“We need criticism that connects us to a building’s references, emotions and texture, not only its news value.” — Alexandra Lange
Architects and architectural critics make a habit of writing frequent and concise reflections in order to clarify their thoughts and communicate their position on an argument. Blogging is a popular means for such an effort, as it facilitates the generation of quick, easily digestible pieces of writing for large audiences. The ability to incorporate images, linked citations, and reader comments creates a rich and versatile communication tool in a highly accessible format.
In this course, you are to write one blog post every week as a way to practice disciplinary writing in a low-stakes format. You are to publish your posts on the course website, which may be found at https://arch3150.wordpress.com. Each post must be at least 200 words in length, but not more than 400 words (unless specified on rare occasions). Each post must also have at least one feature image, and may include several additional images. Images must be between 300 and 700 pixels on each side—please find images that have at least this native resolution (rather than scaling small images up, which will produce digital artifacts). Visual literacy is one of the important goals of this class; therefore, I expect you to select your visual content as carefully as you select your words.
You will be invited to access the course website for the purposes of authoring, editing, and publishing your posts. Your post must be published prior to 12:00 pm on Friday of each week. This schedule will allow me to review your post over the weekend, as I will select a few posts each week to discuss in class on Tuesdays. For one out of three posts* you are to select one of your colleagues’ blog entries and write a thoughtful response as a “comment” (in lieu of writing your own post that week). This response must meet the basic requirements for word count, citations, and critical content (see Approach, below). However, it is not necessary to include images in your response. Because your response is expected to be critical in nature, your aim might be to undermine the author’s argument; however, you can also expand upon the author’s argument or add a new and related argument. In any case, be sure that your criticism is constructive and that you strike an appropriate, diplomatic tone.
*By the end of term, you will have 15 posts. 10 should be authored blogs and 5 should be responses
“Today architecture criticism needs that kind of bold reinvention.” — Thomas Fisher
This will be no conventional blog. In your weekly writing efforts, you are to employ analytical or argumentative thinking. In a description given by educator John Bean, “such writing is initiated by a problem or question and is typically characterized by a controlling thesis statement supported by a hierarchical structure of reasons and evidence.” (Bean, Engaging Ideas, p. 23.) Although you may take a less formal approach in this assignment than you would for a term paper, your writing must demonstrate active thinking and the evaluation of multiple and often opposing views. Some of your questions may be unresolved, but your position should still be clear, and your claims adequately justified. Please cite your claims appropriately and provide links to your sources.
Note: The drawback of the popular blog format is that it is not often used as a platform for critical thinking. However, unlike many websites, our blog will not be a vehicle for simple reporting (merely conveying facts), and certainly not for re-blogging (copying and pasting content). Like all assignments, your work in this exercise must adhere to the University policy for scholastic dishonesty. You must therefore do your own work and cite your references. Quoting is allowed, but must be designated as such and credited appropriately.
Your journal should relate to the general content being discussed in class during the week. You may use the readings, lecture topics, critical questions, and discussion as prompts for your writing. That said, this platform is intended to be your “writer’s sandbox,” and I encourage you to explore this content area freely. For example, in the week that we discuss concrete, you might choose to write about a new self-repairing concrete technology and its implications—or draw connections between the cultural dimensions of Herb Caen’s “Concrete Jungle” of 1963 and those of the contemporary city. You should use local examples for at least a third (3 out of 10) of your posts, based on your personal experience visiting local buildings, architecture offices, or material manufacturers. Occasionally, I will introduce special writing topics throughout the semester according to the needs of the class. For more ideas, see the list of writing prompts that follows.
This assignment aims to achieve the following cumulative learning objectives:
Basic Objectives (weeks 1-3)
- To model basic critical writing practices employed by architects when constructing design arguments
- To express the changes influenced by transformative technologies (technologies that have had a measurable impact on society), along with their benefits and drawbacks
Mediating Objectives (weeks 4-9)
- To evaluate the impact of technology from multiple perspectives, including conflicting views on existing or emerging technology
- To analyze the role that society has played in fostering the development of technology as well as the response to the adoption and use of technology
Mediating Objective (weeks 10-15)
- To develop a critical framework for speculation about the social and environmental ramifications of a new material technology
This assignment will be evaluated according to the following criteria:
- Clarity and purpose
- Organization, coherence, and development
- Flexibility and disciplinary appropriateness
- Originality and engagement
- Appropriate support
- Proper editing and presentation
- Meets basic requirements (word and image count, post count, timeliness)
For further explanation of these criteria, refer to the University of Minnesota Student Writing Guide (free download), pp.7-9: http://writing.umn.edu/sws/assets/pdf/2010swg.pdf
Your posts will be graded cumulatively at the end of the term. You can expect to receive feedback on this assignment at least twice during the semester, and each week I will select a few posts to discuss in class.
- Beyond Buildings: http://www.architectmagazine.com/culture/beyond-buildings-blog/
- City of Sound: http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/
- Cityscapes (Blair Kamin): http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/theskyline/
- Design Observer: http://places.designobserver.com
- LA Times (Christopher Hawthorne): http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/et-hawthorne-sg,0,3749832.storygallery
- Strange Harvest: http://strangeharvest.com
- This is a456: http://www.aggregat456.com
Use the following examples to generate ideas for your writing. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a launching point for your work.
- Select an example of an innovative application of material technology. Why is it innovative? What previous convention did it surpass or disrupt, and why? What social or behavioral effects might it influence?
- Find a critical review of a particular design (product or building) that employs a new material technology. How does the reviewer discuss the new technology? How does he or she weigh the benefits or drawbacks? What social impact does he or she anticipate? Are there any forms of objective measurement used to weigh success or failure?
- Select an example of a material technology that is common in today’s designed environment. Investigate the history of this technology. When was this technology first introduced? What previous convention did it surpass or disrupt, and why? What social or behavioral effects did it influence?
- Write about a material technology you believe has influenced your life in a significant way. Ideally, your choice should regard a technology you encounter during your daily experience. Investigate the history of this technology. When was it introduced? What paradigm did it change? What influence has this technology exerted on society as a whole?
- Compare/contrast material applications: select two applications of a material technology, one which represents a innovative model and one which represents a less innovative model. Illustrate each example in similar ways, using photographs and drawings. Why is one example more innovative than the other? What opportunities were taken advantage of or missed? How could the less successful example be improved? What impact does innovation have versus status quo technology on society?
- Select a material technology that you or your family has disposed of (e.g., sold, given away, recycled, or thrown away). In what way was the technology obsolete? What technology replaced it, if any? What social or behavioral changes resulted from this transition?
- Select a material technology that is outdated, but that might have some potential to be reimagined for contemporary use. How is this technology currently obsolete? What new capacities or qualities should the technology have to be relevant to contemporary milieu? Demonstrate how you would transform this technology for this purpose.
- Select a material technology of the imminent future—one that appears in the news or conversation as having transformative potential. Investigate the development of this technology. What new capacities will it have? What new functions will it enable? What challenges remain in the way of its adoption? What likelihood does it have of disrupting current technologies and why? What social and behavioral changes would you speculate this new technology to influence?
- Thomas Fisher, “The Death and Life of Great Architecture Criticism,” Design Observer (December 1, 2011): http://places.designobserver.com/feature/death-and-life-of-great-architecture-criticism/30448/
- Alexandra Lange, Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012)
- University of Minnesota Student Writing Guide http://writing.umn.edu/sws/assets/pdf/2010swg.pdf
Dowload the print version of this assignment here.