Criticism may seem somewhat irrelevant to any talk about building now that “starchitecture” is at its acme.
After all, the business of a critic is to discriminate the better from the worse, or – if you like – the more beautiful from the uglier, the more valuable from the less. The word implies it. In ancient Greek, it pertains to winnowing or sieving; separating the wheat from the chaff. But starchitecture doesn’t make such distinctions. It is content just to be, and rises above the carping of discriminators.
Criticising celebrity architects may therefore be like making disparaging comments at a pop concert. Unlike flamboyant architecture, pop music seems to have bred a culture of shrewd, articulate critics, but their words, however sharp, cannot pierce even the most inflated bubbles of reputation. What is true of pop music and star buildings is also true of more muted high-rises.
What can be said in terms of architecture criticism of their sheer walls of standard glassand- steel elements, enclosing floors of almost identical plans? Perhaps some comment on the foyer or on the finial of the skyscraper may count as such. But for the most part, any talk about such buildings is limited to deferential commendations.
The critic must take stock of what appear to be the banal features of overwhelming buildings
The critic is justified in enquiring about how the building is perceived
I have always believed that the critic must be a fighter
Perhaps more important is the effect on those commissioning buildings, who tend to think of themselves as patrons or even public benefactors, and so find any complaining about the products of their benevolence as impugning their good name. Such consequences suggest that the engaged critic’s words are not at all vain, and that beyond any resentment they may well promote reflection and even lead participants in the building process to modify their ways.
More actively, critics sometimes take part in competition and prize juries, which invites their involvement in design decisions. Considered at their lowest valuation, architecture critics might ever so gradually help to form and reform the public opinion, which is the uneven but fertile ground from – or against which – all those involved in building inevitably act. But of course, operative criticism at its highest valuation might establish a fruitful dialogue between critics and those who are actively involved in the creation of our environment.