Museums have recently become a hallmark topic in the teaching of architecture, as many architecture schools tend to include several museum projects in their design studio curricula, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone since we live in an age of the museum as a paradigmatic architectural and cultural enterprise.
With the increasing popularity of critical writing, social media and blogging, writing criticism about museums tends to be one of the most recurrent topics in the scheme of environmental design publications, both digital and hardcopy.
In her book “Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities,” Alexandra Lange exposes this phenomenon of museums as landmarks of singularity in the architecture production of our times “...growing ever weirder, one-upping each other with spiky or spongy shapes, outrageous transparency or luxurious amenities” and obviously as signature pieces for “starchitects.”
It is imperative then, that critics confront the analysis of museums responding to the needs of people interested in contemporary architecture. And that is what is discussed in Chapter 2: “What should a museum be?” in which two distinct approaches of how a museum should be considered for criticism are presented: either the Museum as an Integration of Art in Space, or merely as a Space for housing Art.
In this evolving vision from the quoted authors Ada Louise Huxtable and Herbert Muschamp, in chapter 2, the interpretation of the Raison d'être towards the design of museums is suggested to be approached in a personal way, meaning using the life experience of the critic and extracting how his own personal vision influences and helps to conclude the idea of the Museum’s Architecture as Art in itself. This personal view must converge, according to Muschamp, also with the uniqueness of the museum’s architect, because, we must remember that as signature pieces, museums are the best projections of the characteristics, qualities, and even defects of the architect and are closely related to its experiences.
As potential architectural critics, it is important to realize (at least in Lange’s suggestions) that subjectivity is very important when a building is reviewed, and that this review exceeds the limits of the professional practice of architecture and needs to involve every kind of artistic expression. And it is here that we must ask ourselves if writing about architecture can truly exceed the limits of architecture itself, and become a process of free expression in which everything can be related and everything can be subjective. Or must we take into account that however laudable this idea is, it can transform critical writing of architecture into an open subject in which people can expand their minds, yes, by escaping from the limits of reality.
Then we end up with Marilyn Monroe’s skirt being compared with the structure of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and forgetting that we are talking about Buildings! Maybe architecture critics need to realize that there is plenty of beauty hidden in understanding the spatial relations inside an architectural masterpiece? That there’s no need for forced comparisons?