Mark Lamster | Essays

Delayed Gratification: On Architectural Criticism


Allan Kozinn has a blistering review of DS+R's Alice Tully Hall renovation in the Times today, and it comes along with a refreshing argument that Lincoln Center may not be the failure that so many design critics suggest, and that in remaking it, the public may actually find itself with something less and not more amenable. This is the kind of criticism the paper's architectural critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, typically fails to deliver, as he seems primarily interested in the formal aspects of design. But it also points to one of the difficulties inherent to architectural criticism, especially in relation to performance spaces. New buildings — and major public buildings in particular — generally get reviewed the moment they open, events usually attendant with considerable publicity. But it's frankly impossible to judge them until they've actually performed their function for some reasonable period of time. This is true of all buildings — we can't really evaluate a work of architecture until it is inhabited and we see how it lives in its context. (Andrew Blum recently suggested a new critical "slowness.") For certain building types, however, it's easier to judge how they're going to work. A residential project will be at the mercy of its floor plan and siting and materials. But there's basically no way to judge a music hall or a baseball park (to take two recent openings in New York) before we've seen how action unfolds in them. It seems incumbent upon a reviewer to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. For the record, a few of us have been defending the original Alice Tully Hall for some time. Update: Ada Louise Huxtable, the gray eminence of New York architectural critics, weighs in with a distinctly different take from Kozinn on Lincoln Center.

Posted in: Architecture, Theory + Criticism

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