Criticism is an exercise in the evaluation of the merits and demerits of an object or a practice. It is an interpretation of a piece of work- which could be anything ranging from art, architecture, a movie, a play, a book, a thought, an opinion, a law, or a policy. While the word ‘criticism’ often has a negative connotation, it is important to understand that criticism is not meant to be destructive or demeaning. It merely serves the purpose of engaging the reader in a dialogue.
Therefore, the criticism acts as a bridge between the creator and the consumer.
Criticism is the art of subtly challenging art with appreciation.
“But why?” you ask.
“Why do we need a critic, especially an architectural critic?”
Commercial and retail complexes, large scale public housing and office buildings are considered a commodity in our country; it is a necessity and something that will continue to flourish irrespective of the general public’s say in it. They are only needed for funding these projects.
*insert sardonic smirk*
We appreciate art; we eagerly look forward to ‘critics’ reviews of a movie to know if it is worth a watch. We don’t go out to eat without checking a restaurant’s rating on the popular food reviewing platforms. When we choose to take opinions for something that will take up a mere 3 hours of our lives, why do we not think of looking at reviews of spaces we live and/work in. The quality of these spaces affects us subconsciously, but we are so caught up in the rat races and the daily grind of life that we don’t catch on to it.
This is where the critic comes in. An architectural critic is one that practices engaged criticism. They must talk primarily about architecture that the public associates with- that confusing departmental store in town, that incomplete bridge whose construction has been stalled for months now, that diversion which now causes traffic jams around the city, the park which is now a haven for crimes, or why the people avoid that new mall because it has no space for sitting down or resting. While they act as torchbearers of the vision of the architect to the user, they also have the added responsibility of bringing pressing issues of the architectural community to light.
Fortunately, Architectural education is always focused on critique, sometimes a little too much so. But that can serve the purpose of training young architects in the art of critique. That, along with an in-depth knowledge of the theoretical as well as practical aspects of architecture, is some of the important criteria to be a successful critic. Another very important skill is to have an open mind, fair judgment, and good logical reasoning. This can be honed by discussions with peers as well as mentors. Lastly, a good critic must also be articulate, logical and objective; one who can hold a fearless opinion without feeling threatened by those who disagree with them. A great critic is one who can persuade the audience, but in a way that keeps them engaged and makes them feel involved. Some critics who have redefined the field of architectural writing and critique are Ada Louise Huxtable, Louis Mumford, Alexandra Lange, Paul Goldberger and closer home we have Apurva Bose Dutta, and Sarbjit Bahga. Famously Huxtable, the recipient of the first Pulitzer Prize for Criticism was not even an architect by training, but simply a close observer of the trends and practices that changed the look of her home New York City over the course of 50-odd years. She was and continues to remain one of the most respected critics in the USA and all over the world. On the other hand, Apurva Bose Dutta, while trained in architecture, is perhaps one of the most widely known architectural journalists and critics in India, who has been very actively encouraging young talent into this field.
Despite having social media as a platform to let your views be known across the world, India sadly has a dearth of architectural critics. Although there are no regular columns for architecture critique in the leading newspapers, there are some websites that are letting various writers and journalist architects across the country voice their opinions about architecture and its practice in the country. Notable in this field are India Architectural News, ArchitectureLive! and RethinkingTheFuture. These platforms not only showcase the up-and-coming projects around the world but also give a chance to young writers (like me) to voice their views about the community.
The ‘Millennial’ generation is one that is open-minded and impressionable when it comes to information on social media. This time, right now, is one of the best times to let architectural criticism breathe a new life among Indian audiences. With the right kind of marketing and a team of talented writers and editors, the architectural critique can be brought back into relevance. The people of India have the right to be more involved in the shaping of their cities than just on an investor level. Yes critiquing is never easy, and we writers might end up ruffling a few feathers. But right NOW is the time for us architects to at least take a step towards making the audience more aware and our architecture more relatable.