The Functions of Criticism

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Punctures, junctures, freeze-frames: timely practices of criticism for the architectural and urban imagination

‘Criticism will always be more useful when it informs the future than when it scores the past.’ [1]

What, who or where needs architectural criticism today and how does it most effectively take place? Positioning architectural and urban projects through Bruno Latour and Albena Yaneva’s argument that architecture is a moving project, and also as a ‘critical dialogue with the present’ [Gregotti], this paper explores timely practices of criticism that explicitly co-exist with design work in the setting of architectural education. Punctures, both punctual and piercing, junctures that con-join and freeze-frames that deliberately detach, are articulated as part of a critic’s repertoire.

Wayne Attoe has argued that there are two main settings (and modes) for architectural criticism - the public domain of the popular press and the space of architectural schools where the educator(s) can be understood as a critic and teaching as a kind of critical practice entangled with the trajectory of a project. There is more convergence between design and final product in the educational setting than in the lag between projection and building in commercial production. Therefore there is more opportunity to examine relational, durational, accumulative and consequential practices of criticism and disciplinary construction. The paper examines manifestations and timings of criticism in the playing out of one urban and one building design studio project led by the author at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture: ‘The Cadiz City Planning Project’ (2007-08) and The Empty Space (2022).

Attoe posits vital practices of criticism as ‘purposeful judgement’, ‘sensuous pragmatism’. In an age of turbulent climatic imaginaries which sway between crisis, care and complacency, realities of spatial and material urban inequities, and the politics of resource distribution and use, there is a pressing need to examine how to evaluate ‘environments-in-the-making’ such as architectural or urban projects.

[1] Wayne Attoe, Architecture and Critical imagination. John Wiley & Sons, 1977, xii.
Bruno Latour, Albena Yaneva, ‘An Ant’s view of Architecture’ essay in Explorations in Architecture ed. Geiser, R. Birkhauser, 2008.
Vittorio Gregotti, Inside Architecture, quoted in David Leatherbarrow, Nordic Journal of Architecture, 2013.
Helen Runting & Fredrik Torisson, ‘Managing the Not-Yet: The Architectural Project Under Semiocapitalism’, Architecture and Culture, 2017, 5:2, 213- 220.
Serrano, Stoker and Crisman ‘Punctual urbanisms: rapid planning responses to urban problems’, Journal of Planning Literature. 2021, Vol. 36 (4) 467-491
Period20 May 2023
Event typeConference
LocationCambridge, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational