Judgement of Critique

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on October 27, 2008

Saw this video the other day and it got me a little riled. (Two architecture posts in a row! I promise not to make a habit of this.)

When I first started architecture school, early Eisenman writings in Oppositions really inspired me. Now he (and the rest of these old men) aren’t so cool. Beyond the fact that the person they are talking about is standing right there, Eisenman says a few key things that I think might represent a bit of a schism in architecture. (And because this is essentially what my thesis was about: judgement.)

Peter says he “has nothing to say” and doesn’t know how to judge this work because the student doesn’t know the difference between Palladio and Borromini. (This from a guy who said of his extensive personal library:– and I quote from my secret source!– “I’ve read the introduction to most of these books.”) Now the work may indeed be awful, but the tragedy isn’t the work, it’s Peter’s and the other critics inability to critique the work at all, to give any sort of judgement.

I contend that all you have as a designer (or a critic) is judgement, and once you abdicate that responsibility, you can slip quietly into irrelevance… where Eisenman has been headed for many years anyway.

Instead they talk about pedagogy, a topic that comes up in any review in which the reviewers don’t have anything to say about the work (again, this could also be because the work is, in fact, boring… but they should just say that and get on with it). In school, critique culture exists to give students access to the judgement of more experienced architects, as soon as that has evaporated from the learning experience, students will look elsewhere for inspiration and for meaningful criticism.

Finally, the reason I think Peter and the rest find themselves in this awkward situation of having no tools or faculties to accommodate new work is that they’ve let their judgement be a static object instead of a living thing. What was once good might be bad and vice versa. Updates are ready for download.


4 Responses

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  1. Mlle. LeRenard said, on November 1, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    So, you say that “All you have as a designer is judgment.” From our conversation, here are a few points you might want to clarify about judgment.

    First, what are you judging: the good or the beautiful? That is, do you missing having critics who are willing to tell you, straight up, whether or not your project is *beautiful? (In your thesis, you seemed to want to emphasis critic’s discomfort with what many users find beautiful although your po-mo choice to include these beautiful elements is unjustified by social-historic framework) Or do you want a critic willing to tell you if your project is *good? And here again, we need a distinction: does the critique tell you if it’s 1. morally good or 2. good for x. (you can imagine a drug very good for giving you small pox but it wouldn’t be morally good to sell it)

    Second, what’s the origin of judgment? how do you acquire your ability to judge? Is it a rarefied quality, acquired only through special training? (then, only Peter Eisenman has it, but a first year student or a user doesn’t) This is especially important (by your own account in conversation) in regard to judging the morally good. That is, it seems like all architects assume that you’re agreed on the morally good: projects should reflect liberal politics, be sustainable, etc. But no one talks about how you acquire these criterion of judgment.

    That’s all for now … except to say you should read Kant 😉

  2. johnsnavely said, on November 3, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    First, hell yes I should read Kant!

    Second, I’ll start with the origin of judgement. I don’t know where it comes from. My major frustration with architecture is that we (as a discipline) should ask ourselves the questions you bring up more often. My own feeling is that everybody can judge, and does it all the time, but some are better at it than others and those people are the ones who will produce many of the things we experience as the built world.

    How one would go about deciding whose judgment is to be preferred, is still something of a mystery. But I’d love talk about that…

    So to answer the earlier question, I think both the good and beautiful are on the table, but only once we are free to actually talk about judgment.

    Yes, my thesis highlighted “beautiful elements unjustified”, but it do so by producing beautiful drawings and by careful examination of local culture, both of these are judged inherently “good” or “beautiful” by most critics. My point was to highlight that without talking about judgment, critics would have a difficult time approaching my project. They couldn’t tell me why it was good or bad or beautiful or not beautiful, because that sort of language is not yet a comfortable part of the architectural critique. Until it is, none of the questions you asked are asked of the student.

    These statements are about the pedogogy, but the other side of this, outside of the classroom and the crit, is that we use our own judgment to create things. Personally, beauty is more important than good. But I think about them both when I am judging my own work. An end product is the result of a number of judgments, which could be different each time I set about making something.

  3. […] the most important skill that an architect offers is an understanding of scale (my friend John has different take). Scale isn’t just knowing inches to meters, or the width of a corridor, or how an 8 foot […]

  4. Where Is My Flying Car? - etc said, on February 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    […] maybe architecture is undergoing a shift at the moment. John Snavely’s recent discussion of judgement as the fundamental skill of the designer is particularly useful to this discussion. May we judge not only what we produce, but why we […]

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