No More Nicolai: Critic Leaving NY Times

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Nicolai Ourossoff appeared on Charlie Rose (Screen Capture)

Nicolai Ouroussoff appeared on Charlie Rose (Screen Capture)

According to an in-house memo, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff is “moving on” at the end of this month.

The sweet but short memo about the critic—who this year submitted his own Pulitzer nomination package—was sent around this morning from culture editor Jonathan Landman. Ouroussoff’s plan, the memo said, is:

to write a book about the architectural and cultural history of the last 100 years, “from Adolf Loos’s Vienna and the utopian social experiments of post-revolutionary Russia to postwar Los Angeles and the closing years of the 20th century,” as Nicolai describes it.

That’s the level of ambition we’ve come to take for granted in Nicolai. He’s a critic whose seven-year run has been distinguished by qualities of unfailing intelligence and integrity and the kind of relentless journalistic drive that propelled a worldwide search for steel-and-concrete manifestations of big, important ideas. His recent series on efforts to use architecture to transform the Middle East was only the latest example.

And a grand one it was. On a different scale, I have another favorite, a review that shows off all of Nicolai’s discernment, courage and skill in a smaller package. That was his appraisal of our new building. There was a lot he didn’t like about the place and he said so – there’s the courage part. On the discernment front, there are fascinating observations about the building’s interplay with the history and ideals of modern journalism. Skill? Look at the direct and good humored way he handles the problem of reviewing the boss.

No doubt there’s much more where that came from. There’s a ton of Nicolai’s trademark ambition in the plan for his book, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which aspires to put a century of architecture into the kind of social and political context he always aimed for within the more limited constraints of newspaper writing.

We’ll miss him. He’ll miss us.

The question is will the readers, too? The sporadic critic was known more for chasing down exotic locations and predictably championing all things Californian than analyzing local conditions and his even-handed voice sometimes had us all missing the impassioned harangues of his predecessor, Herbert Muschamp, but at least he was there writing about architecture for the general public, one of the last of a rare and rarer breed.

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