Architectural criticism in the post-Tafuri era

3416: Architectural criticism in the post-Tafuri eraTwentieth century modern architecture always had as a mandatory companion a group of critics, which were ready to argue in favor of the new works. Le Corbusier and Mies, Gropius and Aalto, enjoyed a partisan criticism ready to fight on behalf of their architecture. A critic like Sigfried Giedion is a clear example of a scholar who became the advocate of the avant-garde and whose intention was to provide the intellectual support for justifying a specific architectural trend. Giedion came from an aesthetic school which could be considered related with the late nineteenth century idealistic critics and his reading of the architects he speaks for tries to explain their work as a synthetic expression of the spirit of the times, which is reflected in the appearance, that means including in them all the technical and visual achievements. His attempt was to give to what we call \”Modern Architecture\” a solid theoretical foundation. And the same could be said of a critic such as Bruno Zevi, who was always looking forward to trying to legitimize modernity, and went a bit further seeing the fulfillment of architectural history in the assumption of architecture as \”art of the space\” and identifying Frank Lloyd Wright\'s architecture as the first moment in history in which that happens without mediations. A critic as Reyner Banham was aware that he served the new generation of architects \”his contemporaries of Team\” and looked to incorporate life and history in a broader sense when talking about architects. Less confident than Giedion or Zevi, Banham could not be called an advocate of the same modernity Giedion and Zevi talked about. But he still can be seen as related to the architects of his age and tries to put his broad field of knowledge to their service. James Stirling or the Smithsons thought that Banham was their spokesman. Less linear in the arguments he uses, he opens the doors to what would be the new approach which transferred the pure-visual considerations to sheer history. In the sixties and seventies history–even written with capital letters–became the only way for explaining architecture, a history which rapidly is put in context by Marxism. Tafuri would be the best known critic of such a tendency. Instead of an architectural criticism based on formal considerations–such as Colin Rowe\'s following the steps of a historian like Rudolf Wittkower– what the architectural historians were pursuing was at most to establish the connections between the works they examined and the ideology behind them, explaining architecture as one more reflection of the class struggle. Architecture in itself or as a work of art was not the issue. Architecture, architectural practice, would no longer be helped by critics. Tafuri resisted what he called \”operative criticism\” and as the result architects do not benefit from the efforts of the critics to clarify and explain the works they do. Since then, criticism would no longer be an ally of the architectural practice and, instead, it was increasingly looking to become autonomous. The emphasis of deconstructivism in the subject–the reader as the only one responsible for the text – became the way of approaching architectural writing. Criticism lost contact with the referent to architectural works to be examined and tried to be inspired by the new philosophical reflection. Those who write about architecture were tempted either by the literary value of what they write or by new subjects such as gender/race or the presence in architecture of everyday life. So critics are often closer to what we can to see in texts of philosophers or sociologists, but very rarely are they enticed by a clear architectural reference. As the result, architectural criticism did not play the role it had in the middle of the twentieth century anymore. Obviously not all the critics can be considered in the same way, and there