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Self-taught as an ar­chi­tec­ture prac­ti­tioner. What is the ver­nac­u­lar if not the built rem­nants of the self taught

How to write about ar­chi­tec­ture

I write for peo­ple who in­ter­act with the built en­vi­ron­ment as users and con­sumers and less so as de­sign­ers. Architecture for reg­u­lar peo­ple. The work of crit­i­cism is pub­lic fac­ing but the­ory is­n’t. the­ory is in­ti­mate, crit­i­cism is­n’t, it’s all about the per­for­mance, so why not make it a good per­for­mance.

Here’s an ex­am­ple of some ar­chi­tec­ture writ­ing about Alison and Peter Smithson, the in­ven­tors of New Brutalism in England.

First, Reyner Banham in The New Brutalism:

The most ob­sti­nate pro­tag­o­nists of that type of ar­chi­tec­ture at the time in London were Alison and Peter Smithson, de­sign­ers of the Miesian school at Hunstanton which is gen­er­ally taken to be the first Brutalist build­ing. The term Brutalist’ was doubt­less ap­plied to their ideas lightly and in pass­ing, but it stuck to them for two rea­sons: firstly, be­cause they were pre­pared to make some­thing se­ri­ous of it; and, sec­ondly, be­cause Peter Smithson was known to his friends dur­ing his stu­dent days as‘Bru­tus’from a sup­posed re­sem­blance to clas­si­cal busts of the Roman hero. […] When Peter Smithson fi­nally com­mit­ted the phrase to print in December of 1953 the sit­u­a­tion had al­ready de­vel­oped so far that no word but bru­tal­ism could have ever served to ex­press what the Smithsons and many oth­ers of their gen­er­a­tion ur­gently felt they must ex­press. Even if they had, as yet, no ar­chi­tec­ture to ex­press it.

Now Kenneth Frampton in Modern Architecture: A Critical History:

Split be­tween a sym­pa­thy for old-fash­ioned work­ing-class sol­i­dar­ity and the promise of con­sumerism, the Smithsons were en­sared in the in­trin­sic am­biva­lence of an as­sumed pop­ulism. Throughout the sec­ond half of the 1950s they moved away from their ini­tial syn­pa­thy for the lifestyle of the pro­le­tariat to­wards more mid­dle-class ideals that de­pended for their ap­peal on both con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion and mass own­er­ship of the au­to­mo­bile […] Meanwhile at a do­mes­tic scale they con­tin­ued to re­gard the chromium con­sumer prod­uct in the crum­bling ten­e­ment or the plas­tic in­te­rior as the ul­ti­mate lib­er­at­ing icon of their con­cil­lioa­tory style.

How do we blend the fa­mil­iar­ity and hu­mor of Banham with the sharp crit­i­cism of Frampton?

Sprawl is bad ex­cept in writ­ing, its good in writ­ing. Architecture writ­ing likes to be dense, which can be use­ful for the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge but does­n’t make for very good read­ing. That kind of analy­sis is im­por­tant, but the job of crit­i­cism is some­thing else.

Critics in­form peo­ple out­side of achitcec­ture. Some come out of ar­chi­tec­ture schools, oth­ers were self taught. When every news­pa­per had all these dif­fer­ent crit­ics (in the mid­dle of the cen­tury), the goal of crit­i­cism was clearly the gen­eral pub­lic. they trans­lated mat­ters of aes­thet­ics, his­tory, pol­i­tics for the pub­lic.

Ostensibly they write about the­atre, art, de­sign, lit­er­a­ture or what­ever, but re­ally they’re ask­ing how you can use those things as a prism through which to see every­thing else.

Manfredo Tafuri: The Theories and History of Architecture (1960). He says that be­cause of the way art is made, the critic has an in­her­ently prob­lem­atic re­la­tion­ship with their sub­ject, there’s a com­plic­ity be­tween crit­i­cism and ac­tiv­ity.

The state of crit­i­cism

Three lay­ers of pub­li­ca­tions:

You can crit­i­cise this stuff on aes­thetic grounds, but the base is­sue is that ar­chi­tec­ture in an in­equitable so­ci­ety will al­ways be in­equitable, and will re­sist or ab­sorb the pro­ject of crit­i­cism.

It’s telling how the few pro­gres­sive ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tices like Peter Barber and Lacaton & Vassal are held up as ar­chi­tec­ture’s good con­science.

This im­age-pro­duc­tion is es­sen­tially safe (hence prof­itable) be­cause it does­n’t re­aly chal­lenge any­thing. Big firms get rich, and every­once in a while they’ll throw some­thing to a smaller firm to give the ap­pear­ance of op­por­tu­nity.

PR-chitecture is a fail­i­ure of crit­i­cisim, cu­ra­tion, jour­nal­is­tic adap­ta­tion to the me­dia land­scape (as well as ar­chi­tec­ture).

A new crit­i­cism

We’re at the end of print ar­chi­tec­ture crit­i­cism, and there is­n’t re­ally a vi­able re­place­ment yet. How long does it take for a writer or pub­li­ca­tion to be­come fi­nan­cially sta­ble enough to be­come good and use­ful. Mcmansion Hell worked out, in­di­vid­ual pro­jects aren’t the way to build a new ar­chi­tec­ture crit­i­cism. It has to be a col­lec­tive pro­ject.

Letter to an ar­chi­tect in the Architectural Review.

Because the new crit­i­cism is a col­lec­tive pro­ject, it does­n’t mat­ter if you call your­self a critic or a prac­ti­tioner or some­one who draws wall sec­tions all day. The new crit­i­cism should be ac­ces­si­ble and ir­rev­er­ent. Alternative fund­ing mod­els lilke Patreon (as op­posed to the Subscription/Commission model)

Funny cap­tions on big houses is ef­fec­tive be­cause it teaches peo­ple to look at build­ings and their en­vi­ron­ment and think about so­ci­ety, power, cul­ture.

We can build some­thing new in tone, choice of lan­guage, vi­sual cues and medium , but still con­struc­tive. We can sus­tain crit­i­cism by giv­ing it a new au­di­ence. Criticism is an in­nate sense, it’s just rarely cul­ti­vated. People al­ready do ar­chi­tec­ture cirit­i­cism when they talk about bor­ders, labour prac­ti­cises.

Our duty as crit­ics is to ed­u­cate and em­power the critic and oth­ers.