Things said and things unsaid, one evening, in Milan

Today it is possible to see the video on domusweb, but I would like to draw a kind of incomplete summary (incomplete for the narrowness of the notes I took and for my impartiality, being one of the participants) of the evening, and then draw some consideration to compare the event with the episode of London and some notes. I think it could be useful to those who were not there and haven’t got an hour to spend seeing the video, as well as in this English version, for those who do not speak Italian. If you don’t mind the guide and want to go directly to the comments, click here.
Let’s start.

[Bizarre place, the Design Library. It starts as (1) a lounge bar, goes on as (2) a library, melts in (3) a study hall and ends as (4) a dark room for conferences, but also works as (2) (3) (4) (3) (1).]

Joseph Grima:
We want to talk about the new “flattened” playing field of the architectural critic at the era of the blog. About how this affects the autonomy of the authors, how the critical turns in the profession through the proliferation of voices, especially in Italy, the home par excellence of the prestigious architectural magazines. Professor de Michelis?

Marco de Michelis: The critic is a figure dramatically relevant and in crisis today, that by now doesn’t know how to respond to the questions of our times, but with hagiography or digressing. By citing Benjamin in The author as producer, we could say that the critic examines the how of the objects to reach their why.
Today the images [as stated in London  citing ArchDaily and the question of “pornography”, Ed.] are everywhere. Consequently, it is no more the duty of the critic to find the news, because the network gives us them.
But the non-specialized press, when dealing with architecture, only public triumphs [he makes the instance of the unconditional adoration for Piano, Ed.]. This is why the world needs critics! It is narrative and autonomy.

J. G.: Rossella, in what the network can then be news in the function of criticism?

Rossella Ferorelli: [not having notes of what I said, I’m going from memory, Ed.] I think it’s right in the overturning of the mechanism mentioned by Professor de Michelis by Benjamin. If the critic can no longer be the seeker of novelty, and while it is true that most of the blogs of architecture are in the hands of the same architects who design, then the use of the network moves the intellectual tasks of architecture from criticism more specifically to theory. That is, from an ex post activitiy, starting after the object being produced, switching to an activity that is ex ante, referring to the project / product. In other words, the work of a blogger is especially valuable if it is the explanation of the processes that led him to conceive the project, answering first the question about why, and only after asking about how. Designing proposing everyone’s theoretical and critical paths to a continuous feedback relationship with those who follow the blog is what will truly innovate the cultural process of architecture in the coming years.

J. G.: A cloud [crowd? Ed.] sourcing way to the project?

R. F: Exactly. It is precisely to facilitate this feedback process that NIBA was born, or to exceed the limit of integrability that afflicts the “locked” blog platforms. The blog is still similar to the paper pages [less than subscribe to RSS feeds, Ed.] in that they are basically to be “searched” on the web. With NIBA we could better find one another, and of course amplify the comparison level.

J. G.: Salvatore, in London we have raised the issue of radical difference in the emoluments of those who write online than those who write for well known magazines. What has changed in this way?

Salvatore D’Agostino: [he rather shows his target for a narration of the real Italian “b-side” condition. Unfortunately, here I have a few notes, Ed.] The spirit of criticism online could be summed up, citing the book of Federico Zanfi Città Latenti [Latent Cities, Ed.], as with that of the presence of “latent critics”.

J. G.: Fabrizio, Abitare has chosen a blog for commercial use. Professor de Michelis said that it is impossible for the critic to make news. How does this problem affect a magazine like yours?

Fabrizio Gallanti: we have actually chosen only a few things from the concept of blogs. Surely we have not embraced the idea of blogs as a public expression of a single voice that  chooses to bypass the thousands of obstacles of traditional publishingto going directly to the public. We instead are interested in exploring the possibility of survival of forms of  criticism regarding a changing audience. We then asked ourselves which audience we wanted to address, and we chose those who are not satisfied with the average architecture writings in newspapers (increasingly losing credibility). We have also retained the ability to comment on every postwith absolutely minimal censorship.
Today, what is lacking are the single-focus blogs, with the author most expert in a subject up to be a “nerd” [I personally do not believe this is true, and the first thing that came to my mind at that moment was to spontaneously think to the hassle of that Emmanuele Pilia,  who’s always been dealing specifically with transarchitecture on his blog!!, Ed.].

J. G.: Luca Molinari, Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi in its latest newsletter talks about the economic unsustainability of the critic role today. What do you think?

Luca Molinari: it is necessary to redefine the politic instruments of criticism. Among the highest values of online critical there is not having deadlines. It is a very important value of responsibility, that makes a blog something different from a magazine, on which there are obligations, but also from the diary, on which we just write occasionally. On the contrary, it is a real public service.

J. G: It can be argued that for the marginalization of the criticism there’s also to blame the critics? We might even venture that it derives from the excess of theorizing of postmodernism and deconstructionism years?

L. M: Maybe, but it is also a matter of cultural space granted. The architecture has become a mass phenomenon, which includes interest. It is fashionable. So why in the major newspapers there is never a critic of reference? In Italy in recent years there has been great professional effort in the offices, to achieve international standards. But the road to the theory is totally lost!

S. D’A. Do not forget, however, that the story of Italian online criticism is not so young. Marco Brizzi was the first “hacker”, creating Arch’it. It is twenty years of history that nobody is considering, and this is mainly the purpose of Wilfing Architettura.

J. G.: Elisa, then what is the specifically of Italy, now that more and more Italians speak English and are open to international cultures?

Elisa Poli: [sensible and interesting intervention, unfortunately I also have a few notes here. I’ll probably look for the registration to add some more, Ed.] What’s changed is basically the absence of the overhead perspective and authorship of the magazine, in which another level of authorship, that of critic, in turn, faded. Even for images it is so, we’ve run out of the time in which the magazines were to dictate the rules of expresson of the projects and the photographs.

J. G.: Let’s close with Luca Diffuse: what you think is the difference between the relevance of a harsh critisism made online and one made on a magazine?

Luca Diffuse: the web is a more “intimate” place. Ironically, if I get a fierce criticism on the web, I feel touched deeper, closer to me [He adds some issues about how boring the ground of architecture is, unless it is open to the contemporary cultural scene as a whole: music, cinema , visual arts, etc.., Ed.]. It would be an act of great ethical significance if the magazines would accepts the request of aperiodicity of the blog, or for example do not always come out in a similar number of pages, because this means that the quality of the articles can not be homogeneous: the journals are not sincere!

M. d. M: Basically, now the critic has to reinvent his own business.


So much for the historical memory of the event.
Now, some observations.

In NIBA, some pretty important questions about the nature of this debate have already emerged. In essence, the experiment was judged interesting and necessary in the Italian context. Just a few years ago this would have been inconceivable. However, the q&a technique of moderating has clearly limited the debate and opened a bit too much to the personal and autobiographical issues here and there, so there have also been some attempts to avoid the theme of the critics (especially by Salvatore D ‘Agostino and Luca Diffuse).  However, I must personally point out that the character of the argument in London was not very different. Or rather, as we said with Elisa Poli later in the evening, the discussion in London was perhaps more than in Milan, the tendency to orient on “aficionados” anecdotes. This is of course a clear sign of the different maturity of the Anglo-Saxon blogosphere, that is almost a new cultural establishment, a literature which has already been widely shared, which makes a solid history in itself. In Italy, the delay of the debate, paradoxically, produces a more interesting situation, because “young” users of an already “mature” tool may perhaps produce more original content, or at least little less obvious questions, with some unfinished aspects on which it is still interesting to speculate.
For example, I’d notice that we have never explicitly talked about university. Certainly the audience was not neutral, but the fact that we have identified the world of criticism with the world of magazines is not something to pass on superficially. A university reform is long overdue, we all know. So in effect I would have expected some proposal.
A fortiori, this is an issue that can be placed inside the NIBA circuit and generally to anyone who feels a web reader of architecture: have the Italian bloggers of architecture got any suggestions to make, about the state university? Why not create a network of networks with the most authoritative voices in the Italian blogosphere from all sectors, to create a big debate about this topic?

«Un imprevisto
è la sola speranza»
(E. M.)

Tuesday, February 8th in Milan there will be the second episode of the Critical Futures debate, which took place last month in London. I’ve been talking about it here. Here are abstracts and participants:

Critical Futures #2

A debate on the future of architecture criticism. Tuesday, February 8, at the Design Library

Over the past decade, epochal transformations have profoundly reshaped the context within which architecture is conceived and debated. The Internet has made images and information free and instantly ubiquitous; magazines, once the undisputed platforms for the criticism of architecture and design, have been challenged to redefine their purpose and economic model in the light of dwindling readerships; blogs have given a global audience, potentially of millions, to anyone with an Internet connection. In all of this, architecture criticism in the traditional sense appears to have all but vanished – not only from the Internet but from magazines themselves. As Peter Kelly, editor of Blueprint, wrote in a recent editorial, “As traditional publishing media and institutions become less influential, one wonders where architects can go to find informed, intelligent criticism of their work”.

How will the practice of architecture in Italy, a country whose architectural history is inextricably linked to that of its great magazines, evolve in response to the proliferation of open, autonomous and free networks of online debate? Are architects today really in search of “informed, intelligent criticism” of their work, or is the architecture critic to be considered instead an anachronism? Is, as Kelly writes, a more realistic and rigorous approach to architectural criticism online urgently needed? In the second of a three-part series of debates on the future of architecture criticism organized by Domus in London, Milan and New York to celebrate the launch of its new website, this discussion will bring together writers, editors, bloggers and theorists active in the field today to address these and other questions.

The event will be followed by complimentary drinks and music organised by domus.

Streaming live at

Salvatore d’Agostino – author of the blog Wilfing Architettura
Rossella Ferorelli – blogger and founder of Network italiano blog d’architettura [yes, that’s it!]
Fabrizio Gallanti –
Marco de Michelis – criticist and historician
Elisa Poli – researcher
Luca Molinari, critic and curator
Luca Diffuse, architect and blogger
Moderated by Joseph Grima – Domus

Tuesday, february 8 2011, 7 p.m.
Design Library
Via Savona,11
Free entrance

I invite everyone to follow the live streaming. I hope this time they’ll make it possible to intervene via email or chat: it would definitely be the right choice.


Yesterday I had the pleasant experience of attending a live conference in London via streaming.
This was the Critical Futures debate, organized by Domus and broadcast on Domusweb, website/blog amazing for its freshness as well as for the quality of its content, even being the online version of the second Italian architecture magazine by definition, which this year happens to have nothing less than its 83th birthday.
Here you can read all the details of the event. These were the speakers:

Shumi Bose – writer [so said on Domusweb, with a masculine translation in the Italian page; but, instead of a “male writer”, there actually seemed to be an asian girl which is doing a thesis on the themes of mutation of architecture press in the era of blogs. I also find on the site of the AA School: Shumi Bose is Teaching Assistant in History & Theory Studies]
Charles Holland – author of Fantastic Journal
Peter Kelly – Director of Blueprint
Kieran Long – architecture critic of The Evening Standard
Geoff Manaugh – author of BLDGBLOG
Beatrice Galilee – author and curator, Domusweb, The Gopher Hole

Moderator: Joseph Grima, Domus.

The conversation was very pleasant and informal, with fine participation by the audience. It will not be possible to provide a detailed account of everything that was said, partly because the difficulties of listening to a streaming conference are many (for example, understanding the words of Geoff Manaugh, who was connected from Los Angeles, has been very difficult because, in addition to a particularly fast talking – so much that it even hit the London public – a series of problems with audio feedback and volume swings compromised its understandability – for me, at least). I will then brutally copy my notes about it, I hope to remember well.

Peter Kelly: he thinks to the debates exchanged in the past between editorial magazines, such as those between Mendini, who wrote on Domus, and Maldonado, who responded from Casabella. Today there is no sense for this to happen, if not online. What will this change?

Kieran Long: [somewhat nicely histrionic, Ed.] one can not speak of true journalistic-critical tradition in architecture [I think in England, Ed.], because there was no intention by the past generation to create one. The average age of the editors of the magazines is very high and it is no one’s interest to lower it.
In the blog there is generally more freedom of expression, which instead is bound in the official press because of problems associated with the ownership of newspapers and general issues of economic interest.

Joseph Grima: however, in the universe of blogs «stroncatura» [which is the Italian for “harsh criticism”. Grima says it in Italian, adding he is unable to find the suitable  English translation, despite speaking it almost as a first language, Ed.] does not exist.

Charles Holland: his work on the blog addresses topics that are only tangentially related to his profession as an architect, so there is not always directly link to the professional world.

Shumi Bose (?): but we can not compare all of the old blogosphere or online journalism and traditional publishing. Reflection on cultural background. The main effect of online activities is the “de-specialization”, or the loss of specialism both in input (writing) and output (reading). Cause and effect of this is that for the most part, those who write online are doinf it for free. Towards them, there is distrust, one wonders who are these people who have never published, if not online.

Joseph Grima: there is an ethics of online architecture writing?

Beatrice Galilee: maybe not, but we can observe that the continuous stream of glossy images on the architecture blogs is pornographic. Many blogs reach massive flows of traffic for this very reason. What is the effect of this phenomenon on the contemporary architectural culture? May this damage it?

Shumi Bose (?): but this is a highly political act. Think of how important social effects can many architecture blogs of Spanish language have, which are particularly centered on the use of images, on the cultural environment of Latin America.

Beatrice Galilee: this can really become an area of competition for magazines. Why should I buy one, if I can find the pictures that I’m looking for online?

Kieran Long: the problem is that there are not enough intellectuals and theoreticians of architecture!

Joseph Grima: in Italy the problem is the opposite! [hints sarcastically, audience laughs, Ed.]

Geoff Manaugh: he wonders how many of his posts that he considers thematically and geographically marginal are shared online by a large number of people.

Comment from the public: there is much more passion in the blogs, you can more easily stand up and take clear positions. For this reason it is likely that in the near future will be  blogs and online content to shift the debate, rather than the magazines, which are almost always on neutral positions, induced as slaves of the search for objectivity and professionalism.

[I cannot remember who]: the social importance typically attributed to architecture in the ’60s and ’70s has been lost with the emergence of the starsystem. It is that spirit that today inspires bloggers.

Contemporary architecture told through negations

Today, I’m starting this new series of posts that will be built with the intent to openly denounce the bad habit, alas widespread in Italy, for which the mass information made on some architectural themes of broad interest is generally entrusted to low competent characters, which, moreover, become spokesmen for absolute rearguard positions, almost always unworthy even from a purely historical point of view.

The problem is particularly virulent, however, because of a contemporary profound crisis of the publishing industry that fails, for some years now, to be a counterpart of sufficient authority and communicativeness to overcome the excessive media power that influence the public opinion through television.
Many have spoken, in recent times, about the cloud that seems to cover, for instance, two historic magazines as Casabella and Domus, in the last editions respectively headed by Francesco from Co and Flavio Albanese. If the former, in fact, has long been rarely able to produce issues consisting in something better than a series of projects of more or less known international studies, the second in general tends to stylish positions closer to applied art; but both suffer from the same inability to implement articles of historical depth, of really current view, of great importance: in a word, actually memorable.

And it is precisely this substantial inability to deeply understand the great changes taking place in society and therefore in urbanism and architecture to give into the hands of persons of dubious aptitude the role of educators of people on the same subjects. Thus, while it is true that we have to be filled with indignation, we cannot be surprised to find Sgarbi or Grillo involved with what, knowingly or not, is a systematic strategy of sabotage of the progress of architectural historical evolution. They have no opponents. [Ahi serva Italia (I can spontaneously occur), how much this situation reminds the democratic disease plaguing my country! The populist Right party is fully comparable with the still ongoing proposition of old models that easily get consensus among the unqualified, while as for the publishing, which party does it take? The one of Left, who loses its place in parliament as a consequence of having been too long far from the real? Or perhaps that of an opposition unqualified itself, scared, silent, vaguely conniving?]

Someone could say that television is not meant to be and actually has never been a source of high-level investigation in any area or topic, and that wishing this happening in architecture just when the crisis is deeper because coming from inside, is foolish if not unlawful. True. But it’s also true that no real information is given if the information, although superficial, isn’t fair at least. For this reason, from the little I can, I will propose these new post as an opposing voice. A reason to think that what was just said in teevee could not be true.

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