December 03 2012

Review of “Writing About Architecture, Chapter 1: Skyscrapers as Superlatives”

With the recent popularity in critical writing and blogging on various topics of interest, more writers are finding the approach of virtual sharing to be a more effective way to reach a broad spectrum of audiences. More specifically, when writing or critiquing on the topic of architecture and cities – a prevalent topic, it is important to not only appeal to a broad audience, but to establish a unique and evocative voice that will differentiate in style and descriptive matter unattainable elsewhere. So, how does one master the language of buildings and cities?

As best said by Alexandra Lange in “Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities,” “There is no one right way to write architecture criticism.” This contemporary compilation of various essays and topics in architecture and planning, not only serves as a valuable reference for some of the most remarkable architectural work, but it also provides critiques on buildings, parks, and plans from some of the best architecture critics of all time.

In “Chapter 1: Skyscrapers as Superlatives,” Lange provides a fairly straightforward and introductory approach to critical writing by comparing three distinctive methodologies of two notable architecture critics and one architect. Louis Sullivan provides the viewpoint from within the building, while Lewis Mumford gives the outside viewpoint from the ground, and lastly, Paul Goldberger gives a fresh take from the architect’s biography standpoint using pictorial rather than realistic terms.

So, what are the key points architectural writers, critics, and bloggers alike can take away when tackling the topic of Skyscrapers?

  • Chose your superlative by familiarizing yourself with the history;
  • Establish and differentiate your voice by employing a distinctive stylistic device such as symbolism or metaphor, or through the use of aesthetic or emotional qualities;
  • Make the reader feel physically present in the space you are trying to describe – whether it be within or outside the space;
  • Narrow your focus of writing on one theme and one theme only. Choose whether you will attack the given topic either through its history, the architect’s motive, or the building’s influence on society and the built environment, and so on.

The given methods with which to approach architectural criticism can be applied to not only buildings, but to other similar topics. With modern technology and the ease of relaying information to a wide array of audiences, nowadays anyone can be a critic. Therefore, it is critical to establish a distinctive style and type of quality of writing. And that is exactly what Lange, in “Writing About Architecture,” does. This stylistic and compelling collection of essays and topics, with a contemporary twist, serves as not only a guidebook on how to establish oneself’s critical viewpoint, but also provides essays by notable critics and how they view buildings, cities, and parks.

In your opinion, what stylistic elements or factors make for a great architectural writer and critic?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Jasna Hadzic

Born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but having spent most of her adult life in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A.; Jasna Hadzic has been greatly influenced by both cultures, most specifically in terms of architecture, planning, and design. The transition of living in a small European pedestrian-oriented city to a large and vehicle-oriented American city greatly influenced her interest in the field of planning. She came to appreciate the vibrant, culturally diverse and faster-pace of life, while also looking toward her native city as a paradigm of sustainable living with traditional architecture, multi-modal transportation systems, and pedestrian-friendly spaces and streets. A recent Master’s graduate in Community and Regional Planning and G.I.S from Iowa State University, Jasna’s Thesis focused on the analysis of the built environment and demographic factors that influence physical activity, while examining street connectivity and infrastructure. In addition, Jasna holds a B.E.D. in Environmental Design, with a minor in Urban Studies, from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Her most recent work experience as a Planning Research Assistant at the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, as well as volunteer work with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has exposed her to new city projects, as well as community engagement. Her career goal is to not only work directly on sustainable urban design projects, but to also ensure equitable and sustainable planning practices.

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This entry was posted on Monday, December 3rd, 2012 at 8:29 pm and is filed under Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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