Critiquing the Critiquer

Over at the Design Observer, they have decided to take on Nikolai Ourousoff, NYT architectural critic du jour. Over the years, we’ve had our fun with him as well, but agree with his general assessment of the benevolent tortoise, Jerry World. Furthermore, we’ve been impressed with his maturation that not coincidentally dovetailed with the economic collapse. He began to ridicule the same ridiculousness that he once bowed before. But, perhaps that is the problem:

He might have been the perfect critic for the boom years, when looks were the selling point, but this formal, global approach seems incongruous in a downturn. His evaluative criterion was never clear to me until I embarked on this essay; in re-reading him, I found frequent defenses of one quality: the new.

True. Further:

Local residency should be a requirement for the Times architecture critic as it is for city police officers and politicians. Ouroussoff must have moved here in 2004, when he was hired from the Los Angeles Times to replace Herbert Muschamp, but I don’t recall him ever referring to his neighborhood, to a favorite park or plaza or to the pedestrian everyday city that the rest of us occupy.

Fair enough, but why?

Alice Twemlow argued recently on Design Observer that the best design criticism is based on user experience and unpretentious language, and the same standard can be applied to architecture criticism.

Ahh. Now we have a point (and a trap that I admittedly have fallen into). Beyond simply critique, we have to change the frame of who the audience is. Architects have long since taken a wrong turn down a windy, path as each races past the other to be “more different,” while the rest of us are still trudging along on Main Street wondering, “where the hell are those guys going?!”

Buildings are components of cities. Cities are lived in and operated by its citizenry. No building can be judged without its context and how it relates to that context. Design for the people, not for Architectural Record and the architectural sycophants fellating the novel rather than the good.

Does the novel element serve a purpose? Is it a physical representation of a problem-solved or is it pointless? If it is the latter it is doomed to fade away and be forgotten. If it is an effective solution, then it will be repeated. And isn’t that what we all really want anyway, flattery?


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