The Failures of Architecture Criticism

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CCTV Tower, Beijing, 2012. Rem Koolhaas / Office for Metropolitan Architecture
CCTV Tower, Beijing, 2012. Rem Koolhaas / Office for Metropolitan Architecture / © Eric Gregory Powell (CNN)

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CCTV Tower, Beijing, 2012. Rem Koolhaas / Office for Metropolitan Architecture
CCTV Tower, Beijing, 2012. Rem Koolhaas / Office for Metropolitan Architecture / © Eric Gregory Powell (CNN)

On December 15, architect Steven Bingler and critic Martin Pedersen, former executive editor of Metropolis magazine, published an op-ed in The New York Times in which they called for design to become more relevant, humane, and sustainable: “While architects design a tiny percentage of all buildings, our powers of self-congratulation have never been greater. Although the term ‘starchitect’ has become something of an insult, its currency within celebrity culture speaks to our profession’s broad but superficial reach. High-profile work has been swallowed into the great media maw, albeit as a cultural sideshow–occasionally diverting but not relevant to the everyday lives of most people.”

The heart of this critique is a familiar complaint: the most celebrated architecture often seems out of touch, even disdainful, of the communities that surround them. In recent years, more and more high-profile buildings have pushed neglect to dangerous new levels: in Vienna, large pieces of Zaha Hadid’s new Library and Learning Centre keeping falling off; Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles originally bounced enough sunlight into neighboring buildings to raise the interior temperature; and Rafael Viñoly’s “walkie talkie” building in London actually melted cars on the street. Viñoly’s response? “I didn’t realize it was going to be so hot.” ….

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