“Design is not the icing on the cake but what makes architecture out of buildings and the places we want to live and eat and shop rather than avoid,” critic Alexandra Lange declares on the opening pages of Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities, published earlier this year by Princeton Architectural Press.
This book is both a how-to guide and a design literacy call to arms. Lange provides a set of critical tools for analyzing the built environment, drawing on the work of design luminaries like Frederick Law Olmsted and Ada Louise Huxtable to illustrate her points. And in doing so, she sparks renewed appreciation for the voices that have defined and shaped our urban experience. (I find it impossible to stroll the narrow sidewalks of Greenwich Village without “intricate street ballet” popping into my head. Thanks, Jane.)
Most importantly, Lange nails the case for making design criticism accessible, unshackling it from the ivory tower echo chamber and architecture blog ghetto: “What we need are more critics–citizen critics–equipped with the desire and vocabulary to remake the city.”
Indeed, writing about buildings and cities forces us to evaluate our surroundings. Employing a critical eye, we start to recognize what works and what doesn’t. We become alert consumers and engaged citizens. And then we can fight for the kind of city we want to live in.
But first, we need a good foundation. Read it and get ready to unleash your inner Michael Kimmelman.