In the 2015 paper “Architecture Criticism: Dead or Alive?, Pulitzer-winning architect Blair Kamin reflects on the future of architectural criticism within this context of information and content excess.

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Society is changing. We are currently living in a digital age where every new day comes with infinite new possibilities. Boundaries are breaking, new technologies are constantly being released, and so they keep blurring the lines of what is possible and who can do what.

With a phone in our hands, all of us can become photographers. Just like with an Instagram account and just a bunch of followers, we all can be influencers. And that influence, which is nothing but the presence of our own audience, allows us all to become critics in whichever field we aim. 

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Article in Focus: Blair Kamin, “Architecture Criticism: Dead or Alive?” Nieman Reports, July 2015 - Sheet1
Architectural Criticims_©The Write Life

In the 2015 paper “Architecture Criticism: Dead or Alive?, Pulitzer-winning architect Blair Kamin reflects on the future of architectural criticism within this context of information and content excess. 

Kamin’s point of view is clear, as he speaks of the need for change in the field of criticism and the inevitable participation of a non-expert audience in it. His argument is supported at all times by a great number of examples of his own experience, as he had been an architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune for over 20 years by the time he came up with these ideas. 

However, it is also clear in between his lines that, as much as he thinks the architecture criticism field is still alive and in the middle of a transformation process, he also fears that the impediments for this change may come precisely from the expert critics.

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It is noticeable in the very way he speaks his words, using a technical, complex, and expert language full of architectural references that no common reader could fully understand. And even those parts which seek to be lighter, to amuse and bring some joy into the text, are tinted with metaphors of the profession: How could a non-expert understand why a commuter would enter NYC feeling as a God after going through “a processional sequence of narthex, nave, and crossing”?

The paper is, undoubtedly, a critic to the critics, just as much as it is a reflection on what is to come. It is a harsh call for attention to those who still believe in architectural criticism, or criticism as a whole, as a one-way communication channel.

“What is fundamentally different about the digital age is this: Interactivity”, says the Tribune’s critic: “In the past, newspaper columnists often rhapsodize about having a ‘conversation with the reader’. But now, that conversation is real. And it calls for critics to adapt”. 

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Change is happening. Change is something we cannot avoid. Changeability is, in the end, the key feature of the digital age. And Kamin is simply defending the embracing of what’s inevitable. He is only proposing the acceptance of the audience’s ideas, and the construction of professional writing based on it. In other words, taking the non-regulated information and putting it through the filters of professional writing.

In the communication field, this concept is known as gatekeeping. Pretty visually, it is easy to picture all the excessive information flowing uncontrollably through a gate, which needs to be kept by someone with knowledge enough to filter what should be allowed to go through.

However, and even though every single one of Kamin’s arguments reflects all the flexibility needed to move architecture criticism forward, it is also important to specify why the critic is the right person to filter it all, to be the gatekeeper

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Article in Focus: Blair Kamin, “Architecture Criticism: Dead or Alive?” Nieman Reports, July 2015 - Sheet2
Architecture Criticism_©OCU.org

Criticism and curationism are becoming one. Technology, digitalization, is blurring the dividing line between them. Just in the act of “filtering” the information, there is a curation intention, the aim to choose what’s worthy and what isn’t. Thus, the gatekeeper must have his own mind filled with contextual knowledge enough to apply the right filters. To make the right choices. To let valuable information cross the gate and make it to the audience.

Yes, it is true; everyone can be a critic now. But not everyone can provide good criticism. The difference between an expert architect and a non-expert who dares to judge an architectural piece is that only one of them will have a background full of ideas to support and justify the critic. It is that only one of them will be able to create constructive criticism with the power to hold an activist agenda and defend the interests of architecture. 

It would be indeed counterproductive to turn a blind eye on a resource that has been given almost for free. Choosing to ignore what the audience thinks or wants, knowing that it is precisely for them that you are writing, would be a narcissist act. But it would be naïve to underrate the abilities that only an expert can hold.

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Architectural criticism in the technological era is more alive than ever, but it is as weak as ever too, as it relies on a delicate balance between interaction and integrity. 

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Rethinking The Future Awards 2022