This week, the third international symposium of the research network Mapping Architectural Criticism, organised by Helene Jannière (Rennes 2 University), took place in Paris (INHA and Académie d’Architecture). Entitled Toward a Geography of Architectural Criticism: Disciplinary Boundaries and Shared Territories, the meeting brought together scholars from Europe and North America to discuss, as in the pervious meetings in Rennes and Bologna, the multiple definitions and manifestations of architectural criticism in the long 20th century (in this case going as far back as the early 1800s).
Papers presented ranged from focusing on famous critics, such as Bruno Zevi, Eisenman, Krauss, Tom Wolfe, Ada Louise Huxtable or Giovanni Klaus König) to lesser known figures, such as the Finnish architect-critic Vilho Penttilä who, according to Charlotte Ashby (Birkbeck, London), developed technical expressions in Finnish around 1900, in a country whose educated discourse was previously dominated by Swedish. Detleff Jessen-Klingenberg (independent scholar, Germany) spoke about Werner Hegemann (1881-1936) distinguishing between Kulturkritik (cultural critique) and Fachkritik (professional criticism) in journals such as Städtebau (founded by Camillo Sitte) and Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst. Christina Contandriopoulos (UQAM) argued for a much earlier case of criticism, indeed the ‘birth of criticism’, in pamphlets written by the journalist and historian J.A. Dulaure inspiring popular resistance against Ledoux’s wall and barrièrs (toll gates) to be built around Paris in the 1780s.
Several papers explored overlaps between architectural criticism and other fields or disciplines: Laurens Bulckaen and Rika Devos (École polytechnique de Bruxelles) argued that the Belgian engineer Louis Cloquet (1849-1920) attempted to infuse architectural aesthetic writing with the scientific qualities of engineering. Irene Lund (Université Libre de Bruxelles and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) showed how in the Belgian avant-garde magazine 7Arts (1922-1927) literature critics, novelists and painters wrote on architecture.
Overall, the symposium showed, again, that architectural criticism is impossible to define clearly in terms of its disciplinary boundaries due to the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the built and the urban. In this light it was interesting, however, that the presenting scholars were less interdisciplinary than the critics discussed. Also, it emerged that we need more linguistic analysis of architectural discourse in order to give its investigation full credibility in our often visually dominated field.