The New Establishment*

*this is the abridged version of an article on Blueprint.

‘I hate how no one ever talks about how bad British architecture really is. I hate the bastards who make these buildings. So here I am, taking the piss out of them.’ This is the strap line for Bad British Architecture (BBA), a website written under the pseudonym Ghost of Nairn that strives to point out all that is wrong with new buildings in the UK. Rowan Moore recently mentioned the site in an article for The Observer as an antidote to the pro-British cheerleading that emerges from the excessively cosy architecture establishment.

BBA, though, is not so far from the establishment itself: it is written by Kieran Long, ex-editor of the Architects Journal and Architectural Review, and current architecture critic for the London Evening Standard. Like Gavin Stamp’s Pilotti column for Private Eye, although considerably less well written and researched, BBA is an outlet for reactionary bile that doesn’t make its way into Long’s contribution to mainstream outlets.

Blogs don’t necessarily mean outlets for rage. It is, fundamentally, a mean of communication. 

Moore’s distinction between the voices of establishment and the opinions of the blogosphere is understandable and widespread. Bloggers are widely seen as lone, independent hobbyists. Andrew Marr recently caused a stir by characterizing bloggers as ’socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements… They are very angry people.’ (seriously?!) 

Long’s Bad British Architecture, though highly critical of modern buildings, focuses upon work by large commercial architects or faceless developers that have no critical standing. Largely based on upon renderings, photographs or passing observations, it hardly amounts to a useful form of criticism. One can see the beginnings of a critical approach to architecture online: recent articles by Murphy on Zaha Hadid’s aquatic centre for the London Olympics, or Hall on the legacy of Alvar Aalto give some indication of the direction it could take, but still they remain isolated examples, and take a deeply personal view rather than a critical position. As traditional publishing media and institutions become less influential, one wonders where architects can go to find informed, intelligent criticism of their work.

Personally, I think BBA is a great blog, giving architecture the so-much-needed ‘fun’ factor. Hands up if you DON’T want to rate buildings as ‘Normal Bad’, ‘Funny Bad’, or ‘GBH’ (short for ‘Grievous Bodily Harm’)! Why so serious?

It’s no longer possible to consider architectural blogging to be purely the realm of lone speculation. They are means of establishing networks of dialogue and debate, they are increasingly by architects, students and academics, and institutions will increasingly use them as a way to curate and disseminate ideas. As blogs become a more important part of the establishment, a more realistic and rigorous approach to architectural criticism online is urgently needed. 



April said...

This is great, darling!! It was very interesting to read! I don't know much about architecture, but I would love to hear you write more about this!!

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