[excerpt] First, some assertions about the evaluation of architecture:

  • Architecture can be great, good, mediocre, and bad in countless ways. Architecture can and should be judged using many differing criteria. Some criteria are more appropriate than others, depending on the case under consideration, e.g., the criteria for an office building must, of course, be different from those for a church.
  • More often unconsciously than consciously, we evaluate architecture every time we think, write, and talk about it, even in our choices of what to attend to. When evaluating, we are more trustworthy insofar as we are aware of our usually habitual and temperamental criteria, flexibly test diverse other criteria, and adhere rigidly to no one criterion. (Some criteria, however amorphous, are always operative.)
  • The provisional, situationally specific establishment of what makes for great, good, and bad architecture is an important cultural need, because it is a means of fostering improvement of architecture, and thus, to some extent, of the quality of life.
  • The attempt to avoid forming judgments about architecture in the name of relativism, anti-elitism, distaste for presumptuousness, epistemological skepticism, or simple indifference leads only to self-contradiction (for one does judge anyway), and to aimlessness and egocentrism. It is absurd to argue about preferences; it is absurd not to argue about judgments.

Mere assertions. It would take a book to support them. In any case, you may already know if you agree or disagree. Here, I can only test these assertions through a close look at a few examples of evaluations of architecture.

A vast divide exists between the facile, flippant evaluations—about anything and everything—that so often constitute the sport of our daily conversations, and the careful, principled steering clear of evaluations in formal (mainly academic) writing and speaking. “Objective” historians, scientists, and social scientists stick to “neutral” observation, analysis, and exposition. Yet these same people (along with everyone else) at, say, a cocktail party, let untempered evaluations fly: “Oh, that’s such garbage!” “That’s the greatest work of the decade!” “Have you every seen anything so ugly?” Criticism is more common than praise.