C o m m e n t a r y
Architecture Criticism and the Public by David Dillon
I’ve just returned from a trip to Amsterdam and Paris, and one of the things that surprised me – besides $20 chicken salad sandwiches washed down with $15 glasses of vin ordinaire – was the number of architecture and design magazines for sale in airports, train stations, bookstores and sidewalk newsstands. They were everywhere, all the major ones – Architectural Record, Architecture Review, El Croqui, Architectura Viva, Domus, Casa Bella – plus dozens of smaller, more technical publications and a few academic journals. This, obviously, is not the situation here in the United States, where right now we have only one national architecture magazine, Architectural Record, one national celebrity interiors magazine, Architectural Digest, and a handful of smaller design or trade publications with geographical or topical emphases, such as Dwell, Metropolis, and Contract. Progressive Architecture has been gone for 15 years, Architecture folded several years ago, to be succeeded by Architect, which seems like People magazine for designers, though it may evolve into something more substantial. What’s left is a collection of shelter and lifestyle magazines
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aimed at interior decorators, furniture manufacturers, and readers with an unhealthy interest in wicker furniture and throw pillows. The result of all this publishing activity is a huge vacuum in serious design commentary, in which architecture, the most public of the arts, is losing touch with its public – its customer base, if you like – and has less and less influence on how our communities are planned and designed. Yet as we all know, vacuums exist to be filled, and savvy design magazines, including the chapter magazines we’re talking about here today, help to shape the design discussion in their regions, provided they understand what is happening in the larger publishing world and where they fit in that volatile environment.
Newspapers in Decline To restate the obvious, American newspapers are in a meltdown mode, with revenues dropping and market share shrinking. And one of the most endangered areas of coverage is art and architecture. This coverage is being marginalized or eliminated across the country. To give you an
idea of what this means, three years ago my paper, the Dallas Morning News, had 17 full-time arts writers, one of the largest arts staffs in the country. Now it has only five, and that number will likely drop further. I took a buyout a year ago and now do only special projects for the paper, which means that I write six or eight times a year compared with between 80 and 100 times before. And I will not be replaced. The architecture beat will disappear, ironically at a time when Dallas and Fort Worth are rising to international prominence in the arts. The same thing is happening in other cities. As far as I know, Washington, Atlanta, Houston, and Miami no longer have full-time architecture critics. Minneapolis recently sacked its long-time architecture writer, and New York City is down to one full-time architecture critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff at the Times whereas a few years ago it had three or four. This is disastrous because newspaper critics are the front line of architecture coverage, always more timely and often more comprehensive than the design magazines. Newspapers are where the public gets most of its architectural information, as well as most of its information
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This issue features the 12 projects awarded with the Texas Society of Architects' 2009 Design Awards. Texas Architect, the official publicat...