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04.18.2013
Criticism is Dead! Long Live Criticism!
Three well-known scribes land new platforms for debate.
Left to right: Mark Lamster, Inga Saffron, Michael Sorkin.
Montage by AN

The shrinkage of daily newspapers and news and culture magazines has thinned the already slim ranks of architecture critics. While blogs and social media proliferate debate about architecture and design, many have fretted about the lack of a common dialogue around architecture and urbanism as defined by the work of leading critics. It turns out that architecture criticism is far from dead, however, as three established voices are finding new outlets with newspapers and national magazines.

Author, editor, and critic Mark Lamster has been appointed architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, where he will write a print column and contribute blog posts, as well as teach at the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Architecture. “There are a lot people in Dallas with a lot of ambition for their city,” Lamster said. “There’s a belief that for Dallas to be a first rate city, there needs to be a critical voice about the built environment.” David Dillon served as the paper’s critic for nearly 25 years before taking a buy-out in 2006. Lamster, a native New Yorker, voiced enthusiasm for Dallas architecture and the city’s civic aspirations. “There are a tremendous number of initiatives, at all scales, to make Dallas more pedestrian friendly, a more vibrant, urban place,” he said. “But Dallas is still Dallas. There’s work to be done.”

Meanwhile, longtime Philadelphia Inquirer critic Inga Saffron has begun writing a monthly column on urbanism for the website of the newly re-launched New Republic. “I love writing for the Inquirer, but the response I received for the piece I did for the New Republic was pretty heady,” she said. She called the New Republic’s readership “densely sophisticated.” Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook, bought the magazine and has given it a dramatic makeover and vastly increased its visibility. Saffron joins the magazine’s existing architecture critic Sarah Williams-Goldhagen.

Finally, architect, critic, and educator Michael Sorkin is slated to begin writing for the left-leaning Nation magazine. That magazine’s longtime critic, Jane Holtz Kay, died last November, though her writing had not appeared in the magazine for several years. As of press time, Sorkin declined to comment on his upcoming work with the magazine.

Saffron, for one, disputes the idea that architecture criticism is a threatened profession. “There’s been a tremendous proliferation, a flowering,” she said of all the blogs, websites, and publications that cover architecture and urbanism. “In 1999, when I began as the critic for the Inquirer, I was a lonely voice. Now I’ve got tremendous competition.”

Alan G. Brake