For those who do not know, Nicolai Ouroussoff is the New York Times’ fourth architecture critic, after Ada Louise Huxtable, Paul Goldberger, and Herbert Muschamp. Muschamp died several years ago, Goldberger writes for the New Yorker, and Huxtable writes periodically for the Wall Street Journal. So it could perhaps be said that Ouroussoff is the world’s most important architecture critic.
But does he use his influence well?
I’d say yes. His understanding of buildings is strong, his presentation is thoughtful, and his writing is accessible but still intelligent. Some, however, disagree. Last year Alexandra Lange wrote an angry piece about him for Design Observer, accusing him of defending starchitects, not caring enough, and not writing particularly well. She even went so far as to insinuate that had he been in her architectural criticism class at NYU, he would not be getting good grades.
Well, I disagree, and I told her so in a comment on the article:
Ouroussoff is an easy target because he defends starchitects, focuses more on the need for a more aggressive architecture, and writes in a rather subtle, not particularly dynamic fashion.
But look a little deeper and you’ll note that he has an incredible understanding of architecture and a sophisticated philosophy that seems very much in touch with our times. He doesn’t always focus on context or details, but rightly so — his job is to provide accessible yet intelligent analysis of buildings overall, and in doing that well he wisely chooses to focus on the merits of the ideas that drive buildings, and how those ideas are executed in real life. He has recognized that context should not control architecture, and that the projects most worth writing about at this point are often designed by so-called ‘starchitects.’ He himself wrote an eloquent defense of such architects: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/weekinreview/16ouroussoff.html.
As for the claim that he doesn’t care enough, frankly, that’s absurd. Ouroussoff may not rant for weeks on end in high-blown language the way Muschamp did, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care. He simply writes in a much more controlled way, and that should not be mistaken for not caring.
The article I referenced in that comment, Let the ‘Starchitects’ Work All the Angles, is a good one and definitely worth a read. Here are some other Ouroussoff articles that I strongly recommend:
Columbia’s Science Building as a Bridge, Making the Face of Modernism Familiar, Cool or Classic: Arts District Counterpoints, Off With Its Top! City Cuts Tower to Size, and New York City, Tear Down These Walls, among others.