Paragraphs on Architectural Criticism

  1. Architectural criticism is what distinguishes architecture from building, inasmuch as those two terms are distinguishable. Buildings exist perfectly well without criticism, but architecture cannot not exist without it.
  2. Architecture is never logically or self-evidently right or wrong; only arguably better or worse. Criticism should 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 differs from an architect’s intentions. 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 architecture and if necessary challenging claims, calling bluffs, and denouncing charlatanry. Criticism should be based on architectural work, not on architectural personalities.
  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 theory. Buildings are too often perfect in theory.
  7. Criticism, whether positive or negative, should be shared by all the ‘stakeholders’ involved in an architectural design project, including the client, planner, builder, consultants, and users (if involved in a 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 endeavor, 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. The criticism of unbuilt work is dependent upon drawings, models and renderings, but that of built work should never be based exclusively on photographs. This is not to say that architectural photography cannot be a subject of critical review in its own right.
  12. Architectural criticism must be seen to be independent. It cannot be directly sponsored by corporations nor can it be seen to be in bed with professional associations, trade unions, guilds, political parties 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; curated exhibitions being legitimate subjects 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.
  15. These paragraphs are neither conclusive nor certain. They constitute a theory of criticism that, like any other theory, exists to be improved or debunked by others.

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona and teach at CIEE, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s