On Criticism 4: People Over Metaphor

How should architecture criticism change? I say: more profiles, not fewer. When we write about architecture, yes, we should write about it in context. Big, city-shaping forces are at work here, but those can be cumbersome ideas, and trying to talk about them pushes us into metaphor territory or worse, theory.

What’s wrong with writing about people? What better way to bring criticism – and architecture – down to earth than by talking about the hands that make it? The starchitect era gave us characters worth writing about. The starchitect may be dead, but he taught us – critics and everyone else – that architecture is more than buildings. It’s egos, politics, history, cities, scandal, money, and it all revolves around people. How’s that for context?

Muschamp compared buildings to Hitchcock blondes. So what? At his talk at SVA last week, Chandler Burr compared perfumes to herb-scented breezes over Turkish seawater. But the people behind the perfumes were more interesting. French guys who guess the molecular content of the fragrance on an Air France moist towelette, the scientists who know the difference between C12 and C11 (the even ones smell citrussy, the odd ones smoky; or something like that), whose work gets hawked by naked models on three-story billboards. But Chandler didn’t talk about them, just name-dropped. Turkish seawater? Who cares? People over metaphor.

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of posts that ponders the state of architecture criticism. To read all posts on this topic, please click here.

As with all review and opinion pieces posted on Urban Omnibus, the views expressed are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.

William Bostwick is a freelance writer, podcaster, and editor. He lives in Brooklyn.

One Response to “On Criticism 4: People Over Metaphor”

  1. faslanyc says:

    ridiculous. criticism should be about the work. you’re right that architecture is egos, politics, history, etc. but criticism shouldn’t focus on the sensational news, but rather the work.

    who cares what’s most interesting? writers always looking for an interesting angle in order to justify their paycheck. but criticism carries a bigger responsibility as part of the feedback loop that ultimately improves the work itself.

    architectural criticism should not be further tmz-ed.

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