Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In a takedown of critic Ouroussoff, Atlantic Yards is front and center

Well, I've written frequently about New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, including a June 2006 critique of his first major piece on Atlantic Yards. Now, when the critic comes in for a drubbing by a peer, AY is front and center.

In a Design Observer essay headlined Why Nicolai Ouroussoff Is Not Good Enough, Alexandra Lange writes:
Should Ouroussoff turn out to be the last architecture critic, that makes it even more imperative to say: He is not good enough. He is not winning hearts or minds. He is not making a case for keeping the breed.
The AY example

Lange writes:
Exhibits A and B in this critique are Ouroussoff’s reviews of the massive Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. It was unclear from his first review whether Ouroussoff had ever been to Brooklyn, so grateful did he think we should be for the services of (Los Angeles) architect Frank Gehry.

...Here Ouroussoff performs a neat trick, (mis)characterizing the opposition as a bunch of Jacobsian sentimentalists, and informing us that Gehry’s new architecture would be the borough’s best representative. Those brownstones are apparently so retrograde that they and the rest of the project’s existing context warrant only a three-sentence paragraph. Ouroussoff never bothered to orient his readers to the importance of the site, the windy, well-trafficked corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Naturally the Brooklyn bloggers had a field day with this piece, for reasons valid and conspiratorial.

...The first Atlantic Yards review went a way toward establishing Ouroussoff as a character, and like [critics Herbert] Muschamp and [Paul] Goldberger, a lover of stars.
The job of the architect

Near the end of the essay, Lange fixes on something very important:
It is our city the New York Times architecture critic should be trying to save, not the gargantuan works of Frank Gehry or Jean Nouvel (or Philip Johnson). They can parachute in and out, but we (and ideally the Times itself) remain to live with the consequences.
Indeed, Ouroussoff's reflex--remember his public defense of Gehry when the architect was grilled about AY?--is to identify more with the architect than the city.

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