Architectural criticism is a really tough task as there are many aspects which cannot be distinguished as right or wrong, for instance, aesthetics; what might be beautiful to someone may just seem artificial to another one. So, becoming an effective architecture critic requires a wide range of attributes which include vastness of knowledge, years of experience, the power of persuasion, excellent delivery skills, lots of patience, thirst for awareness, and logic in arguments. Architecture critics not only assist architects in understanding the nature of their own project but also help them in developing a critical judgment about it. They make the picture clearer.
“Good critics really know their territory. Many media sites now just assemble images and news items without lending a point of view. That’s not criticism; it’s pimpery,” says Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune.
So, now let’s review some of the skills and qualities necessary for critics to perform their role in a most constructive manner.
Fairness in Judgement
First, the critic should be a ‘man of principles’. Fairness and clarity are essential when judging a design. The design should be assessed as per its own requirements rather than taking another project as a basis for comparison. A civilian’s house can never be judged along the lines of King’s Palace.
The critic should always have a logical reason behind the argument. “Emotion doesn’t trump reason,” says Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects. Of course, having an affinity towards a particular designer or style isn’t wrong, unless it affects the way in which others are criticized. The goal behind criticism should never be insulting the architects or their designs, rather it should be pointing out the wrong in order to improve the whole situation.
Building a Persuasive Case
“The critic has to build a persuasive case–brick by brick,” says Cathleen McGuigan, Editor in Chief of Architectural Record. The art of convincing is very significant to make criticism more constructive. The critic’s opinion is not of any use if the receiver does not understand it and truly agrees with it. Describing a real life experience as an example to prove a point might help.
Sometimes, it is the language that ruins a good critic. Poor delivery may ruin the effectiveness of a critique, even though the critic is right and has good intentions. Similarly, appropriate delivery may, even, promote an egocentric criticism. The critic should deliver the message in a positive and motivating manner, without hurting the target’s sentiments. The evaluative language like “You are wrong” or “This is a stupid idea” may not be of any help whereas “I feel like this may be a better solution” might just work wonders.
Criticism should be more objective. It should be specific, relevant, and to the point. Focusing on the problem at hand helps in understanding the context. “Your design lacks this” is anytime better than “Something isn’t right but I am unable to put it”.
General Knowledge of Architecture
Awareness of the past, present, and possible future issues and trends of architecture is a genuine requirement for a critic to be capable of commenting on an architectural design. Also, experience as a practicing architect can be very advantageous.
Understanding the Architect’s Point of View
Lastly, it’s essential for critics to put themselves in the shoes of the receiving architects in order to adjudicate the design properly. Doing this will enable them to understand the problem from the architect’s point of view and hence deliver more appropriate suggestions.