Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 11.17.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Paper Revelations


Writing reveals a lot about a person. Is he sloppy? In love with the sound of her own voice? Ambitious beyond his powers? Trying to be too cute? Late, perpetually, disastrously late? What you are on paper is not that different, in most cases, from what you are like in real life. After each semester I teach architecture criticism at D-Crit at SVA or NYU, I feel like I have just participated in a seminar-size group therapy session, trying on the role of the wise, calm, suggestive but not restrictive therapist. I know I can’t make someone a better writer, but I can show a student the special qualities he is missing in his own work, or how a little more structure could make her insights clear to all.

As I read first drafts and then revisions, I am seeking that feeling of calm I get when I read the best pieces of journalism. The calm that comes from the feeling that the writer knows exactly where he or she is going. The calm that comes from descriptions that don’t leave you with unanswered questions. I prize visuals (obviously), but also flow. There’s no need to rattle off credentials, true authority comes from a sense of completeness, nothing left out, themes stated at the top brought round to some satisfying and literary conclusion.

The problem with thinking like this is that you start to do it all the time. On this blog, I know I keep picking at the New Yorker, but that’s because I need to have something to aspire to. I want it to be better, and to treat the things I care about (design, architecture, the visual world, even the classics) with the respect and insight they deserve.

Reading a lot of architecture criticism for those same classes, I also start to develop a running mental list of the writerly tics of those critics far higher in the ranks than I. Paul Goldberger, for example, who I have to say in a way that can only read as presumptuous, has gotten a lot better. On the Rise, a collection of his early reviews for the New York Times, has the flimsiness and ephemerality of blog postings. We no longer care about many of the controversies, and he has apologized for his support of postmodernism (scroll down). At the New Yorker he has more room and more time, and his early tendency to make it all about the architect has expanded. If you ever want to know what to say in conversation about a leading member of the profession, just read Goldberger. His review of Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower is one of his best — energetic, vivid, experiential, characterizing man and building as one. His review of Arquitectonica’s Westin Hotel is also extremely funny, but partly inadvertently, as he tries to apologize for the architects’ lapse into…ugliness. This week’s very early assessment of Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue (I building I love for simultaneously reminding me of Kristin Chenoweth’s Emmy dress and out-sparkling Frank Gehry) is a model of his form, surveying the career and telling you exactly what to think:

Each of the angled windowpanes — there are more than sixteen hundred — reflects light slightly differently, making the building glitter like sequins in the afternoon sun. If you are tired of the way every modern building feels flatter and thinner than the one before it, well, so is Jean Nouvel…

Nouvel’s designs, for all their bombast, are conceived as a whole. You can take them or leave them, but tone them down and you’ve missed the point.

For once, I couldn’t agree more.

Bonus! Paul Goldberger on the Colbert Report.

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).

The Astrodome and the Challenges of Preservation
The Astrodome and the future of preservation.

Not Afraid of Noise: Mexico City Stories
A photographic tour of Mexico City, house by house, wall by wall.

Genzken and the City
A review of Isa Genzken's current retrospective on view at the MOMA.

Premature Demolition
The Folk Art Museum, David Adjaye's market hall, and the first addition to the Morgan Library. If three makes a trend, then premature demolition qualifies.