A critical cold frame

On Critical Futures. We came away from the Gopher Hole with a few, still rather disorganised thoughts. Although things is very much on the peripherary of the recent debate/controversy surrounding the role of the internet in architectural criticism (kick-started by Peter Kelly’s The New Establishment piece in Blueprint) it is valid to try and decipher whether there are points of difference between old and new media, and whether or not these things even remotely matter.

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The weblog model lends itself to the derive, a continuous stream of thoughts rather than a reasoned edit or formal presentation. This means that thoughts are unsorted, unsubbed, unread by others and largely rather woolly. A ramble that doesn’t stick to the marked path. This has advantages. Buildings can loom in and out of focus, depending on how they grab the writer’s attention, or not. And along with buildings come the associated mental flotsam and jetsam of architecture, the diversions and sidetracks that lead to accusations of lack of focus and seriousness.

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Perhaps these diversions are unnecessary. It’s hard for us to say, since divert is pretty much all we do. It is valid to suggest that proper criticism is stymied by the fetishisation of the quotidian. In a world where practically everything and anywhere is aestheticized, and pluralism is the default state, it’s hard to make subjective statements based on imagery and not experience. When urban ruins, drab housing estates and blank industrial parks are viewed through a seductive fusion of the gimcrack eye of Martin Parr and the uncritical piety of the Dusseldorf School, everything is ‘interesting’. Nothing is easy to dismiss. And analysis falters in favour of looking. Part of the reason The New Ruins is so successful is that its use of photographs (mostly by Joel Anderson) is both subservient and useful to the text but also way below what we’ve come to expect in terms of presentation. That’s not to denigrate them; imagine instead if some trendy wunderkind had given the whole project a glossy, neo-romantic spin. The book would have an entirely different aesthetic character, quite at odds with the text.

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The other criticism levelled at, well, criticism, is that too much online energy is given over to eye candy; architecture is reduced to nothing more than formalism. In truth, the hugely successful Archdaily model of churning out a near-endless stream of quasi-pornographic architectural imagery only really annoys other architectural journalists. It has reinvented the way the publishing industry works with photographers and ‘exclusives’ and spoilers. The power of publicity is weighted towards the practioner and not the commentator. For the latter, this offers a new challenge, meaning that the critical framework is broader and not confined to the narrow frame of building as object.

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Some other things. flood, Dan at City of Sound gives a customarily thorough, evocative and thoughtful eyewitness account of the Brisbane floods / Triple Canopy, ‘an online magazine, workspace, and platform for editorial and curatorial activities’ / Instructables, compelling step by step guides to hacking stuff together out of other stuff / how Black Rock City became a real metropolis. Related, Soundscapes: Burning Man, a project by architect Nick Sowers at Soundscrapers. Both at Places: Design Observer.

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Frank Gehry’s new building looks like five scrunched-up brown bags. Someone should do a ‘Frank Gehry’s new building looks like…’ automatic description generator. That would be proper architectural criticism. More. ‘For years [Frank Gehry’s] fish were single, literal and ubiquitous, appearing in lampshades, jewellery, sculpture, furniture, houses and buildings. Eventually they schooled, into Gehry’s curled titanium cloud phase, like the silver-skinned Bilbao, and Disney. Then, a few years back, the fish were dried, inebriated and popped into crumpled take-out bags.’

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Ampersand, a new literary magazine from Australia (via magCulture). Not the first time that title has been used. D&AD’s in-house magazine, the journal of the Kansas City Art Institute and a one-issue lifestyle magazine based in London in 2001 / (Drool) Brittania, a hopefully amusing diversion at tmn / e-ink camo for tanks / John Kenneth Muir’s retro TV files / old postcards of Les Halles (giant image) / ‘Thomas Tallis’s ‘Spem in Alium’ has an appeal that defies time / Futurecalm, a tumblr / like share, a tumblr / Love of the Common Zzzan, a tumblr.

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The Museum of Idolatry, ‘the worlds largest collection of artifacts of apostasy. We have over 1500 exhibits and we’re adding new exhibits regularly.’ We think this is probably serious / Tom Scott presents the 2010 “Editing Wikipedia From Inside Parliament” Awards / Things Real People Don’t Say About Advertising (both via b3ta, which also links this genius and apparently much seen ASA adjudication: ‘We considered that claims that marketers would successfully solve all problems, break curses or black magic, banish evil spirits and improve the health, wealth, love life, happiness or other circumstances of readers should be avoided, because they were likely to be impossible to prove’.

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