Architecture is as much art as it is a science. The experience of the space is delivered through careful deliberation and finally realized through the help of structures and other tools. Most people tend to look at it plainly from its scientific standpoint and tend to ignore its artistic nature. This is mainly because most of us who enter this field want to practice and solve its practical problems faced while putting a building to life. It is not one’s own fault. This realization is enough to put anyone on a path to architectural criticism. Understanding the artistic side of a building is very essential in creating impactful architecture. Architectural critics and architectural criticism can help with that.
“In architecture, you have to live for 150 years because you have to learn in the first 75 years”- Renzo Piano.
Analyzing and criticizing architecture is a skill that has been extrapolated into the form of a profession today. Every international newspaper has its own architectural critic and there are a handful of architectural criticism magazines available. For example The Guardian, The Architectural Review, Places, Architect’s Journal, etc.
The critics should be more of a team of inquisitive researchers that derive theories after thoughtful questioning on the products that the field delivers. Their prime duty is to identify, analyze and theorize new architectural principles. They effectively do this by reading a lot about architecture and design and then analyze the structures that are being erected based on known principles. They look at how the building interacts with its surroundings, the people it is meant for and what it signifies culturally. These are just a few questions one can answer. This, in turn, leads to the formulation of new theories. Thus, the constant evolution of ideas can be observed over time. An architectural critic’s duty can be simplified as the process of evolution of ideas and styles being defined that come about as a result of questioning with substantiating knowledge.
The practice of the architectural critic is done in international magazines, often high-end residential projects. Conceptual designs are also being covered by them.
The following are two of the most world-renowned architecture critics we ought to know if we must think about a career in architectural criticism. By learning their story, we can understand a little better about this side of the field.
ADA LOUISE HUXTABLE
Ada Louise Huxtable was an American architectural critic. She is known today as the face of architectural criticism. She is the sole person credited for bringing architecture to the forefront of newspaper pages and hence into the view of the common masses. She started as a critic in the New York Times in 1963. Her articles emphasized on historic preservation and strongly advocated for thoughtful architecture for the city’s sake. She openly disregarded the architecture that didn’t give priority to the people and otherwise only focused on the benefit of the moneyed clients. She’s written several books and numerous articles, many of which are quite popular even today. In 1959, she was hired by the Times after writing a letter to the editor on a modernist housing project in Venezuela. The paper has given good reviews, but she disagreed, stating that the houses did not work for its inhabitants. Her letter displayed the knowledge she had and had a voice of passion and a strong desire to make things right.
She made a career out of architectural criticism by voicing her ideas strongly and setting high design standards for the city. She had immense knowledge in architectural history and saw the good from the “just okay”. She was an advocate for the preservation and her writings persuaded people to do so.
Herbert Muschamp was an American architecture critic who worked for Vogue, Art Forum, House and Garden and The Times. He had a controversial career at the time starting from 1992. He challenged many contemporary architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, and Jean Nouvel.
He believed in making cities more human than they are. He showed this by open criticism on newspaper platforms. He was highly criticized in the architectural community for his works were deemed highly personal and not responsible enough for design criticism.
He has made a career in this field by openly expressing his opinions and thoughts for years to the general public. He has taught them how to think about architecture. He has given the public insight into architecture in the most engaging way he knew how.
The skills possessed by the critic are developed over a long period of time. It is almost as if they have grown and evolved through reading and analyzing. History plays an important role too. It is essential in understanding if what we are doing today is impacting us in a positive way through which we can move forward or not.
Unfortunately, criticism in this field has come to a standstill. Or so believed by the critics who have taken up this career path. It has lost its tradition. From Dezeen to ArchDaily or Architizer to Designboom, our screens are being bombarded with monotonous theories every day. This has put the architectural critic out of a job in the field.
To sum it up, a critical eye for the details, in-depth knowledge about the subject at hand and the skill to write persuasively makes up for a good architecture critic.
Bharani Sri is currently a B.Arch student at the VIT School of Architecture (VSPARC), Vellore. She enjoys passing her time by reading about architectural history, art, philosophy, and criticism. She believes that the world would be a better place if everyone was encouraged to look through the lens of historical analysis.