Does anyone know what criticism is? | José Ramón Hernández Correa

"Esto no es una pipa". En efecto: Es un cuadro de René Magritte. Un cuadro que habla de una pipa. Metalenguaje, referencia, discurso, teoría... ¿Crítica?
“This is not a pipe.” Indeed: It is a painting by René Magritte. A painting that speaks of a pipe. Metalanguage, reference, discourse, theory … Criticism?
Lately, based on reading blogs and websites, I am reading more about architecture than in many years. I am almost returning to the reading level I had when I was a student.

Between that era of the school of architecture and the current one there is a turbid (and lucrative) stage of successful professional who bought expensive magazines to see the pornographic photos, and who did not feed on any new idea, but regurgitated the concepts he had acquired at school.

Now, due to the huge drop in professional activity, my attention turns to architecture as such, to many issues that I do not understand and to the eagerness to look for explanations and reasons.

I have many books within my reach, both in my private library and in public libraries, and I also have access, as I say, to blogs and very smart pages about architecture.

But I read and hear about “architecture criticism” and every time I understand less.

What is “critical”? What does that mean?

I’m serious: I do not know what criticism is. I have very good architecture books, but are they history? Are they opinion? Are they theory? What are they? If they tell me how such a movement influences such another, they are history. If they explain an architectural concept they are theory, if they talk about a project of so and so they are even biography. I repeat: What is critical?

The human activities whose supposed criticism we see most often and even have a prominent place in the media are cinema, literature and, now, gastronomy. But the supposed critics of cinema are limited to saying if a movie likes them or not, and we see that the same movie is labeled a masterpiece in such a newspaper and of a failed work in such magazine.

Critics of literature often tell us the biography of an author, or the metaliterary circumstances of such a book, but they rarely add anything useful to the book itself. And often, like the aforementioned film critics, they tell us only if they like it or not. (The first part is promising, but the second part falls, or is slow, or has no tension … And I ask: “Regarding what?”).

As for food criticism, the supposed critics have put on the empty automatic discourse and say four-dimensional tricks that nobody understands and that do not contain anything. And that they join in the deepest ridicule based on wanting to ascend to the sky of ineffable and deliquescent aromas.

Voucher. Criticism is supposed to be a social, pedagogical, investigative task. It is supposed to be an ethical function and a search for the truth. But I do not know what it is or where it lies.

I fully understand what history is: A book that deals with such an architect or such a movement, and relates it to others, and tells us about the cultural, social, economic circumstances of the context. That’s clear.

I also understand what theory is: A book that deals with space, emptiness, verticality, structure, centrality … Etcetera. Architectural, constructive, technological, spatial concepts, etc.

But criticism implies judgment. After telling me the formative circumstances of such a work, and the concepts and elements that it encompasses … I want to know if it is GOOD or BAD.

Now that is difficult.

Because to make criticism you have to have a criterion. To judge something you have to have a code, a yardstick, a standard with which to measure and compare that which is judged.

In other historical periods there are clearer criteria. In the modern movement too; Of course. The modern movement is quite dogmatic.

But once past the peak moment of modern architecture, once we have overcome the code, we enter the domain of open work, post-structuralism, and goodbye to the subject, goodbye to the codes and goodbye to castrating and rigid criteria.

From there, from the “canned artist crap” or the “non-functional expressive form”, we have lost the north.
I, the more I read, the less I understand and the less I know.

In this elusive critical world we resort, almost desperately, to the method of abduction. (I’ll talk about him a bit, although he’s better than me). Looking for deductive or inductive methods is no longer enough, because with both methods or I leave a code or I get to it, and now what I do not have is code.

¿Alguien sabe qué es la crítica?
Does anyone know what criticism is?

The abductive method is a white cane to grope in the dark and to give sticks to see if one hits.

The abductive method (I do not know how) should serve me to say with authority, or at least for sure that the building above YES and the building below NO. (Oh, and do not ask me why).

With rational, analytical, logical methods, I know that all the defects attributed to the building below to denigrate it can also be attributed to the one above.

So what? A criticism on a whim? A criticism of “well I like it”? Oh yeah? Then I can not argue with my friends Manueles anymore, because I like some things and others, and if that’s only why we all have the same reason: none.

José Ramón Hernández Correa
PhD Architect and author of Arquitectamos locos?
Toledo · august 2014


Dedicated to my two friends Manueles: Manuel Benítez and Manuel Pina, for a discussion (very borderline on my part) that we had the other day. I am so sorry. I get very rough.

José Ramón Hernández Correa

Nací en 1960. Arquitecto por la ETSAM, 1985. Doctor Arquitecto por la Universidad Politécnica, 1992. Soy, en el buen sentido de la palabra, bueno. Ahora estoy algo cansado, pero sigo atento y curioso.

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