Significance Of Architectural Criticism

Architectural criticism has a bad reputation for being incompetent and not rigorous enough as critical writings in the fields of science and technology and the same discredit are faced by the theory of architecture as well. James Marston Fitch in his paper, “Architectural Criticism: Trapped in Its Own Metaphysics” makes a fair point that the practice of architectural criticism does not follow a robust methodology like a scientist in a lab and that it is not experimental in nature. And this is a problem yet to be met with a plausible solution or suggestion. In this article, Fitch suggests that the critique of a building must be delayed for a period of about a year so that the building is tested.

Theory of Architecture as a Means to Redeem Criticism in Architectural Education - Sheet1
Architectural Education-Theory of Architecture ©

This suggestion, however noble and thoughtful, is limited to buildings that have been graduated from the conceptual stage and are constructed in space and time. The same cannot be applied to criticism in education because the projects are hypothetical and almost always remain unbuilt. The existence of these structures is limited to its representation. Then what do we suggest when it comes to criticism of projects that serve the purpose of learning in architectural institutions.

The only way is to have meaningful criticism and analysis of the representations of unbuilt structures. In the process of learning to critique the unbuilt, we learn to engage with the representational drawings, models and other mediums that aid communication of design. As we develop and promote the practice of architectural criticism in education, we take a step forward in constructing better buildings and cities.

Impact Of Critique In Architectural Education

It is likely that critique in architectural education has not been instrumental in producing better architects or in improving the quality of education because there is a lack of clear understanding of criticism; and not because critique in itself is an interference to the learning process. Criticism is inseparable to architecture or humanity in general. Critique of the existing reality gives birth to architecture. Looking at nature, not only to accept it as is but to analyse it and critique it is unique to humans. And therefore to save the practice of critique in architectural education is vital. Only then it can transcend into architectural practice and discourse.

Theory of Architecture as a Means to Redeem Criticism in Architectural Education - Sheet2
Architectural Education-Theory of Architecture  ©

There have been efforts made by researchers in the past to construct frameworks for critiquing in an architectural studio. But these frameworks mostly present the pragmatic factors and solutions for the inability of the instructors to demonstrate a solid working system for critique while they practice it in their design studios. It is debatable that pragmatic factors, however significant, are not the main reasons for the weaker norms of the practice of architectural criticism in schools. The crisis of poorly trained (not in technical skills but in the ability to think critically and analytically) architectural professionals coming out of schools shall not be resolved even after providing the instructors with the pedagogy of criticism; because giving a handbook on ‘how to critique student’s work’ is only reaching half-way as architectural criticism is intertwined with architectural theory.

Relationship Between Theory And Criticism

The two are in a cyclic relation with each other, which Schulz called “Successive approximation”. Thus, it is impossible to talk about architectural criticism isolated from architectural theory and vice-versa. The theory forms the base of argument and judgment for criticism, and criticism of theory itself helps in the improvement and development of theory. Theory intends to assert the right and wrong in architecture, to identify and determine what architecture is and isn’t and to cultivate the practice of critiquing in architectural education, it is important that the interest of architectural education lies in attempting to determine the same. “The task of architecture education is to carry out experimental research, to critique practice and provide the tools, skills and attitudes needed to reinvent it. It was ever thus” is well put by Sean Griffiths.

Theory of Architecture as a Means to Redeem Criticism in Architectural Education - Sheet3
Architectural Education ©

Role of Theory and Architectural Criticism in Education

It is worth inquiring how architectural theory can strengthen the roots of criticism in architectural education. The reading and writing in architectural education, in however much capacity, is mostly descriptive. Criticism finds its base weak in education for this reason among many. If a student studies the work of another architect before him, the mode of understanding is more often than not of describing the work and enlisting its features and details. Analytical writings of any work by previous architects are hardly ever encouraged and neither there’s a practice of reading such accounts. There’s a need that we as practitioners, teachers and students of architecture move beyond the descriptive form. It is essential to move towards the interpretative, critical and analytical form of writing that is backed by theory and research. And in the process strengthen the theory itself. It demands rigorous work at forming a framework that allows for theory to be the very part of the practice.

When we speak about interpreting and meaningfully analysing representations of the unbuilt projects, we open a pandora’s box because now we must also discuss the forms of representations used by architects and students. This births the need to understand and analyse the appropriate forms of architectural representations. Architectural theory will be of great help and this process rekindles the experimental research, the very essence of architectural education.


Priyamvada is an architect, writer, and artist. She is passionate about the discourse around architecture both as a profession and as an art form. This brings her to architectural writing. She is an invested learner of film criticism, architectural theory and is attempting to practice abstraction through her paintings.