In this era of globalisation and fast-paced life that we have come to live, everything has to be small, expeditious and snappy to encapture ones attention. Else, you are sure to lose the interest of your target audience. This may apply to every field of journalism, not just architecture. The more the zest, the better the chance of attracting a bigger congregation. Sensationalized celebrity scandals seem to be the talk of the town these days. In with the new and out with the old in a matter of hours.
But if this is what appeals to the millennials and gen z, who are we to say no to them? Having said that, people do take time out of their day to follow their interests. It does not need to have the most catchy headline or incisive reporting, as long as it is well written and accurate.
With famed critics such as Blair Kamin, Kenneth Frampton and their cult following decorating the walls of architectural journalism, one cannot say that the age of architectural criticism is dead.
Gone are the days when critics had virtual monopoly on the urban design debate. But that doesnt mean diamonds cannot be found in the rough. If you delve deep enough you may find your very own in a world filled with ordinary stones; its all in the eye of the beholder. With the debate on whether architectural criticism is dead or alive now at its peak, its safe it say, neither. Critics once decorated, articles once commended are now just floating about; neither here nor there.
With most buildings already critiqued, it becomes problematic to encompass a perspective without having a biased outlook and without repeating what has been said before. Cities such as New York would prove to be prime examples. The same cannot be said about the rest of the world where criticism is thriving. There are critics out there who shed blood, sweat, and tears to publish articles to keep this trade alive. If youre a part of the architectural realm you may recognize this talent and glorify their work, but who apart from this realm would pay enough attention to give them the credit they deserve? It is my belief that us humans only heed regard to topics that may interest or benefit us. So it is not up to us to decide whether something as perennial as architecture and architectural criticism is dead or alive. Many have stood the test of time, still being celebrated. Ada Louise Huxtable being one of many.
Quoting Carter Wiseman, “Huxtable’s insistence on intellectual rigor and high design standards made her the conscience of the national architectural community.” She wrote what she felt about the building without letting any inhibitions hold her back, without letting any paradigms influence her bias. A lot of factors contributed to her unabashed style of reporting but there was no set pattern that she followed. Not everybody can find success in this method.
Kamin found his path by focussing on five areas while assessing a building which is an adaptation and extension of the trio articulated by the Roman writer Vitruvius: firmness, commodity, and delight. His order being: quality, utility, continuity, humanity, and the bridge between the public and public realm. It is not only important to focus on the fa?ade and aesthetic appeal that a building portrays but also to analyze the many layers of design it offers. Is it satisfying to its user base? Is it as democratic as it claims to be? Will the design and construction stand the test of time? And as he put it, does form allow function or does it follow the architects ego? These are few of the answers he looks for while critiquing a building. It is also important to take into consideration the metamorphosis of an area, whether the building in matter is engaging with the setting and gracefully helping transform the urban landscape. To look for connections that are more than just surface level, that invokes feelings within oneself. The last being, to find and augment the proximity between the public and the public realm by exhibiting the vast impact and cultural inferences of a structure or urban design. He reflects upon areas that concern a user and delves deep into these matters, quoting and comparing it to every critic and building under the moon but somehow manages to keep it in context. His secret being the five areas that he concentrates on whilst assessing, a style which works for him and many others. At the dawn of one’s career, these five fundamentals are adequate to keep afloat till the tricks of the trade are mastered. Its a slow, treacherous journey to the top and patience is a virtue that needs to be instilled to stay in the game, but no doubt this foundation will pave the road to success.