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The Past and Future of Architecture Criticism

How much do the challenges of the built environment require a thoughtful and informed media? What is the role of traditional architecture criticism in the world of aggregators, snark, and armchair urbanists?
July 21, 2015, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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During a talk at the Society of Architectural Historians conference in Chicago earlier this year, Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural critic Blair Kamin examined the state of architecture criticism in light of the quickly changing media landscape. Nieman Reports provides edited excerpts of the remarks.

Kamin's argument:

"My take on all this is that architecture criticism is not dead. Those proclaiming criticism’s death are mistaking the dynamic, tumultuous process of creative disruption for permanent dissolution. They fail to recognize that the circumstances of our time offer promise as well as peril."

Importantly to all who write or read about cities, Kamin locates his definition of architecture criticism in the much broader milieu of contemporary urbanism media:

"Clearly, the days of the critic’s hegemony are done. And even some journalists, like those at The Guardian, are celebrating the shift. Their philosophy of 'open journalism' proposes that instead of dictating the news to readers, newspapers should ask their readers what they should be writing about."

To build his case, Kamin traces the evolution of architecture criticism from the birth of its modern practice with the writing of Ada Louis Huxtable for the New York Times in the early 1960s. The lesson continues into the methods of evaluation that inform Kamin's own criticism and into a taxonomy of approaches to architecture criticism: formal, experiential, historical, and activist (as defined by Alexandra Lange in the book Writing About Architecture).

The article concludes by laying out three principles that "can revitalize criticism in our time."

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Published on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Neiman Reports
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