Complexity and Contradiction in Criticism

Mammoth has a series of images from Simon Kennedy’s Heygate Abstracted, all taken at the monumental and doomed South London housing estate. Mammoth splices the misty, moody walkways – all empty – with the cosy domesticity found within another ‘sterile’ piece of post-war residential architecture, Lafayette Park, by Mies van der Rohe, and a series of portraits by photographer Corine Vermeulen, then doubles back to Tim Boddy’sLast Days of the Heygate Estate‘. The above images are from Foster and Partners’ masterplan for the area, much delayed and changed. We’ll try and get larger images onto the site – check back later. Update: Elephant and Castle images, from around 2007, we think. A fine set of speculative renders in a rather attractive sketch style. What’s notable is that the glassy urban environments proposed here seem to have found their built manifestation in More London, a set of spaces with a very different ideological backdrop of corporate and government HQs.

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The new Routemaster. Jury is still out, but the somewhat reactionary underpinnings of the entire concept leave a bad taste in the mouth, as does the political jousting implicit in the back-and-forth and the pledge to scrap a perfectly good bus fleet in the name of the capital’s image / Some forensic image comparison required. Did this soul-brother handshake, from Drawings on Hands, come directly from here?

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Our God is Speed, a weblog shot through with poetic thoughts and imagery on ruins, situationism and post-industrial landscapes. See also 12 minute drum solo and haunted weather, music-centric publications by the same author / A journey round my skull, art and illustration / Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? / even*cleveland, a weblog / Phrock Blog, ‘dedicated to psychedelic, hard rock, folk and progressive rock music from the 60s and 70s’.

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A beautiful Moog Print by DKNG Studios / Tales of Light, a weblog with a focus on photography / Recollexion, a tumblr / TNI archive, a tumblr (nsfw) / the humble supremacy, a landscape-focused tumblr / Map of London (Communities and Open Space Survey) 1943 (via haddock) / midnight sun, a tumblr / oh comely magazine, craft-centric / 9eyes, a tumblr cataloguing the seedy side of life as captured by Google Earth.

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Some more thoughts on criticism, kicked off by last week’s Blueprint article and the various comments and blog posts that have resulted. Online criticism is surprisingly nebulous, set free from the context of hard or soft covers and the (often wholly undeserved) authenticity of print. What flourishes instead are user reviews and aggregate scores, the kind of cultural barometer kept by sites like Metacritic.

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Although a Metacritic score for buildings sounds perversely great, it obviously falls down at the first hurdle: no-one, in print or online, has yet to be so audacious as to give a piece of architecture marks out of ten. So instead, we’re in the realm of the subjective judgement, the juxtaposition and the metaphor. So while sites like We are bad and Split Pediment feel like criticism to us they might not fit into the rather prescriptive definition implied by Blueprint, wherein a single building is described and deconstructed.

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The absence of such straightforward ‘criticism’ is nothing to do with the weblog’s lack of critical engagement. But it is symptomatic of the way in which buildings are presented to the world’s media, served up to dozens of (mostly print) journalists at once during launch events that are akin to Hollywood movie junkets. Hence the latest Zaha, Gehry or Koolhaas becomes the topic of the week in the architectural and broadsheet press, a ‘new release’ to be discussed in much the same way as the latest Amis or Coen Brothers, propped up by PR-driven initiatives to ensure that coverage exists.

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As a result, there simply isn’t space (or demand) for the urban trawls (truncated in BD but still superb) or explanatory, angry and frankly hugely informative essays like this recent presentation-rendered-into-post at entschwindet und vergeht, ‘The Failed Modern Dwelling‘. This long post dovetails neatly with the optimism of the images at the top of this post, most of which date from the early days of the 21st century urban renaissance and now look naive in the extreme. ‘The Failed Modern Dwelling’ explains why, making it proper criticism, all the more insightful for the lack of a contemporary hook or a superficial flash of insight to solve the inherent, intractable issue: ‘To sum up, because it is so inherently capital-intensive, change in architecture can only really come from the top-down.’

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