Can Architectural Journalism Shape the Future of the Profession?
Koolhaas’ journalism work won him fame in architecture before he completed a single building. The switch from storyteller to architect was more a change in the script than a professional shift. He pointed out that “[architecture] is a form of scriptwriting that implicitly describes human and spatial relationships.” Restating the role of architecture in defining daily life beyond buildings and cities’ construction, architecture is also a written and spoken tool capable of explaining daily worldwide events, giving voices to unspoken projects, and actively shaping the future of the architect’s role.
Architecture and journalism are invested in people’s daily lives. As Michael Sorkin pointed out, they are “service professions.” able to translate social, political, and economic language into a story. Therefore, both discourses cannot be democratic and vivid unless they are communicated widely and regularly, for example, through journals, magazines, and podcasts.
“I always use the example: if you’re a painter and have a hundred paintings in your house, and you want to go for tenure, it doesn’t matter. If those hundred paintings, however, were in a solo exhibition and was reviewed in the New York Times, it matters. That’s the whole problem with tenure – or at least creative practice, in tenure. So for architecture, what we’ve done with JAE is given designers an outlet to get peer-reviewed and that’s really important – Marc Neveu, the Executive Editor of the Journal of Architectural Education (JAE)”
Inherently, public interest in architecture has been heightened since blogs and media expanded (and, of course, since Bilbao happened), opening career alternatives and defining the discipline’s future. Architects as content creators, editors, journalists, publicists, and P.R. officials are becoming key to recognizing and making accessible buildings and their structures but also cultivating an arena of criticism on a local and global scale. Some contemporary precedents are Ada Louise Huxtable, the first-ever Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1970; the self-published magazine from the sixties, Archigram (an amalgamation of architecture and telegram); Colombian Revista PROA, current since 1946; and the Indian architectural journalist Apurva Bose Dutta. Her work has brought together renowned “missionaries of Indian architecture” who have given the profession its identity in the country this century.
Similarly, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Malta-based congress in 1986, addressed many architectural journals to appear in the Muslim world. Following this, at the beginning of the 1990s, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development established Abadi, one of the first important architectural magazines to emerge following the Iranian Revolution. This boosted discovery and highlighted talents and original ideas among Iranian architects inside and outside the country.
Prizes also set a new target, at least for architectural critics, to validate the quality of their contributions. For instance, the prestigious American journalism award, the Pulitzer Prize, established a criticism category in 1970. Since then, this criticism prize has been awarded to half a dozen newspaper architectural critics, including the aforementioned Ada Louise Huxtable (1970), Paul Goldberger (1984), and Robert Campbell (1996).
Architectural journalism can be investigative too. Alison Killing, a British architect and geospatial analyst, won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in the International Reporting category. Along with journalist Megha Rajagopalan and programmer Christo Buschek, they published a series of articles in 2020 revealing a network of prison camps allegedly built in China to incarcerate Muslims. Likewise, Forensic Architecture added political significance’ to architecture and the potential of the occupation as a critical and communicative tool for understanding the world. Eyal Weizman, renowned for his part in the multidisciplinary research group, uses architectural technologies and techniques to investigate instances of state violence and human rights violations across the globe.
Architecture is also a topic to discuss “in a more flexible way,” as Alan Berman, AJ Writing Prize judge, points out. In the top 10 podcast trends in 2022 – along with arts and culture- a variety of subjects are covered with honesty and humor, featuring different creative professionals in unscripted conversations. Podcasts, as community journalism, allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions around architecture, city, design, and real estate.
“Architectural writing should aid everyone’s understanding of buildings and assist architects to design better ones. This is not to say that it should be an instruction manual or ignore the importance of the myriad intellectual endeavours which explore the human predicament –about which architects should always be conscious. Rather it is to say that architectural commentary should aim for clarity and precision of expression by means of lucid terminology and simplicity of structure- Alan Berman on “What makes good architectural writing”. AJ Writing Prize judge”
Anyone with a passion for architecture or buildings has the potential to contribute to architecture journalism. Both lie in translating ideas that differ substantially from culture to culture, era to era, and audience to audience to shape public opinion and the direction of architecture at large. This mutualism reveals how strengthening communication skills and architectural knowledge make architectural journalism a feasible career option, with much to put into architecture’s qualitative and technical aspects that define our daily life.
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