An approach of upbeat curation

It’s worth point out at the outset of this post that this particular weblog is not a forum for critical writing. Reading through a recent Blueprint article on the apparent lack of online architectural criticism (‘Critical Response’, not yet online) it’s hard to understand exactly what the problem is. In fact, so vague were the points of reference that BLDG BLOG’s set out an excoriating Critical Response, the thrust of which was that some sites that don’t purport to offer traditional architectural criticism don’t, shock horror, provide traditional architecture criticism.

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What’s even more interesting is the old media insinuation that this ‘new’ media is somehow inveigling itself into the institutions of architecture, becoming of the establishment rather than an unbiased platform of independence. Blueprint makes much of the media and educational affiliations of aggregat456, Pruned and BB, as well as the purported network of architects-as-bloggers, a new hegemony of hyperlinks epitomised by the approach of Super Colossal, Fat, etc., wherein the work itself is part of an ongoing conversation about other things. Is this a bad thing? It strikes us that of all the professions and organisations that purport to use blogging as a tool to expand their reach, raise their profile and enhance their offering, the very best exponents are architects and designers. The latter, largely, for their embrace of the internet-as-rolling-mood-board, and the former for their enthusiastic splicing of comment, history and creativity.

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That sounds a bit glib, but it really means that the weblog has given a voice to the small practice. There are plenty of sites out there that act as glorified shelter magazines without the editorial, content to upload the latest photographic showreel of the latest Japanese domestic delight, day in, day out. All this eye candy is admittedly getting a bit wearing. Gradually, however, studios and individuals are moving on from this method and being a bit more curatorial and considered about their online presence. This website was relatively late to the idea of using images as a lure, and we’re still resisting the temptation to use them too lavishly. Even so, there’s not a lot of what one might call traditional criticism on this particular front page. That might change. It might not.

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Oddly, this is the second time things has been cited in a Blueprint call out. Last time it was for our – and others – reliance on ‘purely indulgent retrospection‘, and we stand by what we wrote in response at the time – that ‘this website is not a ‘slow retreat from the future’ – far from it… but actually it’s the chronicling of the creation of the systems and knowledge and structures that will underpin the future on an ever increasing basis.’ This seems to have stuck, and this time round things is cited as being involved in ‘an approach of upbeat curation’, which is fine by us. Sadly, though, statistics reveal that we are not a ‘hugely popular online publication': our Alexa ranking is 643,856, compared to BLDG BLOG’s ranking of 117,838 and Blueprint’s ranking of 441,368. This is a very niche operation, a matchbox within a shoebox tucked into a drawer at the back of a bureau in a locked box room at the end of an upstairs corridor.

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So should we do criticism? Can we do criticism? Is there any architectural criticism, rather than snark, available online? We suspect the situation isn’t markedly different from how it was in the pre-internet age, when a few able essayists were head and shoulders above the rest, amongst a print media largely dominated by imagery and rather stock descriptive articles. Things’ two favourite critics, Owen Hatherley and Kieran Long mix on- and off-line work, and the latter doesn’t even have a ‘proper’ weblog, just an entertaining twitter feed and – news to us – the anonymous Bad British Architecture, currently on a prolonged hiatus and unlikely to return now that its cover has been blown.

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We tend to agree with Geoff’s statement that ‘As such, Kelly’s [Blueprint] article feels a bit like listening to someone who’s just spent two weeks looking around the classical music section only to come out complaining that he couldn’t find any death metal. Well, no shit: you were in the wrong section, and it’s your mistake not ours.’ The confusion is partly understandable – after all, publications like things are independent, answer to no-one and have an audience, however small. We write about objects, design and architecture, so why not add some grist to the comment? At this point we happily hide behind our curatorial remit, but at the same time we’d like to point out that online publishing still has that diaphanous veil of superficiality and worrying anonymity.

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BBA is great but would make terrible print, having not the bite or melancholy of the AR’s old ‘Outrage‘ column, Ian Nairn’s original platform. But put something in print – in an established outlet – and the onus is on both writer and reader to consider it more seriously. For example, Long’s angry rant about Venice in Icon was a refreshing counterpoint (or hammer, depending on your mood) to the idea that the 2010 Biennale was great because it wasn’t dense with theory and spoke more about aesthetics, good taste and polite one-liners than great big cultural manifestos. As blog comment it would be lost at sea. For now, we’ll plough our furrow of upbeat curation, singling out the best brickbats and maybe even slinging a few of our own. And like everything and anything online, the assertion that something simply doesn’t exist – especially something as straightforward and appealing as architectural criticism – is a sure sign that there’s plenty of it out there, if we all tried to look a bit harder.

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8 Responses to An approach of upbeat curation

  1. please don’t ‘do’ criticism. pedantry is for poseurs.

    besides, i like this blog best when it’s a loose list of prescient links, rambling and woozy with gentle nudges toward quality, it reads like a long wonderful posting on Metafilter.

  2. Dow Kimbrell says:

    Helo,

    by way of shameless self promotion I can only say that I do architectural criticism online at a little site called “I Like Architecture and Architecture Likes Me”.

    I have written two things about Venice in particular:

    OMA
    http://www.dowkimbrell.com/2010/09/27/rem-koolhaas-saves-the-world-for-architecture/

    MOS
    http://www.dowkimbrell.com/2010/08/30/blow-up/

    As to its quality, well I’m not the one to ask. But it’s there. Perhaps Blueprint didn’t notice.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best,

    Dow

  3. glen.h says:

    Well,as one of your small audience I’m quite happy to follow the furrow you plow.I’m also a regular at BLDG BLOG and really can’t fathom the supposed problem with it either!

  4. vanderleun says:

    Curation is criticism. And the best kind too.

  5. Banii says:

    Criticism is needed!

  6. Jack Self says:

    Just in the way Twitter influence can’t be measured directly by numbers of followers, whether Things is ‘hugely popular’ is something of a moot point – you’d be surprised the number of times I hear quite prominent figures re-hash a Things argument as their own. But I know where it comes from. I know.

    P.S. Exciting time for Millennium People – the much anticipated re-launch of MP2.0 will finally come this week, before Thrilling Wonder Stories #2 at the AA on Friday…

  7. cosmopolitanscum says:

    You think Kieran Long’s twitter feed somehow accounts for architectural criticism? Oh jesus, boys, things are worse than we thought…

  8. things says:

    Not criticism, but entertainment.

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