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Waiting for Kimmelman: everyone's talking about the new Times architecture critic; some wonder when he'll write about Atlantic Yards

Michael Kimmelman, the new New York Times architecture critic who seems to care more about context and urbanism than starchitects, is getting a lot of ink these days. At a panel at the Architecture Center last week, as reported in Capital New York, he--along with his predecessors--was the elephant in the room:
All of these critics said that the idea that the entire architectural press had become caught up with the star architects, and object architecture, was not accurate; but that to the extent it was true, it was a monster the Times created over the last decade or more.
...The Times' choice of Kimmelman after [Nicolai] Ouroussoff (whose name was never mentioned, despite obvious references to his tenure at the newspaper) was so extreme that it elicited from [ex-Times critic and current New Yorker critic Paul] Goldberger the idea of a pendulum, which in popular opinion about architecture has swung away from star architects, towards something closer to home. And how The New York Times, in designating its critic, has a unique power to push the pendulum either way.
The Times's inaugural critic was Ada Louise Huxtable, followed by Goldberger, then the more starchitect-oriented Herbert Muschamp and Ourossoff:
“I tried, when I followed her, to keep the sense of engagement with the city going as much as possible, and to write a fair amount about issues again of planning and zoning and so forth,” Goldberger said. “That faded from the Times for a while, and it’s a good sign that the current critic is eager to bring that back.”
Talking to people!

The article states:
“One thing I think is important,” [Cathleen] McGuigan [of Architectural Record] said, “is that, as critics, we don’t just give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down or three stars or five stars. A lot of it is about reporting. And one of the things that is startling about Michael Kimmelman’s pieces is that he talks to people. He talks to the users of the building. He quotes people!”
“Muschamp famously described the entire Atlantic Yards site as "an open railyard," a glaring error that betrayed his failure to visit the site. It remains uncorrected. (Here are my critiques of Muschamp and of Ouroussoff's initial review.)

Here's what Brooklynites missed and why Bruce Ratner was lucky:
Goldberger praised Huxtable for making major new urban development plans, new zoning initiatives and the like, relatable to people, who then could engage in dialogue about it; for a long time, he said, critics were not contributing to that discourse, to the public discourse about the built environment.

“And the problem was that planning was almost not being covered at all,” he continued. “Many of the initiative of the Lindsay years were covered in far more detail and with far more reportorial attention than most of what’s been done in the Bloomberg years, actually. And that’s unfortunate. So it’s good that there’s again beginning to be interest in getting that in.
Kimmelman speaks

As it turned out, Kimmelman made his own appearance this week, at Columbia, and was quoted by the Architect's Newspaper:
“A false dichotomy has been set up; there’s this idea that writing about urban affairs and architecture are separate,” he said. “They’re part of the same world.”
Regarding projects like Zaha Hadid's MAXXI project in Rome or the High Line in New York:
Kimmelman said such high-profile works of architecture and landscape design are but capstones to what was essentially a very long haul addressing infrastructural and government processes that have little to do with architecture. “It creates the illusion that architecture alone can make a change,” he said said of [Frank] Gehry‘s Bilbao. “There was lots of structural and social engineering that preceded the building.”
Um, what kind of infrastructure came before Atlantic Yards?

Should Kimmelman weigh in on AY towers?

The Observer's Matt Chaban praised Kimmelman for not comparing buildings to similar ones--"peg versus peg":
Kimmelman seems to care very little for these games and would rather focus on whether or not that peg fits into the hole into which it has been placed, something that really does not happen enough. The only problem is it can lead to articles that read quite a lot alike. At least that is the superficial reading.

Nevermind the fact that there are myriad projects waiting to be weighed in on—the new apartments at Atlantic Yards, or the ones at Brooklyn Bridge Park, or Frank Gehry’s new Signature Theater all come to mind. Far be it from us to give marching orders to Mr. Kimmelman, but the people are dying to know what he thinks, and these are all still projects that could be considered in the lens of cities, too.
While some critics, such as New York Magazine's Justin Davidson (pro) and the Real Deal's James Gardner (unenthusiastic if not quite con), have commented on the SHoP-designed plans for three modular towers, I'd suggest it's premature.

Why? Architecture critics have a history on commenting on plans that don't come to fruition. Maybe they should wait to see if this plan is, in fact, going forward.


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