Click on the title above to be directed to an article published last week by the New York Times’ new architecture critic Michael Kimmelman about New York City’s Design and Construction Excellence program. Only two articles (and one opinion piece) into his assignment as architectural criticism’s most prestigious and far reaching writer, Kimmelman has brought a breath of fresh air, replacing the stale discussions fostered by the successive reigns of Herbert Muschamp and Nicolai Ouroussoff.
Muschamp’s, and most recently Ouroussoff’s, primary focus was on the globe-trotting Starchitects and their architectural icons, inaugurated by the completion of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao in 1997, and multiplying through the economic bubble of the last decade. Muschamp left his position in 2004. Ouroussoff never changed his tune, even as the cultural and economic winds shifted, and he stepped down as critic this past summer, more than a year after this spectacular takedown.
In his first piece as architecture critic, Kimmelman wrote of Via Verde, a subsidized housing development in the Bronx. In his opening salvo, rather than perpetuating the tale of trophy architecture built for the world’s most affluent clients at the behest of billionaire developers, Kimmelman uses Via Verde as a means to “shift the conversation” to “to the richer, broader, more urgent vein of public policy and community engagement, in which aesthetics play a part.” In situating both of his first two pieces locally, Kimmelman has refocused the paper on projects of importance to New Yorkers, which I’m sure is a welcome change for the many readers who became tired of Ouroussoff’s far flung dispatches.
While Kimmelman’s attention to function, context, urbanism, and social affairs is a welcome change of perspective from the Times, the paper is a bit late to join the discussion. For instance, we in Los Angeles are lucky enough to have Christopher Hawthorne, who came to the LA Times when Ouroussoff bolted for the NY Times. Hawthorne has been able to mix in a satisfying variety of pieces: local and global, public and private, political and pop. His “Reading LA” series this year has been a special treat. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art helped reorient the discussion away from the iconography of the past decade through last year’s Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement exhibition.
Of course, the rest of the country has been talking about how to make due with more modest means for the past three years, and the architecture profession as a whole has been devastated by the downturn. The excesses of the Aughts are long forgotten for most. For the “Paper of Record”, and its architectural criticism, it’s better late than never.