Regular readers of the blog should know, I do quite a bit of reading. Most of my reading is novels and current events and as a professional I always feel a little guilty for not reading reading more about architecture and design. Then I try and find anything written about architecture and design worth reading. There’s very little thoughtful criticism that I’ve found online. Instead, most outlets favor quantity over quality and leave the discourse to the comments section (which could be the subject of a whole separate post if I could read any comments section without becoming ill or violent).
I’ve talked about my disappointment with ArchDaily in the past, and it’s borderline unfair to hold it to any standard of criticism. ArchDaily is specifically designed to thrive in an online media world driven by content, content and more content. ArchDaily’s bread and butter is churn and turnover; they want you to visit 2 or 3 times a day and see fresh content each time so ArchDaily just has to keep the spigot of trendy projects open. But every once in a blue moon you can find something on ArchDaily that has actual thought behind it. Take, for instance, the article about the best countries to work in as a female architect. I didn’t pick this article because women in architecture is some kind of pet issue of mine, I picked it because it was the only thing on the first 3 pages worth referencing in this post.
So ArchDaily might be no good, but you get what you pay for. You’d think maybe a subscription magazine might provide some kind of value here, but you won’t get much out of Architectural Record. The writer of this review of the Campbell Sports Center almost manages to communicate an opinion, but the review is mostly just a collection of cute phrases and benign half-endorsements. “Holl and Chris McVoy designed the $30 million building as a series of gangly forms that rise from the sloping site like a scissor lift” on “spindly legs”, he says, without letting on whether or not “gangly” and “spindly” are desirable qualities in this building. After listing out the program and dwelling on the novelty of football-player-sized furniture he eventually flirts with a conclusion, but ends up just having a torrid love affair with the second-sexiest punctuation mark: the comma. “The industrial aesthetic may take a little getting used to, as will the building’s ungainly form. Nonetheless, the facility demonstrates an awareness of context and community. … Holl and Columbia, while meeting the needs of varsity athletes, have given an oft-overlooked building type, as well as an oft-overlooked corner of New York City, an architectural high-five.” This GIF is a metaphor for that ambitious conclusion:
Maybe the “for architects by architects” outlets are too insular. Maybe the staff critic of a mainstream style magazine would have more thoughtful and direct comments on, say, 1 World Trade Center. Here’s Jerry Saltz’ “defense” of said tower in response to Banksy’s op-ed: “Excuse me, we don’t like the building either. But that building is tall. And this is New York; we need a tall building there. Who cares if it’s ugly.” Be careful what you wish for, I guess.
We have enough noise with Facebook and Twitter; if you like the right pages and follow the right people you can create from scratch your own endless stream of design without comment. The architectural media has responded by adding to that noise instead of providing some perspective. Sometimes I wonder everybody with a keyboard thinks they can be a design critic. Then I read the criticism from the most popular outlets and realize it’s no wonder at all.