In the book ‘Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities’ by Alexandra Lange, the author has spoken about the works of some of the best architecture critics of the twentieth century including Ada Louise Huxtable, Lewis Mumford, Herbert Muschamp, Michael Sorkin, Charles Moore, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Jane Jacobs, to explain their different approaches in the field of architecture criticism and why they work so brilliantly in their own regard.
The Anatomy of every Chapter
Each chapter begins with the citation of a historically significant essay that speaks about a particular building or urban project. The author then provides a detailed analysis of that essay explaining why and how it works to throw some light on how to write a powerful piece of architectural criticism. She does however go on to say that “There is no one right way to write architecture criticism.”
What goes on in each chapter?
In “Chapter 1: Skyscrapers as Superlatives, Lange compares three different styles of work to introduce us to the world of critical writing. She uses the works of two notable architectural critics and one architect to illustrate this. Louis Sullivan talks about the inside of the building, while Lewis Mumford is focused on the outside of the building, the view from the ground and lastly Paul Goldberger lends a completely different outlook that from the point of view of an architect’s biography.
In “Chapter 2: What Should a Museum Be?” the author has spoken about the architecture of museums as they are treated as an important example of the built environment, right from having them included as part of the course while pursuing undergrad to watching the construction of one whilst in the professional field- only getting stranger and weirder by the day- sometimes with the inclusion of appalling transparencies or luxurious amenities as landmark architecture for the star architects.
In the later chapters which are as follows,
Chapter 3: What’s worth Preserving?
Chapter 4: Searching for a Center
Chapter 5: Landscape is More Than a Lawn
Chapter 6: Criticism from the Ground-Up and
Lange continues to discuss closely with regards to the assigned typology such as landmarks, monuments, parks and cities a project that has been reviewed or spoken about by the six mentioned critics simultaneously providing her analysis of contemporary examples to illustrate how to approach architectural criticism.
The Main Theme of the Book
The main theme of the book is that we should not be too quick to judge a building or a project; we should always be patient enough to take a second glance. Architectural criticism is not about coming up with intense opinions right after a first glimpse, we should have looked at the structure long enough to form an opinion, for that matter long enough to even have a change of opinion.
She says very clearly that we should take a second look at buildings in order to understand them. However, when it comes to architectural criticism she makes it a point to mention although she offers many recommendations for good architectural writing, that “there is more than one way to simplify a building.”
The Four Approaches
Lange goes on to discuss four approaches that she feels broadly encompasses the various styles of critique. She explains them by providing examples of and naming the pieces of work to support that very approach by the six aforementioned architectural critics. Each approach is broken down and studied carefully to understand the style and how it has been accomplished in all of the various instances.
The extraordinaire of the complex examples is spelt out with such ease that allows one to attempt the style of writing after having gone through the exposition of the many processes. Apart from the four different types of approaches, she says that there could be other types of critics who comment pertaining to their respective themes or areas of domain as with the internet continually opening up more avenues for criticism the spectrum is ever-expanding.
Lange then goes on to provide a checklist for producing an effective piece of architectural criticism and she uses the framework of what Ada Huxtable writes in her immensely popular piece called ‘Sometimes We Do It Right. It is a very well-known piece which is widely used as a reference in most programs of Architecture Theory and Criticism.
The book provides valuable data about how architecture writing could be made crisper and catchier. It illustrates through a series of points and examples to support the same how different techniques can be employed to generate interest in the mind of the reader with each technique being unique, none of them overlaps which is great because that allows for a lot of ideas on how to make the text more gripping and effective.
The author has deftly done so via providing iconic examples and analyzing them for us so that by the end there are definite points to take away from the book. She walks us through the viewpoint and style of each critic and mentions a great deal about Ada Louise Huxtable with the final takeaway being that one who writes about buildings should incorporate: description, history, drama and the main point.