Volume 7, No. 2
(January 2003)

  Grasping Architecture
A Critique of the Critique
'Critical' Architecture journals that are available completely or partially in the Internet

about 300 entries (updated February 2003)

Ulrich Conrads

The Last Word as Prologue


Architectural Criticism and Conveying Architecture
Holger Pump-Uhlmann   Criticism of Architecturean Event for Elite Circle? abstract
Kerstin Dörhöfer   Power and Deficits in the Critics of Architecture abstract
Wilfried Dechau   Grey Book abstract
Manfred Sack   From the Workshop of an Architecture Critic abstract
Claudia Schwartz   Architectural Criticism within its Context –
after the Wall Came down
Benefit and Nachtheil (Disadvantage) of Architectural Criticism for the Architect
Axel Schultes   The Distress of Berlin´s Feuilletons,
Taking the Example of the
City Palace
Jörn Köppler   The Mental Statics of Building abstract
Ivan Nevzgodin   „Press – Fight for Socialist Cities!“:
Perception and Critique of the Architecture of Novosibirsk 1920-1940
Irina Kudryashova   Rationalistic and Romantic Criticism
as Expression of a Creative Method
Christian Gänshirt   Golden Axe and Intelligent Feelings –
Criticism as a Tool for Design
James McQuillan   Revisiting the Rhodian Shore:
Architecture and a New Critical Ord
Public Architectural Criticism
Heidede Becker   Publicizing Architecture and Urban Design abstract
Ute Lehrer   Architectural Criticism as a Public Discourse abstract
On the Theory of Architectural Criticism
Jörg Schnier   Precision Work abstract
Eduard Führ   Architectural Criticism Conveying Architecture abstract
Heinz Meyer   Architectural Criticism and Aesthetical Judgements abstract
Yelena Remizova   Criticism of Architecture and Architecture of Criticism abstract
Ulrich Conrads   A Prologue as the Last Word


___UIrich Conrads

The Last Word as Prologue



Architectural Criticism and Conveying Architecture




Criticism of Architecture –
an Event for Elite Circle?

Probably architecture is the most effective kind of all arts. Still there is hardly no public dispute. The criticism of architecture is a domain of technical journals and the feuilletons of a few well-named newspapers. For television architecture is a ‘rating-killer’. What is the cause of the discrepancy between effect of architecture and the missing public interest in architecture?
A disliking book people put aside. A picture that people don’t enjoy is taken away from the wall.  Against that a realized building or a whole city people have to live with. Therefore these areas are so important. What we have to do to let the criticism of architecture be a really public event?  

Ý      - translated by the author -

___Kerstin Dörhöfer

Power and Deficits in the Critics of Architecture

Reviews of buildings define the criteria of what architecture is and so they prepare its historiography. In this way a lot of buildings, designs and creativity is overlooked, ignored or forgotten. So is the work of Stefanie Zwirn, a woman in architecture in the twentieth and thirties. She designed very small houses with a great deal of sensitivity. Today nobody knows her work. Is it not worth to remember? Is it not architecture? Or is the ignorance a deficit in the reviews of architecture?

Ý      - translated by the author -

 ___Wilfried Dechau

Grey Book

As a rule, only the exemplary and the excellent is published in architecture magazines – not the commonplace. Architectural criticism as a discipline in its self-imposed (or, worse, unnoticed, unreflected) constraints deals with only a small proportion of the total building volume. The majority of the rest, the rest that forms the decisive whole of our built environment is ignored, omitted, left lying. In reality, one is confronted too with all the buildings which appear to the critic as disgusting. Even worse: all the homely cosy horrors that make our stomachs turn did not fall from the sky. They were designed, drawn, detailed and finally built by people who, during their studies at universities, technical colleges and art schools, quite certainly learnt to draw something other than hip-end roofs and half-timbered garages.
It is time to leave our ivory tower, to take off our blinkers, and to broach the much too long silently-tolerated phenomena which have shaped the character and atmosphere of our built world. It is time not only to think about a Black Book, Black and White Book (Karl Ganser) or even better: Grey Book, but to negotiate.

Ý      - translated by the author -

___Manfred Sack


From the Workshop of an Architecture Critic

Manfred Sack will give an architecture critic´s workshop report – and he will explain why he would rather call himself a journalist discussing architecture, since – comparing to his colleagues – he cannot write about the classical arts (painting, music etc.), and he cannot count on expert-knowledge among his potential readers. Due to that he has to describe much more than to criticize. He will speak about the choice of objects – from architecture, urban and landscape planning – , about aspects of urban development, also about an aesthetic education, the newspaper, about different kinds of journalist genres, the hoped addressees of his articles and therefore, also about the use of language – and additionally the criteria of his judging – as last the expectation he fixes to his activity.

Ý      - translated by the author -


Zürich / Berlin


Architectural Criticism within its Context –
Berlin after the Wall Came down

Having a highly particular situation for the new old capital, a major debate is in demand to discuss the future importance of Berlin. Yet the realm of criticism often went far beyond a closer interpretation of writing about architecture. Thinking about building increasingly included a reflexion of the social role of the German capital and the way it deals with German history. Thoughts about the meaning of Berlin as a future location for the government became symbolically overloaded within the discussions about a design of the “heart of Berlin Republic” the city was supposed to become. Man even went as far as comparing the architectural discussion about Berlin with the historical discussion.
After all, one should ask, which was the importance of writing about architecture in the exegese of the new capital? Was it different to any other place? Did the architectural journalists demand a right to participate in the process? Was writing about the art of building politically reinforced, because of the symbolical status of Berlin as the new location for the government? Thus, will eventually develop rather unique parameters that will be understood only within a certain context of time and space?

Benefit and Nachtheil (Disadvantage) of Architectural Criticism for the Architect




The Distress of Berlin´s Feuilletons,
Taking the Example of the Berlin City Palace

Recently, within the helplessness of politics, the decision that will be made concerning the Berlin Palace will actually be Menetekel for the lately so called for building culture. Yet, without impact remain the professional critics, as honest its positions may be; art historical morals and accuracy did not hit the goal and worked themselves up with standards nobody had asked for. So, where is this powerlessness coming from, besides all that eloquence?
One answer for me might be quite obvious: if one doesn´t take the old palace as an urban misfortune or a spatial obstacle a priori, the fundamental spur and basic incentive to prevent a re construction, is lacking. Thus a neutral position of art theory and art history in its truthfulness is not working for pushing back fatal longings.
Yet, what the heck: if our thoughts about city and architecture won´t radiate from the major core, the spatial form – beyond its historical settings – not as ultima ratio but as quintessence, as source of all our arts, we won´t find toughness and depth within our judgements. in fact we will have to live with a  moving saga: architecture was never more than a mixture of art of space and arts and crafts, never more than a game, flirting with “we never knew and never will know what space actually is”.


___Jörn Köppler


In summer 1937 Frank Lloyd Wright arranged a demonstration of the weight carrying ability of his designed  „flower-columns“ for the Johnson Wax Administration Building through an endurance test to the  - with free beer - amused public and the sceptical officials of the licence authority of Wisconsin. They believed that this unknown and new construction could only resist 5 tons of weight at maximum. But at the end of the day and after putting 60 tons of sand onto the column, it still served its purpose (see picture). In case that one would transfer this neat and funny physical proof of the carrying ability of the designed to a so to speak proof of „mental carrying ability“, as it were a mental statics of a building: What in this case would be the resisting column, and what would be the loading sand? Could not the slow stacking up of weight be compared with the tentative steps of reflexion: from question to answer to question? And were not the point of break, the end of carrying, similar to the end of questioning, which could be described as the point right up to which we could think? In philosophy this border is visited and named again and again in its history, for Aristoteles it was the unmoved „first mover“, for Kant it was the respect of that „Wesen“ (being), which gave us the capacity to „judge about it without fear“. But in architecture and its critique, this curiosity about the thinkable is fairly forgotten, it rather seems that it was and is a victim of the pandemical „Jargon der Eigentlichkeit“ (jargon of the essentiality, Adorno).

Ý      - translated by the author -


Delft / Novosibirsk

"Press — Fight for Socialist Cities!":
Perception and Critique of the Architecture of Novosibirsk, 1920-1940.

Never in the history of Siberia issues of architecture and town planning were discussed so extensively and with such great passion as during the 1920-1940s in Novo-Nikolayevsk — Novosibirsk. There took place a battle for proletarian architecture, for the transformation of the workers’ everyday life and for the socialist city’s character. The tension of the debate becomes obvious from reading the articles’ titles, such as "We will fight till the end!", "Fight for housing!", etc.
In my paper I want to throw a light upon the role of the critique in the formation of the architectural image of the Siberian Capital, Novosibirsk.

Ý      - translated by the author -



Rationalistic and Romantic Criticism
as Expression of a Creative Method

Analyzing evolution of culture, it is possible to find out unity of two basic types of outlooks - rationalistic-scientific and irrational-art (romantic) and corresponding methods of creativity. The role of art criticisms is reduced, at first, to a criticism and "shaking" of forms culture that become the conservative ones, and, secondly, to searching and selection in social-cultural space of new, perspective forms of culture from the point of criticism view. The periods, when in culture dominates a rationalistic method, are characterized by rationalistic criticism, directed on "legalization", description, understanding of dominating culture. The role of criticisms in creation of a conceptual means, stylistic etalons, aesthetic norms is at this time great. It is period, when dominates not substantial but forming aspect of culture.

Ý      - translated by the author -



Golden Axe and Intelligent Feelings –
Criticism as a Tool for Design

People write critics of architecture after the building is built already. Yet critics could also be the starting point for a new aspect of design. Within the process of design criticism plays a fundamental role. Often enough new thoughts for designs are mentioned as a form of criticism. Criticism “the main tool for process” (Karl Popper) and judgment will lead a designer to decide for or against a certain idea. Consequently this tool shall be investigated from the point of view of the designing architect. Basic mechanisms will be analyzed and possibilities for their application shown: After all, “there is no one who won´t be honoured to judge the work of others” (Leon Battista Alberti 1435).




Revisiting the Rhodian Shore:
Architecture and a New Critical Order

Modern standards of architectural achievement are diverse and with little agreement about ultimate reality. Because of the overbearing cultural relativism we are all caught up in trying to ‘grasp architecture’ or provide a competent critical order in which to act and to appreciate what we do.
Long ago the only critical order was provided by the patron, the ultimate progenitor and in many respects the only significant ‘user’ of the building. Therefore there was little problem in perceiving the identity of the outcome, where all the agents of the building enterprise shared the same cultural horizon as well.
Since we now live in a post-Romantic age, many other issues now abound, such as the rise of aesthetics and the genius of the artist, making the sharing of identity almost impossible. Perhaps the most problematic of these issues is the understanding of decorum, which was previously the link between transcendence and operation. This paper traces the fortunes of decorum under modernism and divided representation, particularly with respect to the rise of the modern fragment. To overcome the nihilism of modern design may require the power of the positive fragment in such a programme of restoration, where participation – and not disembodied ‘function’ – is the keynote in architecture and planning.

Public Architectural Criticism

___Heidede Becker

Publicizing Architecture and Urban Design

Theory of architecture can become even more effective for public discussion if appearing outside specialized journals, lifestyle-publications and feuilletons - especially if emerging as part of architectural and urban everyday life. In fact to the extent that architectural theory will include on top of an aesthetical perspective urban design and user related aspects as well, it will immediately open a broader discussion.
In general conflicts and friction start with the basic issue of not having a consensual aesthetical ideal nor an undebated aesthetical objective. The dilemma of aesthetical judgement always includes several aspects: contrast between expert opinions or between the opinions of non-experts and experts as well as cultural values that create fashions for architectural and urban design.


___Ute Lehrer

Architectural Criticism as a Public Discourse

In this paper I argue that architecture criticism plays a vital role in city-building processes by shaping the public discourse on space and place, the aesthetics and the use value of built environments.  By juxtapositioning two very different examples and environments – the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz in Berlin as well as the questionable future of the Gardner Expressway in Toronto – this paper will argue that architectural criticism is needed not only for challenging the profession of architecture to achieve excellence but that it is also crucial as a societal means for understanding city-building processes in its relation to broader issues. The paper concludes that architecture criticism has become even more important in the era of globalization where local communities face enormous pressures, and where there is a need of dialogue over space and place and the meaning of it.

Ý      - translated by the author -
On the Theory of the Architectural Criticism

___Jörg Schnier

Precision Work

To criticize is a difficult and thankless task. Everyone pointing out deficits in another's work is in danger to be perceived as an arrogant, malevolent person.
To avoid this it is necessary to differentiate taste and fact based decisions and to introduce a canon of elemental pragmatic guidelines to serve as a basis for serious criticism.
It is on this grounds that the following paper points out the dishonesty of the mild, polite critic and propagates the necessary radicalism of the well-founded and unmistakable judgment.

Ý      - translated by the author -



___Eduard Führ

Architectural Criticism Conveying Architecture

This paper deconstructs the simple communication model of the architectural criticism.


___Heinz Meyer

Architectural Criticism and Aesthetical Judgements

The aesthetical judgement can be distinguished from other judgements, functional and economical judgements in particular. This is true despite non-aesthetical aspects influence aesthetical judgement.
For many architects as well as critics it is quite annoying that the aesthetical experience can be evoked by objects of rather different quality. Thus it is (at least often enough by architects and critics) questioned, that people react to objects with a certain aesthetical fascination only in case they experience a certain aesthetical quality. Therefore architects´ and critics´ struggling for a certain aesthetical quality can be seen as an investment of artificial relevance. Yet this relevance could as well broaden, increase and thus deepen the human existence.


___Yelena Remizova

Criticism of Architecture and Architecture of Criticism

What is the difference between architectural criticism and the theory of architecture? The basis of criticism is the art "to take apart" and art "to judge", while to the theory the analysis and examination are resided. Being a part of art process, criticism as well as the theory exists developing and varying, experiencing crises and ascents.
The criticism and theory may be considered as two different shapes of knowledge both communications between the professionals and audience.
But is there an architectural criticism today? What foundation is for its creation? The modern architectural criticism represents the special aspect of mentality built on a destruction of an art reality. The postmodern culture is polylogical and destructive in its basis. The plurality of creative positions in art guesses also plurality of critical views entering conversation among themselves. In a certain sense a criticism correlates the present with the past.

Ý      - translated by the author -

___Ulrich Conrads

A Prologue as the Last Word

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