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Criticalista: Paragraphs on Architectural Criticism


Paragraphs on Architectural Criticism

  1. Architectural criticism is a cultural activity. Culture is what distinguishes architecture from building (inasmuch as those two terms are distinguishable).
  2. Architecture is never logically or self-evidently right or wrong; only arguably better or worse. Criticism must therefore always be based on sound argument.
  3. Architectural criticism provides an interpretive reading of a work of architecture. This reading need not coincide with the architect’s stated intentions. In fact, it is much more interesting when a critical reading is different. The last thing a critic should ever be is a ‘spokesperson’ for an architect (or a politician, or a developer, or anyone else for that matter).
  4. A critic must demystify architecture without mystifying criticism in the process, testing works and if necessary challenging claims, calling bluffs, and denouncing charlatanry. Criticism must always be directed toward work and never toward persons. 
  5. A critic is a public intellectual first and foremost, defending the public interest. To this end, they must always refuse to engage in whitewashing, greenwashing, or puff pieces.
  6. A built work of architecture is best criticized post-occupancy, i.e. after it has started to perform within the life-world. Otherwise, the criticism may be overly based on speculation or theory. 
  7. Criticism, whether positive or negative, must be shared by all the ‘stakeholders’ involved in an architectural design project, including the client, planner, builder, consultants, and users (if these played a part in the design). Just as an architect has no right to claim exclusive credit for a built work when it is successful, they can similarly not be expected to shoulder all the blame for a project when it is unsuccessful. Built architecture is always a collaborative endeavour, for better or worse.
  8. Architectural criticism cannot ignore a work’s social, political, cultural and economic context; otherwise, it becomes solipsistic. But by the same token, it also can’t pass judgment based exclusively on such factors.   
  9. A building that is problematic from an ethical standpoint can nevertheless possess certain architectural qualities. Conversely, just because a work of architecture is socially and environmentally worthy of praise does not automatically entail it is architecturally praiseworthy. 
  10. Built work, precisely because it is part of a complex life-world that renders it imperfect, generally makes for much more nuanced criticism than so-called ‘paper architecture’. 
  11. Architectural criticism cannot be based exclusively on renderings or photographs of buildings. Architecture has to be experienced in situ and ‘in the flesh’ in order to be fully appreciated. This is not to say that architectural photography cannot be a subject of critical review.
  12. Architectural criticism must be seen to be independent. It cannot be directly sponsored by corporations nor can it be seen to be too much in bed with professional associations, trade unions, guilds or religious organizations.  
  13. Curating is not the new criticism, no matter how critical. While both have an effect upon the canon, they are fundamentally different; curatorial activity such as exhibitions often being a subject of critical review.
  14. Internet can be just as good a vehicle for architectural criticism as print. Neither medium is inherently more or less critical--what matters is the quality of the content.
  15. These paragraphs are neither conclusive nor certain. They constitute a theory of criticism that, like any other theory, is always up to be improved or debunked.

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