Critiquing the Architectural Critic

This piece from Design Observer takes a pointed and critical look at the work of New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff and finds much to be desired in his work.

Author Alexandra Lange is a journalist who teaches architecture criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She takes issue with many aspects of Ouroussoff's writing, and highlight what seems to be a lack of neighborhood context in any of his articles.

She highlights a 2005 piece he wrote about Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project, in which he writes about it being an important project for the city.

"Here Ouroussoff performs a neat trick, (mis)characterizing the opposition as a bunch of Jacobsian sentimentalists, and informing us that Gehry's new architecture would be the borough's best representative. Those brownstones are apparently so retrograde that they and the rest of the project's existing context warrant only a three-sentence paragraph. Ouroussoff never bothered to orient his readers to the importance of the site, the windy, well-trafficked corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Naturally the Brooklyn bloggers had a field day with this piece, for reasons valid and conspiratorial."

Full Story: Why Nicolai Ouroussoff Is Not Good Enough



Ouroussoff's Nostalgia

"I went back through my clippings [of Ouroussoff's articles]. Nostalgia came up again and again, never explained, always as a negative."

Ouroussoff always criticizes traditional archtecture for being nostalgic, but he did slip in one review and admit that his modernism is also nostalgic:

"Cold war culture has been back in style for a while now, at least in architecture circles. ... So 'Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe,' ... is likely to stir waves of nostalgia. For people of my generation ... his architecture embodies the values of an era when it was still possible to believe that society was gliding steadily toward a better future."

Here, Ouroussoff admits that he is nostalgic for the naive faith in technology that inspired mid-century modernism. Yet he also admits that no one has this naive faith in technology any longer. In fact, this faith in technology is not relevant to the great problems of our time, such as global warming, which requires that we put political limits on destructive technologies.

Why does he think it is okay him to be nostalgic about the 1950's technological optimism, but not for New Urbanists to be nostalgic about walkable streetcar suburbs?

The streetcar suburbs really are relevant to solving the problems of our time, but Ouroussoff's mid-century modernism is not.

Charles Siegel

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