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In contrast to the closed-door silent reviews of the École des Beaux-Arts charrette system, the public nature and transparency of the juried open reviews seem at first like an improvement. Students now have the opportunity to defend their projects as well as witness how their peers are assessed. In the act of presenting their projects, students develop invaluable skills in public speaking and rhetoric they can put to use in several fields of study and professions. The contentious environment of the review serves as a kind of political proving ground for ideas. The necessity to prepare and defend a large amount material in front of an audience breeds a healthy degree of camaraderie and competition, increasing the quantity of production and quality of the work. Students often respond positively and creatively to the challenges and demands of this environment. Lastly, the centrality and consistency of the ritualized tradition of the architectural crit helps build a community of scholars with a similar language and a shared set of values and experiences. It sets disciplinary boundaries, builds scholarly legitimacy, and helps construct the identity of the discipline. It is telling that this publication is named after the practice. These points aside, juried architectural reviews have some critical drawbacks. The various critiques levied in the past two decades should be taken seriously. While the hierarchical centrality of the practice need not be abandoned, the nature of the practice must be questioned and revitalized. Traditions are strongest when they’re continually challenged and re-imagined in a new context, lest they become stale and meaningless conventions. The architectural studio – ostensibly a site for creative experimentation and critical reflection – should be the last place where a customary act is blindly accepted and mechanically performed. One aspect which prior criticisms of the jury system have not properly addressed is the habit for reviews to prioritize spoken communication. While the opportunity for students to verbally guide reviewers through their projects develops certain skills, it impairs the central goals of the studio: to teach people how to design, make meaningful spaces, and communicate architecturally. The development of students’ aptitudes for visual and architectural expression is actually undermined by the

verbal crutch provided by the crit. There is often a gap between the student’s theoretical expositions prefacing the review of the work which simply is not communicated graphically. A chasm exists between what is loftily described and what is materially presented.


The verbal narrative prefacing a project also forecloses possible readings the work may evoke by itself. Jurors justifiably tend to evaluate the work according to the thesis set forth by the student. Yet the recent proliferation of graphic software has allowed students to produce provocative visual material in a relatively short time span. Instead of allowing the material to visually communicate ideas, though, the design is often short-circuited by the student’s verbal argument which jurors then use to structure their comments. Unfortunately, the ability to speak becomes a kind of escape hatch for students who are under-prepared. Conversely, students who are less verbally refined invariably have less successful reviews. International students are particularly at a disadvantage in this situation. Additionally, a focus on the presentation and discussion which ensues heightens tension and unnecessarily puts the student on the defensive. Further, the jury system as traditionally practiced puts the entire onus of criticism on the part of so-called design “experts.” Another consequence of this custom is that it marginalizes the active participation of students whose work is not currently being reviewed. As a result of the demands of the charrette deadline, many of theses students are barely conscious as it is.

2. Cuff, D. Architecture: The Story of Practice (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991).

Lastly, architecture reviews unwittingly buttress the myth of singularly conceived works of architectural genius. With individual students heroically presenting every aspect of their carefully orchestrated projects before a seated jury, the ghost of Howard Roark looms large. Though this arrangement may support an individualistic conception, the practice of architecture is actually thoroughly collaborative and often compromised. Multiple forces influence the design of any project, many of which are well beyond the creative will of the architect. Instead, architects are required to perform improvisationally – acting and reacting to a shifting terrain of political, economic, and sometimes completely random forces. The growth of technical specialties and sub-disciplines with whom which

1. Another earlier, but valuable source is Schön, D.A., The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action, Second Edition (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

3. Anthony, K.H. Design Juries on Trial—the renaissance of the design studio (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991). 4. Boyer, E., & Mitgang, L., Building community: A new future for architecture education and practice (Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1996), 93-95. For critical discussions of the report’s findings see Katerina Ruedi, “A Commentary on Architectural Education” in Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 51., No. 3 (February 1998), 148-152; and Carol Burns, “Re: Views of Findings on Architecture’s Way Forward”, in Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 51., No. 3 (February 1998), 153-157. 5. Ibid., 93. 6. Ibid., 95. 7. American Institute of Architecture Students, “Toward an Evolution of Studio Culture: A Report on the Second AIAS Task Force on Studio Culture”(2008), 25. 8. Ibid., 26. 9. Supra note 3, 120. 10. Parnell, R. and Sara, R., The Crit: An Architecture Student’s Handbook, Second Edition (Oxford: Elsevier Architectural Press, 2007), esp. chapter 6, “Alternative Reviews”. The Boyer Report also cites alternative practices (94). 11. Crysler, G., “Critical Pedagogy and Architectural Education”, Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 48, No. 4. (May 1995), 212 and Stevens, G. The Favored Circle (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998). 12. Stevens, Favored Circle, 217.


Crit: Journal of the AIAS Fall 2011  

Crit, a celebration of student work in the field of architecture (ISSN 0277 6863), is published by the American Institute of Architecture St...

Crit: Journal of the AIAS Fall 2011  

Crit, a celebration of student work in the field of architecture (ISSN 0277 6863), is published by the American Institute of Architecture St...