NYT: We should expect more from writing about architecture

As with any field, architecture has developed its own complex jargon. Professional architects necessarily use plenty of complex words and phrases that are not in the active vocabulary of the public at large, and the work of academics who study of architecture can be even more difficult for the uninitiated.

We could replace the word “architecture” in my first paragraph with many others. But architecture, urban design, and related fields require clearer writing than many other specialized academic fields. Every citizen may not go see an important art exhibit, but we all interact constantly with architectural design, landscape design, street design, and so forth.

There’s an excellent piece today in the NYT, with design and architecture writer Allison Arieff asking Why Don’t We Read About Architecture? Arieff, an excellent writer herself, focuses in the piece on Alexandra Lange’s new book Writing About Architecture.

From Arieff’s piece:

In “Writing About Architecture,” Lange recognizes the stakes inherent in the act of describing place. While she certainly is pushing writers, readers and her students to aim for clarity in criticism, Lange goes much further, arguing that architecture critics be invested intellectually and emotionally in the world that surrounds them. The iconic critics Lange celebrates enliven the spaces they write about — whether they love them or hate them. They notice things. They’re steeped in history, in context and provenance. They take their time. They make the reader want to experience the spaces described.

And more:

Architecture, writes Lange, “is the art you cannot avoid” and it carries a burden that the other arts don’t — it must reconcile aesthetics and ideas with user functionality. A painting or a novel need only please or provoke its audience; it doesn’t then also require setbacks, parking minimums and LEED certification. Fewer of us are affected — or even in regular contact with the other arts — while all of us are inextricably connected to the built environment.

Bold, opinionated, thoughtful words about the stuff that surrounds us might result in better buildings (and cities and suburbs, infrastructure and parks). And the importance of that can’t be stressed enough.

The piece is well worth a read. I’ll have to take a look at Lange’s book.