Speaking of Michael Kimmelman’s new job at the New York Times—what subjects should architecture critics cover? In the Huffington Post, Charles Birnbaum, President of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, calls for better landscape architecture criticism.
There’s good news and bad news for landscape architecture. On the positive side, employment prospects look very strong for the next few years. […] Unfortunately, major daily newspaper critical analysis of landscape architecture doesn’t appear to be following suit.
Birnbaum takes this transitional moment in newspaper criticism—the announcement of Kimmelman’s new job, and the recent appointment of Philip Kennicott as culture critic at the Washington Post—to urge for more informed criticism on landscape architecture and a better look at the whole picture.
“Kennicott and Kimmelman are smart and able, but can or will they transcend the object-ness of architecture to understand and then write about the complexity of landscape architecture? Or, am I asking for too much here?”
Seeing architecture and landscape architecture as “object” is a major issue for Birnbaum. After Ouroussoff’s love fest with CCTV (“ Moving from sin of omission to sin of commission, Ouroussoff’s swansong review for the Times, about Beijing’s CCTV building may be the sloppiest of wet kisses I’ve encountered in a long time (get a room!)”), Birnbaum asks Kimmelman in advance: “Please do better.”
James Russell, Bloomberg’s architecture critic, agrees with Birnbaum. As he makes clear in his recent book, The Agile City , we don’t live in a world of objects and islands. Being sustainable isn’t just about recycling and turning off the air conditioner when we’re not at home; it requires a rethinking of our society, culture, urban planning, and even politics. When it comes to architecture criticism, Russell says:
“we remember architecture critics fondly because they wrote about the city and not objects. Today they need to write about how cities are changing from environmental design to architecture.”
With the help of Russell, Birnbaum makes a strong case. Architecture critics need to continue looking at context, rather become object-obsessed, and “it’s time for this arena of criticism to “evolve already.””