such that the architectural world can further their research on what is new or better.
Another purpose of architectural criticism is to allow the architectural language to translate to the public. Not everyone can understand the technicalities of the field but all of these people are associated with architecture in some way or the other, at multiple scales – from their houses to their neighborhoods to their social spaces and even at a city level. To an extent, it can allow the public to make an impact.
Thus, architectural critics, journalists, media persons, and theorists have a much larger role in the architectural world. They need to be as informed as they can be about the building explored, about the general news of the world, and above all, they need to be open to ideas and possibilities. Sometimes, the objective of the architect is better understood when it is analyzed by standing in the architect’s shoes; they need to be empathetic about the design process followed and the solution that they reach.
Much like conventional journalism, architectural critics are essential in bringing about a revolution in the architectural world, to start a discourse among the architects, to change along with the times, and to bring about different perspectives to newer projects, buildings, concepts, and ideas.