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On the State of Architecture Criticism

Inga Saffron recently joined a very small group of architecture critics to win the Pulitzer Prize. What does her victory say about the state of criticism, especially built environment criticism, today?
April 21, 2014, 10am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Kriston Capps explains the significance of Inga Saffron’s recent selection as a Pulitzer Prize laureate for criticism, which moves the Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic into select company: “This significance for the field of architecture criticism at large shouldn't be lost, either. Saffron is the first architecture critic to win the award since 1999, when Blair Kamin took it for the Chicago Tribune. Saffron is only the sixth architecture critic to receive the Pulitzer Prize for criticism since it was introduced in 1970, when Ada Louise Huxtable won the award for more or less inventing the field of architecture criticism for The New York Times.”

Not only are architecture critics rarely celebrated by the Pulitzer committee, they are also rare, period. U.S. newspapers currently employ only 13 full-time architecture critics. But rather than lamenting the dearth of critics, Capps makes an important distinction: “While newspapers today employ fewer critics than they have in the past, there is almost certainly more architectural criticism written today than at any point in journalism's history.” 

A final, noteworthy point from the article: “In one sense, prizes like the Pulitzer appear to belong to a legacy media that is vanishing rapidly. But that doesn't mean that it's any less important as an inspiration for the next generation of writers. (And readers. And architects, too.) If Saffron's work matters—and plainly it does—then it will continue to shape the dialog about architecture even as the format of that conversation changes.” 

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Published on Friday, April 18, 2014 in Architect
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