Criticism and Individualism

17.09.12 Larisa Tsvetkova:
Essay inspired by “Architecture and Criticism” Francois Chaslin

“Architects are often disappointed by criticism”, – starts Francois Chaslin. Indeed, architects are used to be creators whose ideas are unique and valuable. “In this age, the reviews, the media system in general, and even the most demure of architects (…) are interested mainly in a small cluster of architectural stars”. The term “architectural star” is telling lots of stories…Architecture is seen as a profession of individuals, and role of an architect is very much exaggerated.

In fact, one single architect cannot do much. In this field one always has to work in a team: not only with other architects, but also with clients and engineers. Smart architects also talk to a neighbourhood and a city, or to other professions like planners, economists, ecologists and sociologists. Architectural project is, therefore, not an individual, but a collective creation. Ideally, every person participating on any stage of a project should be mentioned. Moreover, the honest way would be to write names of all people who influenced a project anyhow: by a vote, an advice, a drawing, an opinion, a graph… anything. This would show a wide group of people involved. And then, the more authors a project would have the more valuable it would be.

Criticism as a very broad discipline can be seen as a way out of individualist and narrow-minded architecture. “It also requires comparative analysis that is based on knowledge of both historical and contemporary precedents, thus providing for an approach and for knowledge that are enquiring, even “philosophical”. Critics may be journalists, historians, planners, sociologists, teachers or practicing architects. As Francois Chaslin points out, criticism means identifying historical roots, placing in context, judging and deciding. “Criticism is also about circulation of ideas in the professional world and amongst the public. (…) Apart from commenting, critics must explain and bring into contact opinions, viewpoints and cultures”. Circulation of ideas also means sharing and guiding, initiating and explaining. It addresses both general public and “ill-prepared to understand the work of others” architects.

“The last supporters for urbanity, analysis, history and applied psycho-sociology are a seedy-looking lot; not to mention the militants of more ideological causes: ecologies, participationists, or even town planners and all those ever on the lookout for the conditions of social complexity or possibilities of improving housing”, – states Francois Chaslin.  Unfortunately, percentage of architects who are following more or less the mentioned field is not high. But people who are engaged in planning, sociology and ecology are still there, and rapidly changing society in fact needs thoughtful analytical approach. Therefore, I believe that the future is exactly for participationaits, ecologists and planners. People are not impressed by architecture itself so much anymore. Smart solutions are something everyone is looking for. And only if we all work together we can achieve positive results. Pure architecture cannot do anything.

Francois Chaslin is pessimistic: “Real criticism, the kind that looks for meaning, is made all the more difficult. It has to sift through a period that is a slave to the star system, to affected artists’ postures, to eclecticism with no real philosophical foundations, to the coexistence of individualities rather than pluralism, and to the weakening of general opinions and positive ideologies”. But I believe that individualism can be also a way to collectivity. In fact, there is no creativity without collectivity. “In these times of rampant individualism, (…) even if we become egotistical individuals, (…) let us remain communicating individuals”.If there are “as many theories as there are individuals”, a collective profession as architecture has to deal with millions of opinions and bring them all together. The only way to be creative is to take all the variety of individual theories and critically combine them into a new system that works as one.

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