MOST OF THE NATION'S
NEWSPAPERS FAIL TO KEEP a critical eye on architecture, despite
the boom in commercial and residential development taking place
in many metropolitan areas, according to The Architecture Critic:
A Survey of Newspaper Architecture Critics in America.
Fewer than 45 of the approximately 140 U.S. dailies
with a daily circulation over 75,000 have architecture critics,
and only a third of those journalists pursue architecture criticism
full-time, the study found. The remaining critics are part-time
freelancers or staff writers who must spend much of their time covering
The result is that major buildings and developments
routinely go up with no public discourse on their practical or aesthetic
merits--the most public of art forms receives the least amount of
arts coverage. This is particularly surprising in the case of several
major cities that have experienced a major building boom in recent
years, including Houston, Miami and Detroit, where the newspapers
feature no regular voice writing about architecture.
The National Arts Journalism Program surveyed the
critics to learn about their backgrounds, their job situations and
their roles in the communities where they work. The survey was made
available to respondents online during the spring of 2001 and included
questions about the respondents' personal tastes and aesthetic influences.
The survey's key findings include:
More than half of all newspaper architecture critics
write about the topic part-time. Part-time critics write far fewer
stories than their full-time counterparts.
Despite their small numbers, architecture critics
feel their work is respected at their papers and by readers, though
more than half believe their newspapers would not replace them
if they left their jobs.
More than three-fourths of critics feel their writing
has had an impact on architecture in their region, but more than
half say architects and developers do not take their opinions
into consideration when planning projects.
While most critics feel positively about the current
state of architecture as an art form, they are deeply concerned
about the state of the built environment.
Architecture stories are rarely featured on the
front page. One-fourth of the newspapers involved in the survey
presented no architecture stories on the front page within the
previous six months, another one-fourth published just one.
Critics have significant experience. Four out of
five respondents said they have written about architecture for
more than five years, two-thirds have covered the topic for more
than 10 years.
Nearly all critics believe their readers care deeply about the
built environment and most feel those readers have a basic understanding
of architecture. Three-fourths of critics see themselves as educators.
Many architecture critics go beyond writing about
the aesthetics of individual buildings and cover topics such as
urban sprawl and downtown redevelopment. They express regret that
the field pays too much attention to the work of popular architects.
The critics in the survey selected Frank Gehry
as their favorite from a list of well-known, living architects.
The architect of the Bilbao Guggenheim and other well-received
projects was followed by Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava, Maya
Lin and Norman Foster.
The critics' top choice from a list of famous buildings
was the Brooklyn Bridge, followed by Grand Central Station, the
Chrysler Building, Monticello and the University of Virginia.
"This survey isn't the last word on architecture
criticism, but it's a good first step," said NAJP Deputy Director
András Szántó, who directed the research and
co-authored the study. "It gives us a glimpse into the backgrounds
and thinking of an extremely small but enormously influential group
of journalists who shape public opinion about architecture."
The 34-page report was conceived and executed by
the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. The
study's co-authors and researchers are Ray Rinaldi, arts and entertainment
editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Eric Fredericksen, culture
editor of Architecture magazine. Rinaldi and Fredericksen were fellows
of the National Arts Journalism Program in the 2000-2001 academic
year. The report includes a postscript by The New Yorker architecture
critic Paul Goldberger.
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