Eva Hagberg Fisher on the recurring refrain of what happened to all the good architecture writing.
At a symposium at Yale back in January, organized by labor activist Peggy Deamer (join the Architecture Lobby!), Kimmelman took this point to its extreme conclusion. During a panel on architecture and the media, he said that he doesn’t write about individual buildings because readers don’t care. (Scroll through my Twitter feed for some contemporaneous hot takes about how misguided and frustrating I think this approach is.) Lindsay tells me that architecture coverage has indeed become more like “fine art writing”; I interpret this to mean that it’s become rarefied, for an ever-decreasing audience with ever-increasing specialization, not the kind of Hey, this affects us all worldview that my cohort and I seem to share. And yet, in The New York Times, I recently found a full-on sponsored advertorial about Hudson Yards. It was the glossiest architecture story I’d seen in forever. People are clearly obsessed with real estate, even as they’re supposedly not obsessed with buildings. So what gives?
That said, it is easier now for a young writer to break in; the Internet is a black hole of never-ending need for Content. Lamster also reminds me of one inalienable observation: “Criticism is always in crisis,” he says. “That’s the nature of criticism.”
As I thought more about this essay I realized that the current refrain of “Oh no! where is all the architecture writing!” is not all that different from the refrain I heard when I first moved to New York in 2003, which went something like, “There are no jobs,” or “The industry’s in trouble.”
I ask him what he learned by writing his Johnson biography. “Johnson was the progenitor of the star architect class, so I think there’s a lot to learn about how we got to the place we are,” he tells me. “People have moved away from the idea of the starchitect, and now we’ve moved on to urbanism as a collaborative practice.”
As I thought more about this essay I realized that the current refrain of “Oh no! where is all the architecture writing!” is not all that different from the refrain I heard when I first moved to New York in 2003, which went something like, “There are no jobs,” or “The industry’s in trouble.” What I discovered while writing a historical dissertation about some of the earliest origins of architectural publicity as a mediating practice in the field (or so I argue) is that it does always seem to be in crisis. In the 1950s, Aline B. Louchheim Saarinen, wife and publicist of Eero Saarinen, was worrying about the same things I worry about now: shrinking budgets, overbearing editors, fewer page counts.
Maybe the crisis is especially pronounced now; maybe the crisis is omnipresent. Maybe Lamster is right, that the nature of criticism is to have to constantly re-justify itself.