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Inclusion in Architecture

Why are there so few disabled architects and architecture students?
In the United States, people with disabilities in the architecture profession and architectural academia are statistically invisible. Neither the American Institute of Architects, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, nor the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture collect data on the number of architects or architecture students in the United States who self-identify with physical or cognitive disabilities.  The groundbreaking report, “Inclusion in Architecture,” published by the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, does not include data on disability. The lack of knowledge about disabled architecture students and architects in the United States stands in contrast to other strides made in diversification, equity, and inclusion. The profession’s self-examination—statistically and culturally—has forced a significant transformation in who can become an architect in the United States. Looking at attendance in colleges, faculty appointments, and representation at professional events, architecture appears to be a more diverse profession in terms of race and gender than it was 50 years ago. From celebrated architects to the deans of the most elite architecture schools, we can see efforts at diversification making a mark. Diversification is critical in architecture because ideas about race, gender, ability, and disability are formed and reproduced in the design and construction of buildings and urban spaces. The absence of disabled architecture students, architects, and particularly academic and institutional leaders within the United States relegates people with disabilities to being a a topic of discussion versus agents of change. In fact, a strand of disability theory argues that disability is a relative category, constructed in spaces that produce disabled bodies and minds. But whether perceived as innate or relative, a medical sensibility underpins many discussions of disability in architecture, because if people with disabilities are considered at all, it is as the subjects within spaces as opposed to the creators of them. This is due to several structural issues that prohibit people with disabilities from envisioning a future in which they participate in architecture in all its myriad manifestations. One key area that limits accessibility to architecture as a profession is the actual buildings where architecture education takes place. While numerous architecture schools are entirely accessible to people with disabilities, the majority of the elite Ivy League schools of architecture—Yale University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University—have historically had physically inaccessible spaces for people with lower-limb disabilities. In the 1990s, years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Columbia still contained facilities inaccessible or difficult to access for people in wheelchairs. Almost all of these schools of architecture have been renovated, but key spaces—lecture halls (particularly the podium of the lecture hall where people speak), pin-up spaces, offices—remain either inaccessible or difficult to access.  Again, many schools have these problems, but these elite institutions have a disproportionate influence on the profession. We have lost out on multiple generations of architect leaders with disabilities who might have offered key perspectives on architecture, not only because of the barriers literally constructed in the architecture of elite institutions, but also due to the ways we imagine the production of architectural knowledge. For example, architectural education requires a thorough knowledge of historic precedents, but how do we imagine the spaces in which this knowledge is acquired? Consider the imagined physical commitment required to understand the discipline’s history, embedded in sites such as the Acropolis of Athens, the Roman Forum, or Teotihuacan, among numerous other examples. For the able-bodied, these sites are challenging places to visit—an observation confirmed by the writings of architects including Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and Alvar Aalto. But both the Acropolis and the Roman Forum were far more easily navigated thousands of years ago (by contemporary standards) than they are today as “modernized” sites of architectural preservation. The early 19th-century Romantic notion of experiencing ruins under physical exertion has been permanently built into the experience of many important architectural monuments. This is a key aspect of historiographical aesthetics virtually unexplored in the literature or teaching of architectural historical practice. In other words, a romanticism of the body’s relationship to historical spaces hangs over the experience of architectural history, one that is furthered in the descriptions of these remote sites in classrooms and our expectations regarding the experience of the past. If the design of spaces of education and historical knowledge shape ideas about the abilities of architects, then the physical spaces encountered within architecture internships also require critical analysis. The ADA has enabled people with physical and cognitive disabilities in the United States far greater access to all types of buildings and public spaces. However, the ADA does not govern all construction sites. Even if architecture schools in the U.S. make a concerted effort to improve accessibility, there are several impediments to students with various disabilities becoming architects. It is virtually impossible to undertake an architectural internship without being able to navigate the relationship between the making of architectural representations in offices and the material assembly of architecture on a construction site. To imagine the increased accessibility of construction sites is utopian but necessary, primarily because doing so would re-envision the types of people who create architecture tout court. Labor unions might pursue this to further workplace safety. The latter is a staggering problem in an industry that is extraordinarily and needlessly dangerous: Over a 45-year career, someone working construction will have a 75 percent chance of acquiring a disability from a workplace injury. Construction work accounts for only 3 percent of employment in the United States and almost a quarter of all workplace injuries. Thus, we arrive at the most disturbing point about disability and architecture—the construction of buildings produces disability more than any other sector of the economy. To imagine the accessibility of a building extending from the people who dig its foundations to those who use its interiors enables us to reimagine what a building is at an ontological level. It radically transforms the disabled from being the subjects of spaces to the agents of architecture’s conceptualization and construction at the most granular level. Architects and architecture students are working at a time when discourses on diversity, equity, and inclusion have made measurable transformations within architectural academia and the greater profession. This has led to new generations of African-American, Latinx, and Asian-American teachers and students, the expansion of global architecture history curricula, and student organizations focused on race and gender, among many other outcomes. It is time that we let people with disabilities partake in this important transformation occurring in American architectural education and the profession. Of course, these forms of identification are not isolated, and opportunities exist for understanding intersecting and mutually reinforcing relationships among various forms of subjectivity and disability. In recent years, academic architecture panels, journals, and symposia have brought disability perspectives to architecture.  These are important contributions. However, in many of these venues, no architects with permanent and severe disabilities were present to represent this particular form of identity. As this article demonstrates, the structural limitations to a career as an architect with disabilities run deep, and the limitations to academic leadership in this area run deeper. To imagine disability having a place in architecture will involve much more than making buildings accessible or identifying people with disabilities and making entreaties to them to enter the profession. It will involve expensive transformations to the physical spaces of colleges and universities; a lessening of the athletic aesthetics of architecture history, theory, and design; and legal structures that will open a field like construction to more people. If we pursue these transformations in the accessibility of space, discourse, and construction, we will likely see a parallel shift in the types of people who imagine becoming an architect and leading this profession. In turn, the discussion of accessibility and its realization in the design and construction of buildings will enter a new, more sophisticated, and ethical stage of development. David Gissen is Professor of Architecture at the California College of the Arts. He became an above-the-knee amputee while an architecture student in the early 1990s – a surgery related to an earlier childhood illness.
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Rock the Vote

An air rights vote divides a Lower East Side community
Tuesday night, the residents of the Seward Park Co-op on Manhattan’s Lower East Side went to vote on whether to sell the four-building complex’s air rights to developers Ascend Group/Optimum Group. If the measure had passed, Seward Park would have received $54 million ($39 million after taxes) and four months of maintenance for its residents; in return, Ascend would have used this upzoning to build a pair of 22- and 33-story residential buildings to the co-op’s south. According to community members present that night, the referendum, which required approval by two-thirds of the residents, failed to pass on Tuesday. The final vote was 690 for, 537 against. Residents had become increasingly divided over the potential sale, and many issued public op-eds both for and against the sale as the buildup to the vote grew more intense. If the vote had passed, Seward Park would have been able to pay down $20 million in mounting mortgage costs, replace its 24 ailing elevators, and repair the complex’s crumbling brick facades. Opponents argued that the money isn’t worth the irreparable harm that Ascend will be doing to the neighborhood. From the massings released, the towers, if built with Seward Park’s air rights, would potentially block views from southern-facing co-op units. “No”-aligned residents are also concerned about the impact that building market-rate housing would have on raising the cost of living in the neighborhood. Ascend is looking to build on either side of the landmarked Bialystoker nursing home on East Broadway, which would become a lobby for the towers. With the air rights, a 242-foot-tall tower would rise on Bialystoker’s west side, and a 343-foot-tower would join it the eastern lot and cantilever over the ramp to Seward Park’s underground garage. In this scheme, the development would total approximately 270,000 square feet and contain 210 units across the three buildings. Of course, Ascend will build on the lots even as residents chose to vote no. The developers will still renovate Bialystoker according to their as-of-right scheme and would put up a 239-foot-tall, 20-story tower on the western lot and a 186-foot-tall, 17-story building on the eastern section. This plan would see the creation of a 115,000-square-foot, 140-unit development. According to the developer’s website, “Should the shareholders decide not to sell the air rights, two things will follow. First, Ascend/Optimum will build on both its lots using its existing development rights. Demolition has already begun to prepare for this scenario. Second, the Coop will have lost its only opportunity to sell some of its air rights. Ascend/Optimum is the only property owner adjacent to the Seward Park Coop that can purchase these air rights.”
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Train of thoughts

Van Alen Institute’s spring festival focuses on getting around New York City
New York City subways and buses serve eight million riders per weekday. However, the transit system that many New Yorkers rely on encounters frequent delays and suspensions. As a response, New York-based Van Alen Institute will bring together city planners and participants to imagine new approaches towards seeing, navigating, and moving through the urban environment, with a series of events ranging from bus and bike tours to a flash design competition, from June 17 to June 23. The Van Alen-organized spring festival, "FLOW! Getting Around the Changing City" seeks to rethink the consequences of the 15-month-long L-train shutdown, among other transit issues in New York City. They will host “The Williamsburg Challenge,” where participants will test out what it’s like to travel from Union Square to Williamsburg without using the L train. The institute has also invited professional teams to propose creative solutions to solve the over-ground congestion created by the L train shutdown, in a one-night-only design competition. On June 20, AN’s very own Assistant Editor Jonathan Hilburg will moderate the talk, “Mind the Gap: Improving Urban Mobility through Science and Design." Participants include author Susan Magsamen, Perkins + Wills Associate Principal Gerald Tierney, Gehl Studio Associate Julia Day, and Multimer Strategy Associate Taylor Nakagawa. Other events include an East Village-to-Harlem bus tour led by sociologist and author Garnette Cadogan, a four-hour Brooklyn bicycle tour, a screening of the William Holly Whyte-produced The Social Life of Small Urban Space, and an interactive Urban Mobility Variety Show at Figment NYC featuring dance, music and other performances. Check out this link for a full schedule and tickets.
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Take Out Totems

A feast of architectural ducks abound in the latest edition of “California Crazy”
The third edition of Jim Heimann’s California Crazy from TASCHEN asks what happens when you build out a new city in the car-crazy age of the early 20th century. The result? A freethinking (and wheeling) design style that cut ties with the past and dropped giant owls, ice cream cones, and hot dogs across the desert landscape. Southern California, according to Heimann, has always been a land of roadside attractions, movie lots, amusement parks and attention-grabbing style. The rebar-and-plaster animals made for movie sets gradually became larger as roadside businesses, looking for ways to lure in customers whizzing by at high speeds, constructed buildings to be seen from a distance, but also act as attractions in and of themselves. The access to cheap land and loose (or no) zoning let builders in the 1920s and beyond build increasingly fantastical buildings as well as mini-golf courses and life-sized recreations of historically famous buildings. The core premise was always to entertain and attract, even if the results drew scorn from architectural critics. But over time, the conglomeration of “buildings that look like other things” across Hollywood and Los Angeles created their own architectural vernacular, one that eventually spread east to cities like Las Vegas. California Crazy also includes David Gebhard’s essay, in which he defines the relation this language has to the automobile and “normal” domestic architecture. The original version of California Crazy was published in 1980, but our fascination with fanciful architecture seems like more than a passing fad. Buildings like NBBJ’s Big Basket or the giant chest of drawers in North Carolina continue to draw attention, and in California Crazy, Heimann breaks down exactly why we still find them so intriguing.
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Building Ghosts

Absence is made tangible at the new national memorial to lynching victims
Absence is not abstract. It is felt and perceived. Absence implicates all of us inasmuch as it confounds the very writing of our stories. To see absence is to have our limits revealed, not as if in a mirror, but in a manner that shows that we are entangled with distant tethers that keep our bodies, our histories, in check. Absence, when made visible, is not observed immediately. It takes time. The April 26 opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, is perhaps one such catalyst for the effacement of the visitor with respect to the racial terror that led to the loss of thousands of lives through lynching. Lynching victims who were burned alive, hanged, shot—murdered—in and along the towns and byways of our nation from 1877 until 1950, are documented in this memorial initiated by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Such violence continues today in the form of excessive imprisonment; by the murders of black women and men by the police; by the enforcement of state-sanctioned economic violence. By crafting spaces in which the subtractive is both a tool and a frame, the design of this memorial signals the recuperative agency of building as a means to affect the erasable and irascible conditions that established and purvey hatred, fear, and ignorance in this country. Here, looking away is not conscionable, as it moves against the habitus of memory, where our own individual pasts intersect with the Past. That the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum are realized in this, the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, is indeed an extraordinary feat indebted to the efforts of many individuals that came before. However, I would be remiss in not reminding readers that in recent reportage, including The New York Times and Rolling Stone, there is scant mention of the architects. During the spectacle of the opening ceremony, EJI’s Executive Director, Bryan Stevenson, acknowledged builders, contractors, laborers, and “local” architects—but did not name the project architects, MASS Design Group. Only on the EJI website can we find mention that the Initiative had the “assistance” of MASS Design Group. It feels purposeful, and we are thus left to speculate. I am left wondering: Are architects supposed to fade away in the fashioning of a memorial? I can think of recent examples for which this is clearly not the case. What has been wrought in other locations, including Washington, D.C., Berlin, Johannesburg, New York City, and Birmingham, all speak through their authors. And, in varying degrees, formal aspects of each of these memorial spaces are present now in Montgomery. Memorials render ghosts. And Boston-based MASS Design’s work with the EJI on the design and building of this structure is no less haunted by the iniquities of American history. With distant views of limpid hills and a semiformal state capitol town center with its empty shops, deserted lots, 59 Confederate markers, and recent loft conversions, the Memorial for Peace and Justice is adjacent, without irony, to the storefront of the State of Alabama Office of Pardons and Paroles Day Reporting Center. From the street below, the memorial structure is partially indiscernible due to its horizontal profile cutting across the sightline, but it may also be read as an empty pedestal through and on which the lives of so many passed, passed away, disappeared. One climbs farther up the hill alongside a boundary wall upon which a series of chronological narratives is posted to convey the story of “Why here?” and “Why now?” The manifestations of slavery, of incipient racism that persist today, are described as a backdrop to an unfolding of both landscape and architecture as marked sites for unceasing brutality. We are soon confronted by a bronze sculpture of humans in chains by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. The signs begin too high to be read easily and meet our eyes as we climb the hill. A sharp corner, and one rises again to the structure while unfortunately overlooking the conclusion of the memorial space one floor below. There is no fixed entrance, per se, except a momentary pause with a large fire extinguisher. Stepping onto a timber floor, one is immediately surrounded by a dense array of body-size steel casks hung from pipes that disappear into a paneled metal ceiling. One moves cautiously through a grid of “bleeding” Corten steel containers, each incised with the name of the county and names accompanied by dates, including those unknown, of the lynched. The floor gradually descends as the casks remain above our heads; their intact volumes remain whole. By moving downward, one returns into the ground. The horizon has been excised. Gravity is idle. A series of narratives printed on thin metal strips is hung in a similar manner to the initial chronologies, describing in the briefest of ways the events of individual lynchings. The blunt quotidian language, their facticity, arrests our movements. At the next corner, one is presented with two very large indictments. A cascade of water pushes across the adjacent wall, merging with, not obscuring, an extended text. The temperature changes. Two choices are apparent: Climb a ramp or stair into the center of the quadrangle or leave. The empty center, while perhaps disguised as a space of confrontation, is more like a cloister in which condemnation is subdued, internalized; here it is possible to see across through the casks while observing others. It is not a sanctum. Greeting one’s unceremonial departure from the memorial upon moving outside, another sliver of text is located across from the pipes and pumps of the interior waterfall. This is not as much a “door of no return,” as merely a way out. This non-exit merges with an unmarked landscape of horizontal metal casks, akin to those held inside the structure—a topology of loss. Despite being worrisome for those who might wish to touch one of the steel containers after a hot day, one walks between their seemingly geographic order(s) locating states and counties, and names. Farther on, a series of bronzes by Dana King, depicting Rosa Parks and her heroic companions leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, intersects the path. A small circular garden of mushroom-like concrete stools is sited nearby and is unlike anything seen elsewhere, with no explanation as to its role. One moves across on pathways above, around, and below another bronze, this one by Hank Willis Thomas, spelling bodies of containment, of stability falling away. With the building of such thresholds for historical reckoning, the arc of our knowing also asserts unknowing; absence lingers. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum attest to our own entanglements with reconciliation and truth. Memorials, like museums, are structures that attempt to keep us in their grasp as long as possible, allowing for the disclosure of our interior selves with multiple worlds. Such “new worlds” are partially uncovered at the intersection of reflection and remembrance, yet allow for and point to the rupture of what our passages have been and continue to be.
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Playing Footie

Herzog & de Meuron’s Chelsea Football stadium plans are put on indefinite hold
Plans for the $1.3 billion gothic revamp of British soccer team Chelsea Football Club’s Stamford Bridge stadium in London have been shelved, according to a cryptic message posted on the club’s website citing “the current unfavourable investment climate.” First revealed in 2015, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed stadium would have replaced Chelsea’s current field along with the surrounding buildings, and put up a 60,000-seat replacement in its stead. Initially pegged as a $664 million project, costs rose as delays and lawsuits from homeowners and businesses who would be in the new stadium’s shadow mounted. The stadium’s defining feature (aside from the 20,000 new seats, all of which were promised unobstructed views) would have been the 264 brick buttresses ringing the field. The arches would form a covered loggia around the stadium’s central pitch, and supported a steel ring above the field, providing the structural supports for the additional seats, shops, a museum, and a restaurant. Both the brickwork as well as the black, wrought-iron detailing are less-than-subtle references to vernacular British architecture; Herzog & de Meuron described the vaulting design as a “cathedral of football.” The Guardian paints a more comprehensive picture of why the project was put on hold. Chelsea club owner Roman Abramovich, a Russian-Israeli businessman, has found himself caught in the crossfire of the worsening relationship between the United Kingdom and Russia. Abramovich has found himself unable to renew his investor visa, and as the delays mounted, the billionaire expressed frustration at the idea of investing in a country that was delaying his ability to do business. While Abramovich would still be allowed to stay in Britain, he technically wouldn’t be able to do any work there. AN will update this story as more information becomes available.
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Demolition Disputes

Unpacking Selldorf Architects’ controversial addition to Venturi Scott Brown’s Museum of Contemporary Art
As postmodernism comes roaring back in the architecture world, the time finally seems ripe for many unfairly maligned buildings to receive their due respect. But at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the opposite seems on the verge of happening: A proposed concrete-and-glass expansion threatens to severely damage a lovely and highly functional building by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). The agglomerated museum of today—built in pieces between 1915 and 1996—mixes austere concrete with playful color, oversize plaster columns with powerful round arches, large signs and neon with an intimate courtyard. The original portion, a spare house by the California architect Irving Gill, gently tussles with VSBA’s surrounding addition; together, they embrace the tensions inherent in preserving a house within the context of a museum’s more monumental scale. And yet the complex still manages to fit comfortably in its historic surroundings: a set of buildings also designed by Gill that together form a central green for the village of La Jolla. The proposed expansion, on the other hand, shows little interest in its surroundings. The work of New York City architect Annabelle Selldorf, it includes an interior renovation that would smartly turn the existing auditorium into gallery space with a pleasant set of oceanside terraces. But things go awry in the new galleries and glass-entrance atrium, which, in the architect's zeal for a sort of Tadao Ando–inspired minimalism, end up missing out on an opportunity to contribute to the building’s richness. The most alarming proposal, though, is the removal of VSBA’s dramatic colonnade and, consequently, the courtyard that it helps to form. Selldorf argues that the colonnade obstructs views of the original house, but she overlooks the way in which its exaggerated scale both projects the museum’s civic presence and creates a sense of shelter that allows visitors to experience the house in Gill’s intended intimate setting, separated from the traffic out front. Visitors pass through the compressed courtyard on their way into the building—but then upon entering suddenly encounter the double-height explosion of light, neon, and brightly colored patterns that is VSBA’s iconic Axline Court. Under the new plan, the house would indeed be more visible from the road, but it would appear small and insubstantial, overshadowed by the later additions. Visitors would enter via the glass atrium then proceed directly into the new galleries, undercutting the importance of the house and making the Axline Court into a kind of curious afterthought. Both Selldorf and museum director Kathryn Kanjo say they want the court to remain lively, but given the proposed circulation—in which most visitors will only come across it at the back of the bookstore or after passing through three galleries—it’s hard to see what purpose it could serve. The sum total of the new plan would be a mishmash: an unhappy family of buildings that refuse to talk to one another all jammed together onto a single site. It would lose the crescendoing choreography of spaces that gives it vitality and order, as well the carefully considered relation to the town green. And not for any good reason: it would be quite possible—and substantially cheaper—to add galleries where Selldorf proposes without fundamentally detracting from the existing building. Unfortunately, such an approach would require an appreciation on the museum’s part of its architectural legacy that has so far not been forthcoming. Officials I spoke to seemed to have given little thought to the impact of the new project on the VSBA building, and when pressed on their thinking offered no particular reason that the existing circulation or aesthetics needed to be changed. And the museum made only the feeblest of efforts to contact Scott Brown and Venturi about the plans—former director Hugh Davies says he left a single message at their office in 2014, though by that point they had been retired for several years and consequently never heard it. No follow-up was ever attempted; the duo were understandably surprised when I showed them the plans a few weeks ago. By contrast, when Renzo Piano undertook the renovation of the former May Company department store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, he immediately contacted the office of the architects who designed it, A.C. Martin, and walked through his ideas with the firm’s current partners. Why are Venturi and Scott Brown, widely recognized as among the most important architects of the postwar era, not accorded a similar respect? The short answer to this question is simply that their work is unfashionable: too old to seem new but not old enough to have that nostalgic patina of “another era.” The longer answer is perhaps that architecture that engages the messiness of the world around it must fight an uphill battle for survival in the world of contemporary building—where architecture is too often seen as a formal game, as a matter of sculpting material and form with little concern for the complexities of place and identity. Too many of today’s architects and clients, not understanding the ethical imperative behind the VSBA mode of design, write it off as postmodern riffing—surface-level ornament without a coherent underlying order. But actually each element of the work relates to the larger whole—to symbolic meanings, to the physical and cultural context, to sequences of spaces. And in those relationships emerge subtle and sometimes even disconcerting distortions and juxtapositions—a traditional dome represented only through a bright neon outline in the Axline Court, an entry sequence that at first leads you toward the old front door of the Gill House and then suddenly turns you sideways. These moments allow us to look at the world a little differently: to see the familiar as strange and to reflect on what it means. This powerful but difficult way of making meaning, so well appreciated in many of the artworks of MCASD’s collection, seems to offend contemporary sensibilities when it makes its way into architecture. Indeed, this is not the first time VSBA‘s work has been mistreated in a contemporary renovation. The 2007 expansion of their 1991 Seattle Art Museum by the minimalist architect Brad Cloepfil similarly disregarded a carefully orchestrated entry sequence, replacing it with—drumroll please—yet another generic atrium. Though the VSBA-designed building’s exterior was ostensibly left alone, Cloepfil’s hefty glass tower flatly declines to engage with it (or with the rest of its context, for that matter). Now the original building has taken on the feeling of an eccentric side wing wedged up against a chunky office block. At this point nothing short of a total renovation could set things right. Fortunately, it isn’t too late for the San Diego museum to learn from Seattle and modify its course. It need not totally redesign the addition, but it ought to let the VSBA- and Gill-designed buildings continue on in their lively interplay of similarities and differences. It ought to leave the columns alone, or at least update them respectfully, and rethink the wisdom of having visitors enter through a generic atrium. As Scott Brown put it to me, “Making a more simple-minded entry could be, maybe, just that—too simple-minded.”

A compromise does seem possible. Earlier this year, value engineering eliminated one of the best features of Selldorfs proposal: translucent skylights above the new galleries and converted auditorium. Why not bring them back by saving money on the new atrium and entry sequence? The worrisome proposed circulation would be improved, as would Selldorfs own galleries. The Axline Court would retain its function as the hub around which the various other parts of the museum are clustered, and the Gill house would remain at the museums visual and circulatory heart.

Such a renovation would recognize a key thing: that effective renovations must be a labor of love. They cannot arise from a dislike of what was there before. If the new addition struggles against the Gill and Venturi Scott Brown buildings, if it chooses not to understand or engage with them, then no one will winnot Selldorf, not the museum, and certainly not the village of La Jolla. The rare vitality achieved in the current building will not be easily recovered.

A shortened version of this story appeared in AN’s June print issue. This story has been updated to reflect new information.
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Initiate Docking Procedures

Fogarty Finger reveals an upscale WeWork for the Brooklyn Navy Yard
As major changes and speculation over what’s next hover around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, S9 Architecture’s Dock 72 office tower is nearing completion. The stepped, 16-story building is currently receiving its facade, and co-working company WeWork has already laid claim to 220,000 square feet of office space. With so much ground-up space to work with, the company (and developers Boston Properties and Rudin Development) has tapped local firm Fogarty Finger to design the amenity spaces for their new digs Fogarty Finger took cues from residential and hospitality design to impart a softness throughout, which, given their track record in designing high-end office spaces, is why the studio was chosen for the job. From the renderings, it seems the interiors are a step up from WeWork’s typical glass-and-reclaimed-wood look, usually handled by their in-house design team (Bjarke Ingels had no role in the project, either). Dock 72 is the first ground-up office building to be built in Brooklyn in nearly 30 years, and given the building’s Class A ratings (the highest office standard) and waterfront views, Fogarty Finger was responsible for designing 35,000 square feet of high-end amenities. Two bar-and-lounges, one on the ground floor, the other adjacent to the 16th floor’s conference center, a 600-foot-long, 30-foot-wide lobby that runs the length of the building, a juice bar, spa, gym, café, and a market. The interiors lean heavily on an industrial aesthetic (concrete floors, black steel columns), with strategic splashes of warm wood paneling along the ceiling and a white oak trim in the furniture. In keeping with the Navy Yard's effort to bolster New York City's manufacturing base, local manufacturers from the yard were invited to curate the public areas. As founding partner Robert Finger describes it, Dock 72 is only the latest project to escalate the included amenities as developers try to capture Class A office space tenants; high-value tech employees in this case. Once the next phase of the Navy Yard’s expansion is complete, Dock 72 will link up with a suite of planned waterfront amenities surrounding the office core.
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Make Your Voice Heard

How can architecture criticism give everyone a seat at the table?
As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from those who felt that architecture criticism is inherently political and should be approached as such, from across the country and abroad. How can women and people of color be included in the conversation when the field has typically buried their voices? This article was originally published in our May print issue, and was preceded by a selection of answers from architecture critics themselves and those who thought that the internet has fundamentally changed the field. Nolan Boomer Arts critic and editor of Take Shape. “At the core of architectural criticism is the realization that setting is not the backdrop of humankind’s story, but actually a character that shapes its plot...some of the best criticism appears in other genres like fiction and poetry, but it often isn’t considered as such.” Alice Twemlow Head of Design Curating and Writing Masters at Design Academy Eindhoven and professor of design at The Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. “If you take architecture to be less about individual buildings, and more about the structural, political, and conceptual framing of the shifting relationship between public and private space, (which I do) then the role of the architecture critic merges with that of the social critic and, in that respect, is immensely important. When that framing is thoughtful and brilliant, she should make sure we hear about it; and when the framing is uninformed or unfair, she should also make sure we hear about it. She should remind us of the past, respond to the current situation, and anticipate or lead future moves. She should advocate for the right of every public citizen to access the aesthetic and practical benefits of the built environment whilst being protected from it failings and harmful effects. And if that sounds like hard work, and that it encroaches on the territory of urban planning, social politics, environmental science, ethics, and philosophy, that’s because it is, and it does.” Mitch McEwen Assistant professor at Princeton University School of Architecture and partner of A(n) Office. “Architecture has made so many heroic and visionary claims, and also failed so many people for so long. The architecture critic can sort through these claims and failures and new potentials, both for us and for a wider public.” Mark Foster Gage Principal of Mark Foster Gage Architects and the assistant dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “I think there is an old notion of a critic who tells you if something is good or not. This is outdated and it probably comes from [Gene] Siskel and [Roger] Ebert on television, watching movies—‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down.’ Here the critic is an arbiter of taste. It’s not helpful: it’s about judgment rather than a new opening of discussion. It’s a closure, stopping conversation cold. Once you call a movie bad, why discuss it? I believe a critic is a person that opens people’s eyes as to WHY certain things are notable in various disciplines (or outside of them). A critic should be opening conversations, prompting curiosity, and inciting interest. I also think it is the responsibility of the critic to focus on contemporary work and issues—‘the new’ is always in most need of support and discussion, especially among those who feel intimidated or uncomfortable about it. This is what the critic is supposed to do, make it possible to bring more people into the conversation about any type of work. They are stewards of curiosity and interest, not judges of success or failure.” Enrique Ramirez Writer and architectural historian based in Brooklyn. “This question presumes that criticism is important to the discipline and practice of architecture. To say so is to admit to a certain kind of hubris. Criticism is not needed, for no matter if critics decide to take on the mantle of an investigative magistrate and try to shed light on a particular issue, to watch different actors scurry about once their particular malfeasances become exposed, to say: ‘Aha, Architecture...YOU’VE BEEN CAUGHT’...this is criticizing, but is it criticism? I used to think, ‘Yes, it is.’ It’s not. An architectural critic may tell you, ‘Look at this building ...Modernism is EVIL!’ or ‘Postmodernism is TRITE!’ or ‘Everything coming out of UCLA or Michigan is MAGENTA and CORNFLOWER BLUE!’ Okay, but so what? If that is the mode of engagement that architectural critics prefer, then I want no part of it. As critics, we need to look at colleagues in other fields to see how they advocate for the cultural relevance of their object of inquiry, for this is at the heart of criticism. Architectural criticism seems stuck in a kind [of] mode that conflates ‘criticism’ with ‘criticizing,’ one that privileges the dressing down of a building over everything else. Architecture lives in the world at large, and as critics, we need to state how this is the case.” José Esparza Chong Cuy Associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “I believe that an informed public opinion of what needs to be celebrated and denounced is more important than ever. Contemporary life is shaped by so many invisible mechanisms that need to be exposed to the day-to-day eye. There are so many things at play regulated by sociopolitical, economic, and environmental factors in the spaces we inhabit that we need to have thought out critical positions to be able to act accordingly, both socially and professionally. Having a better understanding of these invisible mechanisms could potentially open new ways of operating. Moreover, I believe that all critical mediums should make an attempt to cover rural environments. It is clear that city-living is not the only option, but critics should make an effort to cover stories about rural life and the rural landscapes to connect the practice or architecture to these settings as well. We tend to forget how interconnected the rural and urban contexts are, and the critic should use its platform to inform how one setting feeds off the other and vice versa.” Bika Rebek Founding principal of Some Place, and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP. “A master of expansive writing reaching all fringes, and perhaps my favorite critic is Karl Kraus. While architecture is just one of his wide-ranging interests, his writing is personal, angry, funny, extremely timely and unconcerned with the consequences. Contemporary architectural criticism would benefit from this fearlessness and sense of humor. With more pointed controversy, critics could attract wider audiences and become part of an age-old dialogue, spinning the web further through the lens of our time.” Jesse LeCavalier  Designer, writer, and educator whose work explores the architectural and urban implications of contemporary logistics. He is the author of The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment, assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the Daniel Rose Visiting Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Architecture. “Foucault’s appeal to a kind of criticism focused on curiosity, attention, stewardship, and imagination remains, for me, an appealing statement about the potential role of the critic: ‘I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes—all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination.’ While thoughtful and perceptive engagement with buildings will always be important, I feel like now more than ever we need to develop an expanded understanding the larger forces shaping the built environment, from our own consumer choices to larger policy transformations, their implications, and ways to engage them.” Kate Wagner Creator of McMansion Hell and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University researching concert hall design in transition from late- to post-modernism. “Architecture is inherently political on its own! While the city is relevant to the building, we should avoid using the city as a crutch.” Fred Scharmen Teaches architecture and urban design at Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning. His first book, Space Settlements, will be out later this year. “I saw a joke on Twitter the other week that said: ‘Every academic discipline has another academic discipline which watches them, occasionally making sarcastic comments.’ For architecture, criticism gets even weirder, because this shadow discipline is supposed to do at least two more other things: it’s meant to be internalized, so architects should be working and self-critiquing at almost the same time; and it’s also supposed to be outward-facing, to explain what’s going on inside the discipline to an external audience. So somehow we’re all meant to be our own worst and best critics, hecklers, and narrators, all at once. This situation is messed up.” Peggy Deamer Professor of architecture at Yale University, an architect practicing in New York, and content coordinator of the Architecture Lobby. “The role of the critic is to inform both the public and the discipline about what aesthetic, economic, cultural, or social value is potentially embedded in that discipline and point out examples that are good or bad in relation to that potential. Critics aren’t identifying the connection between how we in the discipline work—with illegal, economically naive, sexist, and formally myopic protocols—and the poverty of what we are asked to work on (rich peoples second houses; the occasional private institution) and the consequent lack of respect and financial stability.” David Grahame Shane Adjunct professor in the Urban Design program at Columbia GSAPP. “Architectural criticism is not important as there is so little architecture of quality produced today by large firms or clients to consider. Look at Hudson Yards or the World Trade Center, and weep. The profession is BIM-ed and value-engineered to death. Public commissions and competitions that once gave openings to critics and young firms have disappeared along with small bookstores and magazines. Chat rooms and the academy remain as hermetic critical fortresses with their own private codes and handshakes. Sadly public intellectuals and critics are a disappearing breed, dying off in the new architectural ecology, occasionally spotlighted by museums as avant-garde and remote insights. It’s not a pretty picture, but surely in the future people will regain a sense of shared communities in the city and countryside and a new breed of architectural critics and architectural practice will re-emerge.” Michael Sorkin Architect, author, educator and founding principal of Michael Sorkin Studio. “The critic’s duty is resistance!  As the country careens toward full-on fascism, its environment assailed and warfare looming, we must defend the social architectures of civility and not lose ourselves in the artistic weeds.  A critic who fails to assail Trump, supports him.” Kelsey Keith Editor-in-Chief of Curbed. “Architecture as a study and as a practice has done a lot to isolate itself. I think that the built environment matters so much because it affects and influences people in the places they live. I speak not as an academic or as a critical theorist, but as someone who genuinely loves all this, wants it to be better, and believes that end is achieved in part via criticism. An architecture critic’s role in society today is to contextualize—whether the point is to educate, or entertain, or satisfy some curiosity: ‘Why are A-frames suddenly so popular again? Why is it important to preserve the work of a rare woman project lead from a midcentury architecture firm?’ Most critics are too busy broadcasting their own well-formed opinions to actually listen to the zeitgeist. Dialogue is important, but so is listening to others—as a knowledge-gathering tool or when their perspectives differ from your own.” Abdalilah Qutub (Abdul Qutub)   Co-founder of Socially Condensed Fully-Built Enviromemes. “The role of the architectural critic today goes beyond the immediate issues surrounding a building, but also includes the larger ethical practices and impacts in which the participants in the architectural field might be involved. There are two main themes that are not really being fully addressed today: Workers’ rights issues and the overwhelming whiteness of the field. The dominance of white men now only further keeps alive the whiteness of the field that has been passed on by previous generations. Recent efforts within the #MeToo movement and the allegations that have recently come out against Richard Meier further reveal some of the underlying power structures in the field and how they are being abused. Criticism alone is not going to solve these problems without the provocation of direct action from the architectural and associated fields (strikes, demonstrations, and protests).” Nicholas Korody Co-founder of the experimental architecture practice Adjustments Agency, co-curator of the architecture store domesti.city, and editor-in-chief of the architecture publication Ed. “The role of the critic today is first and foremost to draw attention to the architecture of architecture—that is, the ways in which ‘architecture’ is not a given, but rather something constructed and therefore mutable. Within the discipline and profession, we take for granted that certain things, from exploitative labor practices to rampant sexism and even assault, come with the territory. They do not have to. Alongside this, we accept with little criticality the complicity of architecture with capital, with the end result that not only do we now design only for the select few, we also help fuel the conversion of our cities into playgrounds for speculative finance. This relationship is historically specific, and the role of the critic is to both point this out and to imagine alternatives. Critics today tend toward the myopic. They see a form and not what’s behind it: labor relations, environmental degradation, capital accumulation, displacement of people. Every act of construction has cascading effects far beyond the building site. Critics must contend with this. Broadly speaking, it is a conservative field. Many supposedly liberal or even leftist critics are in fact advocating for a maintenance of the status quo, which is a violent position to take. There are far too few voices demanding truly radical change within the discipline. Criticism is itself a form of practice, a way of imagining possibilities where others see none. Integral to that is looking far beyond the discipline, far beyond buildings. Most importantly, critics must take positions—albeit ones capable of change—and fight for them. Political neutrality does not exist. A good critic loves architecture so much they despise everything about it.” Ana María León Trained as an architect, León is a researcher and architecture historian at the University of Michigan. “Critics link the discipline not only to a broader audience, but also to larger concerns that often escape architecture’s purview. If good histories take a critical view of the past, good critiques are able to historicize the present. Our current political moment urgently needs more critical voices. Critics are still overwhelmingly white, male, and Western. This is not to say that white, male, Western critics are unable to look beyond their own identities, but representation matters, and a diversity of voices tends to insure a diversity of opinions and points of view. I would love it if say, The Architect’s Newspaper reached out to critics in South America, Africa, Asia, and asked them to review events and buildings there for a broader public.” Eva Franch i Gilabert Architect, educator, curator, founder of Office of Architectural Affairs (OOAA), current executive director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and future director of the Architectural Association. “A critic is the historian of the present, or the present future, or as Reyner Banham’s intellectual biography points out, of the immediate future. To understand the power of architecture, unveil it, and transmit it to a larger audience is the most benevolent image of the critic, but the most seminal and most needed is to allow the field to find positions beyond obsessions; to position design culture in relation to the most important issues affecting contemporary culture and the built environment. Any critic needs to go beyond the cliché, the commonplace assumptions behind good design, and understand radical, powerful designs that are able to produce more equitable societies. A critic that is able to read beyond press releases, instant gratifications, three minute impressions of what should be and help us all imagine what actions, ideas, and form could be. The problems with criticism today are the same as the ones with architecture: it is extremely hard to go beyond client-oriented work, to produce designs that question the status quo and the forces at play. The making and buying of history in the PR age is an issue to be investigated thoroughly. It is extremely hard for editors, critics, and architects to keep a critical distance. While this might not be any different than in times past, at least I think there is now a more transparent understanding of sponsored articles, and the influence and power of certain lobbies. The real difficulty of being a critic is that we do not have editorial structures that support criticism in its full flesh. As in many other fields false criticism, sensationalism, scandalous headlines, ...are more in vogue than rigorous - maybe less sensationalist- forms of criticism. The problem is that bad criticism is more profitable in terms of business models; good criticism needs of idea models, less business models....”
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Tweetstorm

How has the internet changed architecture criticism?
As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from those who drew attention to the role that technology has played in changing the discourse, from across the country and abroad. This article was originally published in our May print issue and was preceded by a selection of answers from architecture critics themselves. Stay tuned for further perspectives from practitioners, emerging architects, and scholars. Sam Jacob Principal of Sam Jacob Studio, professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and columnist for ArtReview and Dezeen. Previously he was a founding director of FAT Architecture. “I think we’ve seen the decline of the traditional kind of critic (partly because there are simply fewer professional critic jobs) and the rise of a different kind of critic. This new criticism seems to spill over from blogs, from zines, even from Twitter, and inhabits or attaches itself to bits of the internet rather than a particular title. It’s criticism you follow in sporadic streams, link by link, rather than a joined-up totality. This fractured landscape allows a more partisan, more pointed form of criticism. And more voices, each skewed to a particular kind of idea around the significance of architecture. That’s meant, I think, two things: First more direct discussion of the politics of architecture and second, more discussion around the cultural significance of architecture. Both are important, both have given us new ways to understand architecture’s role in society. It’s really a more traditional idea of criticism that has declined. Forms of criticism like the building study, for example, where the critic acts as an arbiter of quality, and as a guide to the way we can understand architecture in historical and disciplinary senses. And this is a shame. It’s a form of criticism that is more expensive to produce (you have to travel) and is less opinion-led, less thinkpiece-y, and probably less clickbait-y, too. The danger, as this kind of criticism declines, is that it just becomes all opinion, written from the desk rather than the field. In this way it mirrors the transformation that’s occurred throughout traditional media. And while the greater diversity of voices is fantastic, perhaps we are losing a way of interrogating, understanding, and communicating ideas about architecture itself, where architecture becomes simply a cipher for other ideas, instead of considering its significance as architecture itself.” Charles Holland Architect, writer, and teacher.  He is the principal of Charles Holland Architects and a professor of architecture at the University of Brighton. “I think the role of the opinion-forming, influential critic is more or less dead. Everyone is a critic now. The rise of social media and sites like Dezeen where the architecture is presented without editorial comment and the critique occurs ‘below the line’ is a clear manifestation of this. The existing idea that critics define and drive artistic movements in the manner of Reyner Banham and Brutalism or Charles Jencks and postmodernism was probably overstated to start with but seems highly unlikely today. That’s not to say the there aren’t good critics around (critic Rowan Moore, for example, is great), but I think the landscape has shifted. The role of the critic today is messier and more ambiguous, blurring the roles between architect, critic, and curator with some people acting happily as all three. My social media feed is full of architectural criticism, only a small amount of which you could ascribe to a critic in the traditional sense. The ‘problem’—if indeed it is one—is that it is harder to establish a critical body of thought or momentum for any one particular position. This is a product of pluralism and a genuflection away from forms of authority, at least overtly. Criticism traditionally served the role of establishing value, of sifting through things to define what’s good, what’s bad and establish the ‘canon.’ That sifting doesn’t really take place with any clear rationale or legitimacy anymore, which is threatening and liberating in equal measure. Architectural and artistic movements are established through a kind of accumulation of works which address similar things and by events like the biennials, which aren’t criticism in the traditional manner, but which establish what is (supposedly) relevant or pressing at any one time.” David Ruy Architect, theorist, director of Ruy Klein, and Postgraduate Programs Chair at SCI-Arc “Criticism falls prey to the general degradation of institutional authority in producing and disseminating information in the contemporary situation. This is the problem posed by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and other platforms of our telematic infrastructure. Any person or group with an account on these platforms can produce and disseminate information. Any person or group with an account can produce criticism. In 1976, Simon Nora and Alain Minc were asked by France’s president, Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, to issue a report on the dangers and possibilities of a computerized society. Astonishingly, given what’s happening in the world today, they predicted a coming society where anyone with access to the telematic infrastructure could manufacture and disseminate information, leading to a loss of trust in the veracity of information and to an erosion of the cultural coherence in the society. They warned that such a society might be ungovernable. This was nearly two decades before the first internet browser became available. It is sobering then to consider their recommendation for addressing this danger. They proposed a socialization of information. What this might mean in the twenty-first century remains unclear. A lot of good architectural criticism is still being written today, but it gets lost in the sea of information that is available. The dialectic of fact versus fiction has melted into a flat ontology of mere data. The cynic today would ask in boredom if it even matters that the news is fake. But this is true for all criticism today. There are only two options I see in the face of the contemporary situation. We would either have to rebuild the authority of old institutions (which seems impossible), or we would have to understand that communication and its politics will have to be hypothesized in a new way outside of the framework of criticism (because after all, how can you have criticism without authority?). As sad as I am about this, when anyone can disseminate information, when anyone can ‘like’ or ‘troll’ an idea, when anyone can invent ‘news,’ when the theater of criticism appears more important than the criticism itself (Fox News and MSNBC, for example), what role can any critic play outside of the limited audiences that consumes critique primarily for reinforcing existing opinions? It may be tempting to conceptualize some ‘post-criticism’ society, but as Nora and Minc warned, such a society might be ungovernable. Nonetheless, I continue to think about Nora and Minc’s proposal of socializing information. I consider it to be an important but enigmatic problem. If, miraculously, something can be figured out and implemented one day, I think criticism would have newfound authority. But I think it is premature to dream about the possible positive effects of such a rebirth and the roles the critic might play until we address how to construct such a structure in society. Strangely, I think every constituency thinks their opinions are not being properly addressed. I have my own complaints, but I’m pretty sure everyone has a complaint and feels underrepresented. This is true despite the irony that, no matter how marginal or preposterous, any opinion and orientation to society can be searched for online, and criticism can be found in support of it. With that said, speaking for my own values and my own small constituency, I am puzzled and dismayed by how the left end of the political spectrum seems to be abandoning architectural speculation and formal experimentation. I got into architecture out of a dissatisfaction with the world as given. How can the world be more progressive if everything remains the same or goes backward towards the historically familiar? I understand that in recent times formal extravagance was appropriated as a risk management device by large investors. But how can progressives abandon the project of imagining other possible realities? Isn’t this one of the things architecture does so well? Is demystifying power the only thing left to do? Instead of contributing to the ever-growing disenchantment in the world, can architectural criticism re-enchant some of these abandoned spaces?” Michael Young Partner at Young & Ayata and assistant professor at The Cooper Union. “One of the issues facing contemporary architectural criticism that has yet to be fully developed is how to deal with the dissemination and consumption of architectural images on social media. The primary responses thus far have been to treat it as either a wasteland or a wilderness. The wasteland response sees the image proliferation as out of control and debased, a condition to be excluded from disciplinary criticism. The wilderness response views the image accumulation as wild yet vibrant, a condition to be cultivated and curated. The problem lies in that architecture’s typical disciplinary approaches of criticality that aim to reveal underlying hierarchies, trends, and motivations cannot keep pace nor dent this image acceleration. Social media flattens access, evaluation, and debate. This is both numbing and exciting. It is where the wasteland meets the wilderness. And this requires a different paradigm for architectural criticism.” Francois Roche Principal, New-Territories

Architecture critics died… nobody told you !

For refreshing …If you talk about text in Chicago style, where references and self-references are developed in a strategy of the narcissus discourse and onanism,  with a pinch of left side to caress in a kind of arrogance the moralistic sensation to belong to the elite, in a predictable social class discrimination, drinking millesimal red wine with good consciousness, to engage mercy and charity on the back of the misery of the worlds!!... making kressel music with entertaining name dropping in a flattering play, to get the lift back ///  but you could also refuge in a strategy to build a fortress of knowledge and expertise, as a gold bubble ghetto, for dogmatic control of what which should not be told… …Or... to hear the pseudo philosophers "dedicated" to architecture, in a vulgarization  of the thought... clever monkey parrots...in a parade of brainy speeches bubbles…AT  the condition to never request ion the "voice of the master"...

Ryan Scavnicky Visiting teaching fellow at the School of Architecture at Taliesin, administrator of the Facebook page “Dank Lloyd Wright” and on Instagram as @sssscavvvv. “I think the strength of memes isn’t just about its experimental form. It’s the same principle I apply to architecture but applied to criticism. With architecture, I’m always skeptical about what it actually has the power to do. So with criticism, we probably shouldn’t be focused on changing individual architects (have you met these people?) or critiquing specific buildings, but changing architecture culture in general. Memes focus on changing the student’s perception, loosening the bolts a bit and moving architecture culture away from toxic bravado and into a new space while regaining our singular command over the built world with a more public audience. I do this through producing and writing films as a YouTube comic-critic team with Jeffrey Kipnis via the SCI-Arc Channel and by running a meme account on Instagram. Internet memes are the strongest emerging form of cultural criticism today, thriving in the form of quick and digestible images pregnant with assertive positions. Critics must develop fresh audiences by using strange and experimental critical forms and reflecting those findings back onto the architecture discipline.” Ellie Abrons Principal of T+E+A+M and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. “In the past, critics (and theorists, I’d add) drove architectural discourse and were vital participants in its culture. They had the ability to read work very closely and to interpret or understand it with focused attention and intellectual prowess and agility. Critics played a crucial role in contextualizing work, in situating it culturally and historically or finding affinities and overlaps with other fields. These days, there’s a dearth of criticism—you don’t see the same quantity and quality of writing that was coming out fifteen or twenty years ago. I see more and more architects writing about their own or their peers’ work in an attempt to play that role. But we’re not really cut out for it, so we end up with thought pieces or musings more than proper pieces of criticism or theory. I’m not prepared to say that it’s a bad thing – it’s just a new model. Contemporary intellectual, professional, and cultural life doesn’t allow the kind of patient and careful interpretation of work that we saw in the past. Our modes of attention have changed due to ever-expanding digital culture—images scroll by, while texts are limited to a caption or a few hundred words. Architecture in general (critics, but also architects, historians, and others) need to better understand how to participate in a world where ubiquitous digitality has altered the material, conceptual, and experiential context of our work.  
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The PoDigs

What does it really mean to be “post-digital” in architecture and beyond?
I don’t go on Facebook much these days. It’s not out of protest (my disinterest precedes their recent election debacle). I simply prefer Instagram for the short bit of scrolling and swiping I partake in daily (something about the smooth stream of vivid pixels appeals to me). I do, of course, talk to Facebook users, so when a recent debate broke out on the social media site around Mario Carpo’s Metropolis essay, provocatively titled "Post-Digital 'Quitters,'” I went to check it out. After skimming the comments, I read the article, which left me a bit troubled. There are parts of it that I agree with, such as the need for architects to consider the profound effects of technology at every turn, but on the whole Carpo’s definition of "post-digital" could not have been further from my own. As someone who writes on the topic and believes it to hold significant value for contemporary architectural discourse, I think it’s productive to offer up some clarifying thoughts. So, consider this a definition of sorts, for the record, of what "post-digital" means and why I think it’s worth discussing. Note, I don’t believe mine to be the only definition floating around out there, so I encourage others to join the debate. For me and my colleagues, however, the following holds true. The post-digital is (very) digital The most common misconception of "post-digital" is that it signifies "beyond," "anti-," or simply "not" digital. Nothing could be further from the truth. The post-digital is deeply digital; it simply recognizes our current moment to be different from previous periods of digital preoccupation. When digital design discourse began in architecture (what Carpo calls “The First Digital Turn”), functions like computer processing and network connectivity were limited to discrete objects, such as personal computers. Now they course through devices of all shapes and sizes, affecting nearly everything we do as architects—how we labor, what that yields, and how our work is disseminated, received, and by whom. Think of the post-digital like the post-apocalyptic, a cataclysmic event (the digital revolution) that conditions everything that comes after. A discursive analog might be post-feminism, where the core tenets of a discourse are debated and adapted to keep pace with the times. Architecture has a tendency to see “The Digital” as a fixed category, rather than more appropriately as an entity in flux, in need of constant interrogation and qualification. The post-digital is habitual Scholars of digital design (Carpo among them) tend to concern themselves with the few progressive pioneers who challenge architectural norms through radical experimentation with new tools. This made sense in the 1990s, when computers were rare, expensive, and few knew how to use them. But today, everybody uses computers. And the mundane activities of daily digital life (Photoshop filters, 3-D libraries, Google image searches, etc.) are arguably as important as the most technically sophisticated work with machines (AI controlled robots for example) as they affect more people. Our current digital situation is broad and cultural, perpetuated by the daily habits of ubiquitous computing. Though pervasive, habitual digitality has largely gone untheorized in architecture. If our discourse remains focused solely on exceptional cases, we will miss the profound effects that digital technology has on the vast population of "users" defining the built environment. Digital design is no longer a rarified practice of experimental vanguards, it’s a mainstream cultural practice worthy of our attention. The post-digital is everywhere As an aesthetic, the post-digital stems from the saturation of digital technology to the point where it becomes an image. Once relegated to screens, digital characteristics (pixels, gradients, filters, and the like) are quickly becoming fixtures of the physical world. Take MVRDV’s Glass Farm for example, a building covered top-to-bottom in digital imagery. Three details strike me as particularly post-digital about this project. One, the imagery comes from a digital "original" that was created by averaging data derived from farmhouses in the area (why not just use photographs of the farmhouses?). Two, the imagery is printed at one and a half times the size of a typical farmhouse (a nod to the plasticity of scale native to digital mediums). Three, the imagery is selectively removed to produce apertures in a manner reminiscent of Photoshop commands (is the fuzzy boundary the result of decreasing the "hardness" of your brush?). Glass Farm seems to say more about the naturalization of software than conventional tectonics. When software shows up in buildings, when it assumes the status of common sense or a verb (Is that Photoshopped?), architects should take notice. Current digital design discourse, with its focus on form-generation and fabrication, tells us little about projects like Glass Farm, signaling the need for new conversations concerning computation. Post-digital in sensibility, such conversations will differ from those we have known. The fervor and futuristic tenor of early digital experimentation will give way to a more measured tone, one focused less on novelty and more on the hidden aspects of computation. Post-digital design discourse calls for a critical examination of the tools and technologies we take for granted, while simultaneously connecting what we do to larger cultural shifts occurring globally. This is about more than design. Computational structures establish not only the grounds of architectural production, but increasingly life itself. Today we face an ecology of digital media that affects us aesthetically, but also socially, politically, and ontologically. Tuning architectural design and discourse to the changing contours of computation will better position us to impact our increasingly mediated world.
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Critics' Corner

What do architecture critics think of the state of architecture criticism today?
As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from critics across the country and abroad. This article was originally published in our May print issue. Stay tuned for further perspectives from practitioners, emerging architects, and scholars. Mark Lamster The architecture critic of The Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. His biography of Philip Johnson, The Man in the Glass House, will be out this November. “I think there was a sense, in the 1990s and early aughts, that criticism had become too absorbed with signature buildings by the architectural jet-set, mainly because that was what was coming out of the New York Times under Herbert Muschamp. But over the last decade or so, the field has expanded to address a broad spectrum of urban issues, as it should if it’s going to keep the public engaged. The irony here is that the backlash to the era of ‘starchitecture’ (and I hate that term) has meant a certain vilification of and disregard for the discipline. So I think it’s important to celebrate quality architecture and to make clear how important it is to making places that can improve people’s lives every day.” Alexandra Lange The architecture critic for Curbed. Her newest book is The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Creates Independent Kids. “These questions, and this debate, make me tired. What other critics are asked to justify their existence time and again? I believe my work is valuable, and I choose to believe an ‘architecture critic’ can write about almost anything at the intersection of design and the public. The problems of criticism are the problems of journalism: lack of resources, a flocking to the popular, and lack of diversity.” Witold Rybczynski Architecture critic for Slate, WigWag, and Saturday Night. His latest book is Now I Sit Me Down. “I’ve always thought that journalistic architectural criticism was an odd bird. Compared to restaurant, book, or theater reviews, reviews of buildings have little immediate effect on the public. Once a building is built, it’s there, for better or worse, and we must learn to live with it. In any case, reviews based on press kits, guided tours, or interviews with the architect are unlikely to yield profound insights. Theoretically, reviews of as-yet-unbuilt work might be more influential. The problem is that critics generally don’t have the information, resources, or time to make considered judgments. These limitations are compounded when criticism is driven by the need to produce up-to-the-minute newsworthy copy. Having said that, writing about architecture can be valuable. Buildings last a long time, and it’s useful to reflect on their utility—what works and what doesn’t—and their meanings in our lives. Of course, this is best done in the fullness of time, decades after the building opens, when the sharp corners have been knocked off, so to speak. The result is more like cultural observation than reporting. A word about the internet, whose many architectural websites have resulted in a boom in architectural criticism. Sadly, it has also produced more hurriedly written, harshly polemical, and poorly researched prose than ever before.” Frances Anderton Writer, curator, and host of DnA: Design and Architecture, a weekly radio show broadcast on KCRW public radio station in Los Angeles. “It was easier to be a critic when you were crusading for modernism, or another -ism, from a podium at a highly-regarded publication. Whether that ultimately gave society better buildings is an open question.” Barry Bergdoll Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Architectural History at Columbia University and curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. “The role of the architecture critic has not shifted in its most vital importance since the first evidence of it as a professional activity commanding respect and authority in the public sphere with articles criticizing the urban policies of Louis XV in Paris in the mid-18th century. Namely, the architecture critic sets out to forge a bridge between the professional activity of the designing architect and the role of a citizenry by having an informed opinion about the changing environment in which they live. Of course, like an art critic, the architecture critic can contribute to the acclaim of a specific designer; but that is only the beginning of the capacity of the architecture critic to form public opinion. The role is not precisely the same for a critic writing in a publication—printed, broadcast, or on the internet—that primarily serves the profession, and the unfortunately much smaller set of architectural criticism that is aimed at the general public. The paradox nature of architecture is that it is the most omnipresent of art forms and yet the one that the non-professional audience often has the least capacity to judge. This puts a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the ever-rarer figure of the architecture critic with a broad mandate, namely the shockingly small handful of critics writing in the daily press of national and local record. Here the critic serves to educate at once public and public officials. It is the role of the critic to raise the issues that matter, to frame them in a way that both voters and elected officials and private sector actors in shaping the public realm can understand not only what is at stake but the vital relationship between intelligent design and enhanced environments. It is the difficulty of this task that makes so many nostalgic for a handful of legendary figures like Ada Louise Huxtable at the New York Times or Allan Temko of the San Francisco Chronicle, brilliant writers and thinkers whose texts were easy of access and whose capacity to craft public opinion inspired admiration, awe, and even fear where needed. Few critics are able to achieve the needed balance between the appreciation of the formal invention of architecture and the public issues at stake in most projects.” Oliver Wainwright Architecture and design critic of The Guardian. “The role of an architecture critic is not simply to critique architecture, providing an opinion on the quality of the latest buildings, but to unpick and expose the planning policies, funding sources, and political agendas that shape the built environment and frame projects in their wider societal contexts. Architectural publishing is facing a number of hurdles, not least in the dwindling number of advertisers paying ever less for space in magazines with shrinking circulation figures, wounded by the rise of free online content. Magazines are increasingly reliant on sponsored advertorials, lucrative awards programs, and other commercial partnerships to stay afloat, while many national newspapers have given up on covering the subject—of the eight national broadsheet papers in the UK, only three now have a regular architecture critic.” Justin Davidson Author and architecture and classical music critic for New York magazine. His latest book is Magnetic City: A Walking Companion to New York. “Construction always involves tradeoffs and often emerges from an adversarial process, fueled by agendas that are both overt and hidden. The reporter/critic is in a unique position to ask questions of all sides, absorb the technical detail, and pass on to the public a point of view that is backed up by clarity and explanation. My hope is that when readers don’t agree with me, at least they know why. In order to be effective, architecture critics have to look beyond architecture. I got into this business because I loved writing and I loved beautiful buildings. The deeper I dive, the more aware I am of the overlapping areas of expertise that get called into play every time the easy equipment shows up: finance, planning, zoning, activism, preservation, politics, performing arts, engineering, retail, gentrification, transit, industry, the waterfront, housing policy, climate change, social history, literature, psychology, acoustics, and more. I’m gratified to see that critics for general interest publications (as opposed to specialized ones) have a broad sense of their field. It’s rare these days to see a review that focuses on the building as aesthetic object, the exemplar of a style, or the incarnation of a theory. I also think that most critics consider themselves reporters, too, which is essential. What’s missing is numbers: every city builds, people in every city live and work in works of architecture, and yet the number of papers that cover this crucial element of local news is tiny. The perception that architecture is a specialist’s turf - and therefore of little interest to most readers - is contradicted by the passionate feelings that so many residents have (and express!) over what does and doesn’t get built in their community. The other thing that’s missing is a willingness to revisit buildings a year or two or more after they’ve opened to see how they fare in the real world. Too often, we see buildings in their pristine (or even incomplete) state, empty and theoretical. When I first visited the Whitney, for example, I missed a lot of the basic circulation and functionality problems that materialized later. I didn’t notice how maddening the coat check system was until I saw 100 people trying to check their coats at the same time.”