30 May 2006

“Criticality” and Its Discontents


Today “criticality” is under attack, seen by its critics as obsolete, as irrelevant, and/or as inhibiting design creativity. What is more, the criticisms that are increasingly frequently being made come from an interesting diversity of sources. To start to make sense of this emergent situation, we might try to locate the beginnings of the evident shift of opinion against this once-so-dominant theoretical discourse in architecture. One interesting precursor of current comment was an outburst by Rem Koolhaas at one of the series of conferences organized by ANY magazine, this one at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 1994: “The problem with the prevailing discourse of architectural criticism,” complained Koolhaas, “is [the] inability to recognize there is in the deepest motivations of architecture something that cannot be critical.”(2) But if Koolhaas' complaint was a harbinger of things to come, probably the first frontal challenge to criticality was a text published by Michael Speaks, the Director of Graduate Studies at Southern California Institute of Architecture, in the American magazine Architectural Record in 2002.(3) In a startlingly revisionist text, Speaks explicitly abandoned the “resistance” that he had learned from his own teacher, Fredric Jameson, in favor of a model of a new, alternative, and efficaciously integrated architecture that would take its cues from contemporary business management practices.

from “Criticality” and Its Discontents by George Baird

Available here.