While mammoth by no means aspires to fit within the category of architectural criticism (though we do occasionally have something to say about it), Nancy Levinson’s recent meta-criticism of the genre in Places strikes me as essentially correct:
By now the rules are so familiar they seem almost inevitable. We’ve come more or less to accept that architecture criticism is a form of art critique; that as such its proper focus is the important output of major architect-artists; and that because the major architect-artists work on an international scale, the scope of criticism is necessarily global. Clearly this isn’t the only critical modus operandi, but it’s the main one, exemplified for decades by the powerful and pace-setting Times, and emulated by any organization with aspirations and a travel budget.
And yet this critical set-up, this art-critique model, is hugely problematic; and its dissatisfactions have been a contentious issue for years (witness the outpouring of comments inspired by Lange’s essay), for it’s a model that’s highly reductive of a complex field. As Lange and others have noted, it tends to view works of architecture almost entirely as objects and hardly at all as environments. It values formalism over experience, aesthetics over function, technology, comfort or performance. It’s about how the building looks more than how it works (which is why you will not learn, in Ouroussoff’s recent pan of the proposed U.S. Embassy in London, by Kieran Timberlake — he dismisses it as a “bland cube” — that the building is designed to be carbon neutral). And the art-critique m.o. is deeply implicated in the increasingly claustrophobic and boring star system, in which critical validation leads to major commissions which in turn receive more critical validation, and so on, creating an ever-constricting favored circle…
This is quite similar to the implied critique present in our recent list of our favorite architectural projects from the past decade.