A Critical LINE

The latest issue of AIA San Francisco's design journal LINE is called THE CRITICAL ISSUE: Why Critical Dialogue Matters. With features, commentary, interviews, reviews, and portfolio, the online journal sets the standard for other AIA chapters, sharing with the world matters that pertain not only to its jurisdiction. This issues focus on a critical dialogue is especially timely as the role and importance of architectural criticism is questioned.

The fact an AIA chapter is taking on the topic of criticism is pretty amazing, apparent in Margie O' Driscoll's editorial where she says, "the resounding response from other AIA chapters was that it's not appropriate for a member-serving organization like the AIA to engage in critique, especially a negative critique of a member project," and "Why...should architects use their professional organization to scold their members?" Herein lies part of the problem: the "thumbs up-thumbs down" perception of criticism. In my mind - a definition learned in college that has stayed with me - criticism is the presentation of a point-of-view that enables the reader to form their own opinion and learn more through a (hopefully) informed take on the project at hand. By merely saying "this is bad" or "this is good" (even with expressed reason), the reader is absolved of forming their own opinion or of learning an alternate take on the subject at hand. And to me, educating the reader is more important than saying something's good or bad.

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That said, San Francisco is as great a place as any to explore this topic: the home of a liberal mindset is ironically the home of a very conservative public when it comes to the city's physical make-up. The gap between the architectural profession and the general public, like anywhere, needs to be bridged, a topic addressed by Mitchell Schwarzer. Other features address the decline of architectural criticism in Italy and France, critical design culture in the 90s, and public design reviews. With the interviews, reviews, and projects, in addition to the features, there's something here for everyody.

(via Archinect)


  1. The question is, What are the criteria for the critical dialogue? If the SF AIA is like the NYC AIA, what they mean is, "We have to sell avant gardism to the public." That's more like a monologue, or a sales pitch, than a dialogue.

    On the other hand, John King is a good critic: unlike Herbert Muschamp, he is NOT a press agent for a small body of architects. His unifying link between the public and the architectural profession is very often urban design.

  2. It's hard to say from what I've read, but it appears that the focus is on a critical dialogue among architects when for any action to be truly valuable the dialogue needs to be with architects and the general public, for lack of a better term.

    So in some ways the aim of a critical dialogue devolves into one architect asking another architect, "Do you think my building is good or bad?" And if they reply "bad" then the designer defends the design and tells the other architect they're full of shit.

    Ok, maybe not like that, but at least it's a start, I guess.


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