In this essay, the following subtopics will be discussed:
• Introduction about the book.
• Architectural criticism: Thinking Thinner, Deeper and Wider, by Aydan Balamir.
• The Power of Images, by Manuel Cuadra
• Crisis of Modernity and the Lack of Architectural Criticism in the Arab World, by Mashary A. Al-Naim.
• Crisis and the Gulf: A vision of the future, by Peter Davey.
Introduction about the book: Architectural Criticism and Journalism: Global Perspectives
The book is a collection of essays written by different authors all over the world. It reveals the challenges and opportunities of architecture. It represents authors from geographic and cultural diverse places. The authors come from North and Central America, Europe, Africa and West, Central, South and East Asia.
The publications represent countries where the writing tradition about architecture is varying in terms of stages of their evolution. The circumstances allow the documentation of what is being built. It is difficult to assess what exist without documenting it. In other cases, the authors and publishers have to deal with animosity from members of the architectural community. Some architects may think that they have been neglected by the publications. Others may think that their coverage about their works in the publications portrays negative criticism.
In countries where the traditions of architectural criticism are relatively established, there is an abundance of publications. The challenge facing these publications is to make the voice of the architectural criticism be heard by the public.
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In general, there is a state of crisis in the architectural criticism. The word is not getting out because of the difference that exists in the reading public. Each reader would use a different style of interpretation of the material presented (Simon, 2003).
The word critic comes from Greek root which gives us crisis. Crisis is the act of judging or deciding. Criticism means evaluating and placing a word in its historic context and take into account issues that are contemporary to it. The theoretical bases of critics are shifting.Each period has different approaches in architectural criticism the approaches correspond to the general concerns of the society. The concerns of a society keep on changing from generation to generation. This is the major cause of changing in approaches. The traditional foundations of criticism have sapped because critics no longer rationalize judgments or refer them to a higher intellectual register. The today architects are creators and not anonymous agents, who pool their skills in a group effort like in the 1960s.
Critics, therefore, may explain, comment and debate or compare with little difficult. But they cannot dictate as they did during the days of dogma. They can rebuke, laugh or destroy the name of an architect, but they cannot put the architect back on the right path (Ralph, 2005).
The scruples of the 1970s and the revolutionary thought of 1968 still in existence. It tries to irritate the young generations. Those carrying these ideas are the last supporters of urbanity, analysis, history and applied psycho-sociology. They are represented by ecologists, participators and town planners. They are on the lookout for loopholes in the current generations to add their ideas. But the current generations emphasize on short-term and individualism. The current era is the era of advertising and activism, stressing on marketing communication. It is an era of image and logo. It is an era of designer and client in one. Architecture has become an instrument to advertise social groups, cities and regions.
Architectural Criticism: Thinking Thinner, Deeper and Wider by Aydan Balamir
He begins with an architectural saying. It states that the three states of matter are profession of engineering, architecture and planning. Engineering is the solid state. Architecture is the Liquid state while planning is the gaseous state. Aydan emphasize that the culture of criticism is the gaseous state of the liquid profession. This means that the culture of criticism is the planning of architecture. Critics plan for Architects. Architects are able to improve the standard of architecture through the published words of the critics. Critics are always on the look out to rebuke or congratulate an architect. Aydan focuses on three gaps that concern architectural critics. These are:
• The gap between the celebrated Architecture and Ordinary practice
• The gap between Modernist ethic and Market-based production
• The gap between academic interests and the real world of practice.
Celebrated Architecture and Ordinary practice
There exist a difference between celebrated architecture and ordinary practice. This difference is becoming more and more visible. Promotion devices and rituals of architecture are transferred from place to place in the world by digital means today. Therefore, the medium of architectural criticism is changing (Ralph, 2005).
The emergence of web blogs has gained popularity in recent days. It is common among the younger generations (Giancarlo, 2005). This is because it breaks the formalities of printing and allows wide accessibility and portability. In the digital age, present and portability are everything. It is claimed that printed publications such as monographs or en-cased multi-volumes do not provide a strong companion to the reader.
Modernist ethic and Market- based production
This is a distinction between prime objects and reproduction. This presents a big difference in the architectural culture. The world of reproduction has variations in design approaches and quality. Market demands have shaped architectural mainstreams. They design and construct houses that are in high demand. Those designs which are in low demand are not produced. Therefore, production is dependent on the market demand.
For example, California-type suburban houses are in high demand in Turkey. Therefore, this design is produced more than other designs that are in low demand in a country. Therefore, the modernist ethic of well-trained architect is not compatible with client demand. For an architect to be marketable, he or she needs to train in the architectural design that is in high demand in the market. This has presented the declining of Modernist ethic. In fact, the ancient traditions of ninetieth and eightieth centuries are more demanded than the modern designs.
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There is the need for the use of design codes to raise the standards of the average practice. For example, neoclassical architecture emphasizes the use of codes. The codified language is meant to be spoken fluently and correctly by members of the profession. Students have the anxiety of knowing the codes, but they are not taught. Therefore, the visual ideas introduced to the students today have grown enormously. But the practical knowledge of necessary materials then has shown no development. Therefore, in the today world, a major gap exists between the students’ interests and the practical part in the field.
The power of Image by Manuel Cuadra
Critics use the word to criticize. They have also evolved the use of images. Images form part of their lectures and writings. Images constitute a major link between what architects do and the public. In fact, Images display an architect’s work to the general public. The public understand when they see the image of a work of an architect. Images contain and condense a lot of information that is embedded in architectural forms and space.
Images have the power to attract the public. For example, image of the Acropolis representing upper Athens. It is one of the strongest architectural images to have come out of the West-European civilization. Many things about the physical Acropolis are condensed in that image. There is the fragment of a natural landscape which initially transformed into a cultural landscape accommodating agricultural production.
Images have been used by critics to achieve spectacular effects that attract media attention. The images are not displayed on the social section of the papers, but on the sections where they will easily be viewed by the public. Images have been used by architectural critics to rebuke or market the works of architects. The public are made aware of which architect is the best and who the worst is. The spirit of a site and a building can hardly be transmitted by a 480 by 640-pixel image in the internet. It has to appear on paper for it to be effectively interpreted by the public. For architectural criticism to make a greater impression to the public, an image needs to be combined with words (criticism).
Problems usually arise between architecture and media. This is because the media reduces architecture to what it is considered to be communicable to the public. Media does not take into account what is necessary for understanding architecture.
Films and televisions have widened the scope for critics of architecture. Long ago, films that had no connection to architecture resulted in transforming architecture into a desirable profession. In most of these films, the main characters were architects. For example, the Post-War American Films of 1950s treated architectural subjects and made them inspiring in many parts of the world. There were always documentaries on architecture (Edrice, 2006). Because of the films and documentaries, design and architecture have become popular professions in the young generations. This has provided critics with new means for expressing their thoughts and opinions.
The major question that has arisen is on whether the internet will replace printed publications. Internet presents animated images. Presently, architectural images of the internet are still photographs. But they will soon change to being animated. Development in information technology has affected architectural criticism. Architectural criticism still appears mainly in books, periodicals and few documentaries. It is obvious that architectural critics are not making full and effective use of the internet.
Though there are developments in architectural publications in the internet, architectural criticism using this medium has not reached the level and quality it has attained in printed publications. Young people are attracted to the internet and have been involved in architectural discussions through the internet. This leads to the rise of the question of whether the average age of critics of architecture determines their ability to adjust to developments in the internet. People have begun asking themselves on the role of architectural criticism, the changing in criticism and the audiences of the critics.
Criticism and the Gulf: A vision for the future by Peter Davey.
Davey’s views are based on the Kuwait seminar. During the seminar, critics presented different views. The liberal (from west) wanted regionalism, environmental consciousness and the importance of genius loci. Young Iranians want Modernity (mostly from the western world), which is a wider platform with richer diversity. Representatives from Russian Federation wanted a regionalism based on the tradition in attempting to resist globalization and Russification. Globalization dominated the seminar.
Kuwait is an urban city in the Gulf and is dominated by powerful but sadly outdated models based on the Post-Modernist (PoMo) styles that were popular in the West in the last decades of the twentieth century. PoMo generated the sense of urbanity in contrast to the grey, utilitarian, amorphous cityscapes of late Modernism.
PoMo architects competed with each other to make the outrageous and dominating object buildings. These buildings were divorced from context, history, or anything. But they expressed wealth and power (Wade Bridge, 2005). PoMo dominated the Gulf in cities carved into sterile urban islands by multi-lane motor ways. According to Davey, it is very clear that PoMo will continue, with slight different models (Edrice, 2006).
More Western projects are going to be chosen and multiplied. Many more towers are to be expected. In short, the Gulf will be transformed and represent the West’s architectural designs. There is a reason for this. In the Middle East architecture and civil engineering are virtually amalgamated. The engineers tend to dominate professional organizations. This has marginalized architect into meaningless formal gestures, while encouraging engineers to think in the old-fashioned way. The engineers should give the architects chances to practice their professionalism. The engineers know nothing to do with architecture. Their ideas cannot help in progress in architecture of the Gulf region.
The Gulf has many opportunities for generating new architecture. Many ancient structures still do exist. For example, the Pillars of Egypt still exist. The architects can use these ancient structures as a platform to develop new ideas in architecture. In so doing, the Gulf region will develop in architecture independently from the West.
Crisis of Modernity and lack of Architectural criticism in the Arab world, by Mashary A. Al-Naim
Modernity is being pushed by commercial and political forces. The inhabitants of many cities in the Middle East have not appreciated it. For example, the state of Kazakhstan is witnessing a lot of construction in the modern fashion (Edrice, 2006). This style is not really being welcomed by the inhabitants.
Inhabitants of the Middle East mostly appreciate the ancient Arabic architecture. This fashion is the one mostly being used to construct mosques and other places like kings palaces. Inhabitants think that the modern style is expensive, and it is mostly being forced into them by the western world. They think it is another form of neocolonialism.
Architectural criticism is required to bridge the past and the future, and to connect architects, constructors and the clients together. However, this field in the Arab world remains a new one that need to be fully discovered. Rarely do people hear in the news or opinions of architects in the media. The Arab world need to improve in terms of architectural criticism from verbal exercises at meeting places of town planning councils to writing in publications.
The lack of architectural critics in the Arab world has created a huge gap between the makers of architecture and its consumers. This lack of critics is caused by a number of reasons. First, architectural education in the region has been directed by and dedicated to producing employees of the government rather than practicing architects. This is why most architectural departments in universities belong to schools of engineering (Jiji, 2004). This has confused the public. Most of the people refer architecture as engineering.
Another reason is the confusion between modernization and westernization in the modern Arab mind. Modern architecture has not been fully accepted because they think that it is a product of colonization. They, therefore, cannot accept it. Instead, they revolt it. Most Arabs do not welcome any form of westernization. Now, confusing modernization and westernization has led to a rejection of this new architectural style.
Another reason is the shortage of published books and articles about architecture. Architectural education has not encouraged Arabic writing in this field. This field lack writers and hence the critics (Jiji, 2004). Writing in Arabic should have been incorporated with the architectural trainings. This has caused rejections of some published books by the public. Some criticizing publications faced a lot of challenges. For example, the Alemara of Egypt, the Alam Al Bena, and the Madina were all rejected by the public. This is because the public were not expecting anything to do with architecture in the papers. These and other reasons are the major causes of lack of architectural critics in the Arab world.
All the writers have emphasized on the importance of architectural critics. They both believe that architectural critics shape the quality of architecture. Aydan Balamir advocated on the existence of gaps in the field of architecture. The gaps are mostly between the architecture during trainings and the market demand of the art. There is also a gap between celebrated architecture and ordinary practice. Balamir emphasizes that architecture will have a positive progress if these gaps are filled.
Manuel Cuadra emphasizes on the use of images by architectural critics. Architectural criticism will be more effective if the images representing architectural works will be present in the publications. He proceeds by emphasizing that the images need to be combined with words. The words plus the image will make the criticism more effective. This has taken place in most parts of the world. For example, the image of the Acropolis of upper Athens is one of the images that have been used by critics to display the actually physical structure to the public.
Mashary A. A-Naim also emphasize on the importance of architectural critics. They bridge the gap between the past and the future, and connect architects, constructors and the clients together. This is because the architectural critics have the language to communicate to the public. They are, therefore, very important people in the society. In the Middle East, the architectural critics can make the inhabitants be aware of the modern fashion of architecture. This is because the Arabs are confusing Modernization with Westernization (Mohammed & Majd, 2006). They think that they two are the same. It is therefore, the role of the architectural critics to enlighten them.
Another similarity is that, all the three writers are concerned with developing the Middle East. Balamir is concerned with the existence of the gaps in particular aspects (Charles, 2005). The gap exists between:
• Celebrated architecture and ordinary practice
• Modernist ethic and market-based production
• Academic interests and the real world of practice
According to him there will be a major development of architecture and architectural criticism if these gaps are filled. He emphasizes that architects are able to improve after having been criticized in the publications.
According to Manuel Cuadra, the image can be used to market and lead to improvement in architecture in the Middle East. This will have a major impact in the developments in terms of construction. His major emphasize is in the combination of the image and the words to effectively criticize architecture.
Peter Davey is awakening the Arabian architects to come up with new ideas instead of relying on importation of architecture. He exposes that the Arab world is blessed with plenty of opportunities which the architects need to use in order to progress in developments. He also emphasizes on the need for Middle East develop in architecture independently from other parts of the world (Giancarlo, 2005).
Aydan Balamir is concerned with architecture as a subject in class and its applications in the field. His ideas are focused on the fact that field and class work need to go together. This is what he calls filling the gaps (Mohammed & Majd, 2006).
Manuel Cuadra is concerned with media criticism. He wants the criticism be perfection with the use of images. He clearly points out that the images when combined with the words shall be more effective in criticism. Peter Davey is awakening the architects. He wants them to take advantage of the existence of opportunities in the Arab world and come up with new ideas.
Mashary A.Al-Naim is concerned largely with the role of the architectural critics in shaping the architects. With the presence of the critics, the public is made aware of the existence of architecture
According to all the critics who have tried to analyze architecture, they emphasize that every aspect matters. Architects in the past may not have been the best people to emulate when it comes to careers, but in the present day many would die for an architectural job. Especially in developed countries the value of architects has greatly improved. Once the issues addressed by the four books mentioned above get implemented, the future of architecture would be promising.
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