track the less-promoted work of young practitioners. How to choose what to review? How to define the critical beat?
Nowadays, the temptation is to pursue the global beat, which usually means the big-name beat—a natural temptation, for the global is glamorous. Yet the global beat tends to produce criti characteristics say less about the talents of the critics than the limits of the genre? Herbert Muschamp was notorious for his loyalty to "a small coterie of avant-garde architects," to quote Clay Risen in The New York Observer; but this might be understood also as tacit admission that there really is only so much that anyone can experience and assimilate.
So here we might consider that much of the criticism that now seems so exemplary was largely local, that writers like Mumford and Huxtable hit their critical strides as keen and close observers of the New York scene. Mumford, who wrote the "Skyline" column for The New Yorker from the early '30s until the early '60s, was both a champion of progressive architecture and a five-borough populist, covering not just major projects like Rockefeller Center and the '39 World's Fair, but also cheap lunchrooms, shop windows, neighborhood playgrounds, and public housing. In the '60s and '70s, Huxtable eloquently advocated for High Modern design and historic preservation, but she was especially expert at teasing out the intricacies of bureaucratic planning and real estate financing, the politics and money that were transforming the fine-grained prewar metropolis into the world capital of what she called "death by development."
The multiplatformed and micromarketed media culture now emerging will not offer the sort of widely visible journalistic venues enjoyed by Mumford and Huxtable. But it might encourage—or compel—an imaginative rethinking of the assumptions of design critique. It might encourage, too, a vigorous and broad-based network of critics willing to come creatively to grips with the experiential limits of global architecture—willing, that is, to forego the jetlagged internationalism of celebrity culture for a deeper and more nuanced knowledge of the everyday landscape of the local. ■
Editor's note: Robert Campbell and Michael Sorkin will each write Critique four times a year, and the other four months it will be written by a rotating group of new voices.
2006 International Codes
Was this article helpful?