Critical Juncture, part II: architectural criticism now

Yesterday I wrote about Michael Sorkin’s lecture at the Architectural Association, an extremely quotable call for responsible design and criticism. Today I will fill you in on the other lectures given that afternoon, by Rowan Moore, Danny Wicaksono, and Rafael Gómez Moriana.

After Sorkin’s sweeping talk, Rowan Moore – writing for The Guardian, among others – offered the audience an overview of the history of British criticism. The post-war period was dominated by the Architectural Review, with Colin Rowe and Ian Nairn representing the academic and the journalistic style. In the 1980s however, Blueprint magazine (of which Moore was an editor) completely changed the way buildings were talked about, borrowing techniques from television and art magazines, and introducing the world to the glamour of ‘starchitecture’. In recent decades, architecture criticism in Britain is dominated by Prince Charles and Rupert Murdoch: the first voicing a conservative opinion, the second allowing newspapers to bring luxury content on architecture. Moore admitted to owing his career to them, in a sense; as a critic for The Independent the clash between Charles and high-tech architects such as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster provided him with much to write about.

Moore closed off with a survey of the current playing field, where the journalistic style of Ian Nairn reigns. There is hardly a critic anymore who delves into the details of buildings and brings out the symphony in them. Instead, the highly coloured and mostly negative opinions of the likes of Jonathan Meades and Owen Hatherley dominate, showing a lack of patience and going for the shock more than for prolonged reflection. Curiously, a more political and societally aware genre on urban issues is written mostly by women, among them Carolyn Steel. As a final observation, Moore stated that there were ‘lots of people talking, but not enough listening’, and called for more dialogue between critics, and between critics and architects.

Meades-Museum without walls Hatherley-newruins Steel-Hungrycity

The final two talks were given by Danny Wicaksono and Rafael Gómez-Moriana, who are both active online and in outlets such as Mark Magazine. The first introduced the audience to the budding scene of Indonesia, where in 2008 a group of young architecture students decided to put architectural criticism on the map in a country where criticism is culturally alien. After a series of exhibitions, workshops, public lectures and especially the online magazine Jong Arsitek, they are now boasting 120 contributors from 8 countries.


Gómez-Moriana then talked about the rise of the internet in architectural criticism. Although ‘the web will not kill paper anytime soon’, it does lead to a situation where ‘everyone can be a critic’. This might be an antidote to the seductive images, the fashion and the glamour offered in architectural publications, where architects’ project statements and luxurious photography make for a decidedly uncritical environment. On the web, by contrast, the critic can be truly independent.

There are currently some interesting examples around, among them (gossip on what firms you should and should not want to work for as an architect), the Calatrava-bashing website, and of course Gómez-Moriana’s own blog Criticalista. An English-language blog on the architecture of his hometown Barcelona, it is a highly regional and highly personal outlet. As a matter of principle, Gómez-Moriana writes under his own name, uses his own photographs, only talks about buildings he has actually seen, and does not have an editor. His reasons for keeping the blog are nicely captured in the motto, borrowed from Octavio Paz: ‘Modernity is measured not by the onward march of industry but by the capacity for criticism and self-criticism.’

Want to read about the goings-on at the V&A the next day? Click here for part III.



  1. Pingback: Critical Juncture, part I: Michael Sorkin | ORIGINS OF ARCHITECTURE

  2. Pingback: Critical Juncture, part III: what next? | ORIGINS OF ARCHITECTURE

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