Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism

The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism: Martin Pawley Collected Writings
Martin Pawley, David Jenkins (Editor)
Black Dog Publishing, November 2007

Hardcover | 7-1/4 x 10 inches | 480 pages | 60 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1906155193 | $59.95

Publisher Description:
The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism is a collection of 100 essays and articles by Martin Pawley, one of the most important and entertaining voices in post-war architectural criticism. Pawley studied architecture at the Oxford School of Architecture, the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris and the Architectural Association in London, before embarking on a distinguished career as a writer, teacher, critic and broadcaster. A former editor of Building Design, Pawley was later architecture critic of The Guardian and The Observer and has contributed to The Architects' Journal, RIBA Journal and Blueprint amongst other publications.

Spanning Pawley's 40 year career,
The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism is a celebration of his remarkable body of work. Beginning with his AA diploma thesis "The Time House," the book includes writings on contemporary design, iconic buildings and some of the most important issues facing modern architecture as well as interviews with architects including Norman Foster, Buckminster Fuller, Leon Krier and Zaha Hadid. By turns poignant, coruscating, controversial and humorous - but always original and insightful - this book is a reminder of how exhilarating architectural writing at its best can be.
dDAB Commentary:
When prompted to name my favorite writers, it's often architecture critics that spring to mind. Alongside Reyner Banham, Juhani Pallasmaa, and Michael Sorkin is Martin Pawley, the prolific British writer (prolific in that he wrote for multiple publications simultaneously, some as a regular columnist) who died in 2008, one year after this collection of 100 essays was released. Similar to the collection of David Dillon pieces I reviewed a few days ago, The Strange Death of Architectural Criticism is but a small sampling of a huge output, an output considerably larger if we take into account the many books Pawley wrote on architects (Norman Foster, Future Systems), technology (Private Future, Theory and Design in the Second Machine Age, Terminal Architecture), and housing (Architecture Versus Housing, Garbage Housing). These three areas preoccupied Pawley during his four-decade-long career, making him one of the sharpest critics willing to find and call out BS by any architect he spoke with, but also one who was an unabashed technocrat and believer in the power of architecture.

The density and repetition of Pawley's 100 essays collected by him and David Jenkins is expressed on the cover, where the list of essays wraps the front, back, spine, and flaps without any apparent hierarchy. Similarly, the contents shows the essays ordered chronologically (no thematic sections as in Dillon's posthumous book or other similar collections), and a flip through the book yields the occasional spread with paired b/w illustrations on facing pages. Combined with the odd fact the list of sources for the essays, supplied in the back matter, is the only place where the essays are numbered 1 to 100, this is a collection of essays intended for browsing, for diving in here and there, now and then. This approach works well with Pawley's relaxed yet razor-sharp style of writing, though those wanting to dive into his pieces on housing, for instance, will need to scan the titles, many of them ambiguous, or try their luck with the index, which is populated only by proper names. Lastly, while the hardcover book is sizable and well-made, signaling Pawley's importance and appreciation, the original cover price of $60 seems outrageous, particularly given the dearth of images and the fact they're black and white. But over a decade later it's easy to come by used and remaindered copies for under $10 — a steal given the perfection of Pawley's prolific and poetic prose.

Author Bio:
Martin Pawley ... was one of the most insightful and provocative commentators on contemporary architecture and design. [For] 40 years he contributed to, or edited, every major British architectural journal, wrote for all the leading international magazines, and was architecture critic for the Observer and the Guardian.
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