The Kimmelmania Backlash

Matt Chaban explores the divided opinions on the work of the fairly new architecture critic for The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, who some complain isn't writing enough about Architecture.

Many of Kimmelman's pieces written over his first four months on the job have focused on larger issues of urbanism and public design, which has his detractors clamoring for more traditionally defined architectural analysis. At a recent talk at Columbia, earlier this week, Kimmelman acknowledged the thrust of his work as described above, but parried his critics, "[a] false dichotomy has been set up; there's this idea that writing about urban affairs and architecture are separate," he said. "They're part of the same world."

According to Chaban, Kimmelman went on to explain at the event how he might write about a specific building, such as Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum in Rome, by investigating its impact on the larger neighborhood.

This framing of analysis may seem natural, and even desirable to most planners, or those concerned with the interaction between architecture and larger forces, but for Chaban it is startling, and leaves something to be desired.

"It is a new and bracing way to write about architecture. In the past, the museum would likely have been compared to others of its ilk, alongside MoMA, the Guggenheim Bilbao, maybe Daniel Libeskind's severe Denver Art Museum. It is peg versus peg."

"Kimmelman seems to care very little for these games and would rather focus on whether or not that peg fits into the hole into which it has been placed, something that really does not happen enough. The only problem is it can lead to articles that read quite a lot alike. At least that is the superficial reading."

Full Story: Michael Kimmelman Will Not Play Your Architecture Games



Old and Bracing

he might write about a specific building, such as Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum in Rome, by investigating its impact on the larger neighborhood. ... "It is a new and bracing way to write about architecture."

It is bracing, but it certainly is not new.

Jane Jacobs was doing it 50 years ago. Post-modern architects were doing it 40 years ago; at the time, it was called contextualism. Today, it is often called place-making.

This comment shows how backward architecture has become since the 1980s. Architecture critics went back to the mid-century modernist idea of treating the building as a isolated sculptural object. They were so narrow-minded and cliquish that they ignored critics who kept talking about place making during those decades (eg, Jan Gehl and Fred Kent).

The reactionary fog is so dense that the old criticism of modernism from the 1960s and 1970s seems new again.

Charles Siegel

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