What is good architecture? How is the quality and value of architecture assessed? Are certain concepts or aesthetics better than others, or is it all just a matter of taste and preference? Damn critics! experiments with architecture and criticism in search of insight into these questions and their answering.
The supposition is that good architecture requires good criticism. Which paths are to be pursued in order to revitalize critical practices within the architectural discipline? What role should architectural criticism play in the future? Under which conditions should criticism and the critics function? And could we establish a common architectural criticism for the Nordic countries? Through experiments placing criticism at the center of investigation, we wish to create an arena for the discussion of these questions. At this moment in time, where architectural criticism is widely considered as a depleted discipline, this project is at once a celebration of criticism and a curious inquiry into its future.
In 2006, the Swedish record label, NONS, released a peculiar album titled ‘Jävla kritiker!’. The label commissioned ten music critics to write critiques of ten unwritten songs by their own favorite musicians. These musicians were subsequently commissioned to produce the critiqued songs. The resulting record gave rise to a debate about the music critics’ role and whether the criticism had limited the musicians’ artistic freedom.
Like many other artistic disciplines, architecture is faced with a number of challenges regarding the shared conversation within the discipline. The critics’ authority is being called into question. Public discussion is strained by endless fora for particular agendas. Internally, the discipline is characterized by a lack of established criteria for the evaluation of architecture. The importance of context, user participation, material qualities, and energy consumption is much disputed. Whether architecture has become a billboard for the promotion of developers or whether nostalgia is taking over the image. The discipline appears to be subdivided into discursive echo chambers that rarely cross paths to reveal ideological differences.
A transformed media landscape has changed the conditions for constructing an architectural frame of reference. Popular websites such as Dezeen, ArchDaily, and Designboom present an endless stream of architecture projects devoid of critical reflection. Self-published, self-glorifying books released by architecture studios are available at professional book shops as well as in sophisticated clothing shops. There seems to be an infinite number of architecture awards from commercial actors. As the publicly available landscape of architecture continues to grow, it seems still more difficult to locate proper criticism.
In the shortcomings of the architectural criticism, a number of questions arise: How can we practice architecture without discussing its quality and value? How do we determine what concepts to refine and what buildings we would not repeat? What is the relationship between the built and the written in architecture as a cultural institution? Who defines the discipline of architecture and its presentation in history?
This is the territory Damn critics! is stepping into and what the experiment aims to qualify.
Experiments 1-6 have resulted in six works emerging in the space between criticism and form. The representations of the works in texts, drawings, and models have come together in a traveling exhibition. The exhibition tours between Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The first stops will be in the capital cities of the three countries.
Critics, designers, and other actors within the architectural public gather for public events throughout the exhibition period to discuss the exhibition and the questions it raises. Do the critics consider the architectural design to be doing their written works an injustice? Did the architects feel constrained by the written critiques? Or have new, productive means for developing architecture emerged from this unusual collaboration? These are all questions to be discussed between exhibition contributors and visitors.
The traveling aspect of the exhibition, along with the contributors being paired across Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, have provided further dimensions to the experiment. Do we find differences in architectural criticism across the three countries? What could we learn from one another? Do we even understand each other? By initiating dialogue across the three countries, Damn critics! aims at paving the way for a shared Nordic critical tradition.
Architect and fellow at Centre for Women’s and Gender Research at the University of Bergen. Here, he is researching security, resilience, infrastructure and urban futures. Rubing was educated from Bergen School of Architecture (BAS) in 2021 and is now teaching and supervising diplomas at the same institution. Rubing is running Teori og Praksis, a platform for lifting the debate around the built environment in relation to economy, politics and lived life. Rubing is researching the intersection between security and the right to democratic exchange in the city and how physical security affects cities and urban systems. Rubing is co-editor of the award-winning book ”The City Between Freedom and Security” which discusses the themes mentioned above, and is a freelance architecture critic at Arkitektur N. Together with Andrea Ougaard and Morten Birk Jørgensen Anders has developed Damn critics!
Element is run by architects Cathrine Vigander and Vidar Knutsen from Oslo and is an established actor on the Norwegian architecture scene. Through their curiosity-driven approach to architecture the studio has produced works such as the widely published Jewellery Box – The Teachers Union Conference Centre and the housing project D36 – Green House. For Damn critics! Element has contributed to Experiment 2 with their work Sections and Fractions.
Gaute Brochmann is editor-in-chief of Norway’s leading architecture journal, Arkitektur N. He is a former editor of the journal Billedkunst and has been working as a practicing architect at Aspelin Ramm Eiendom. In the past few years, Brochmann has regularly contributed with writings on architectural matters for the daily newspaper Morgenbladet while working as an architect for MAD arkitekter. In addition to his architectural diploma from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Brochmann has a degree in film studies. He has been architectural critic at Minerva and film editor at Natt & Dag. Between 2012 and 2014, he was editor-in-chief at Arkitektnytt. Gaute Brochmann has contributed to Experiment 4 with the critique Stripped Down, Dressed Up.
Jonathan Houser is an independent architect working in Copenhagen and a teacher at The Royal Academy, Institute of Architecture and Culture. With his Moth House he won the competition for a pavilion in the Baroque garden of Gl. Holtegaard. Since then he has produced a number of award winning competition entries and exhibition projects. For Damn critics! Jonathan Houser has contributed to Experiment 1 with his work Three Attempts at Giving Form to a House Made for Walking.
Kaleidoscope is run by architects Tone Megrunn Berge, Silje Klepsvik og Miia-Liina Tommila. The founders won the Europan 12 competition for the transformation of a hospital area close to Asker and since then, Kaleidoscope has established offices in Bergen and Helsinki. For Damn critics! Kaleidoscope has contributed with their design SAK NR 20200814 / 1200 Investigation of Cathedral for a New Era which is part of Experiment 3.
Krupinski / Krupinska
Krupinski / Krupinska Arkitekter was founded in Stockholm in 2014 by Konrad Krupinski and Katarina Krupinska. The studio has made themselves known through small works such as Summerhouse T and the winning project for a temporary pavilion in The King’s Garden in Copenhagen. Krupinski / Krupinska has developed the work, The Plot, for damn critics! As part of Experiment 5.
Leth & Gori
The studio is based in Vesterbro, Copenhagen, and run by architects Uffe Leth and Karsten Gori.LETH & GORI has produced a great number of widely published and award winning architectural works, including Brick House in Nyborg, the Elephant House in Copenhagen and the Museum of Copenhagen which was recently finished. For Damn critics! LETH & GORI has designed the work The Dual High School which is part of Experiment 6.
Mari Hvattum is professor of architectural history and theory at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design. She has her architectural education from NTNU and studied architectural history at University of Cambridge, where she obtained her PhD. Hvattum has taught at universities in Britain, Norway, and the Czech Republic and publishes widely on 19th and 20th century architectural culture. Her books include Gottfried Semper and the Problem of Historicism (Cambridge University Press 2004), Heinrich Ernst Schirmer. Kosmopolittenes arkitekt (Pax 2014), Hva er arkitektur (Universitetsforlaget 2015), and edited collections such as The Printed and the Built (w/ A. Hultzsch, Bloomsbury 2018). Mari is the author of the critique A House Made for Walking which is part of Experiment 1.
Architectural historian (mag. art, ph.d.) specialised in architectural theory and history, architectural representations and poetics, particularly in the 20th and 21st century. He is currently employed as associate professor at The Royal Academy in Copenhagen where he is working on a monographic study of the Danish architect Kay Fisker. Martin Søberg has published a number of articles in books and journals concerning architecture and art. He is the editor of the books The Artful Plan: Architectural Drawing Reconfigured, What Images Do, Terræn: Veje ind i samtidskunsten and Refractions: Artistic Research in Architecture as well as thematic issues of the architecture and research journals Nordic Journal of Architecture, Artifact Journal and Periskop: Forum for kunsthistorisk debat. Martin Søberg has contributed to Damn critics! with the critique Parlour, which is part of Experiment 2.
Morten Birk Jørgensen
Morten Birk Jørgensen is an architect, ph.d. and assistant professor at Institute of Architecture and Culture at The Royal Academy in Copenhagen. His primary field of research is the assessment of architectural quality, and he has been engaged with valuation, critique, examination, certification and awarding. He is editor of the book Hands On – The Value of Building Culture (with Victor Julebæk and Christoffer Harlang), author of the article At Hylde Arkitekturen – Præmiering som kritisk praksis (with Martin Søberg) and he has been responsible for relaunching the Danish Association of Architects’ architecture award, Årets Arne. Together with Anders Rubing and Andrea Ougaard Morten has developed Damn critics!
Architect working at Wingårdhs since 2014, where he specializes in architectural history, design strategies and written presentations. He has also been teaching architectural history at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology, in Stockholm. Wærn was editor of the journal Arkitektur between 1996 and 2014 and curated the exhibition ‘Architektur im 20. Jahrhundert: Schweden’ at Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt am Main in 1998. He qualified as an architect from Chalmers University of Technology and has a PhD from that same place. In 2017 he was awarded by the International Association of Architecture Critics, CICA, for the best published essay 2015-2017. Rasmus Wærn has contributed to Experiment 6 with the critique A School to Grow Up In.
Sara Ettrup is a practising architect with JJW architects in Copenhagen, a teacher at the Institute of Architecture, Urbanism and Landscape at The Royal Academy in Copenhagen and an active voice in the Danish architectural debate. She used to edit the blog section of the Danish Architectural Press and is a regular contributor of architectural reviews and reflections to the journal Arkitekten. The Danish Association of Architects uses her as a specialist judge in architectural competitions. As a practising architect, Sara is primarily involved in the early design stages, where she devotes her time to analyses and ideas generation. She insists on taking a broad approach to the projects by including different views and angles and by collaborating closely with other disciplines in a joint attempt to find the right solution. Sara Ettrup is the author of the critique On the Fringes, which is part of Experiment 5.
Tham & Videgård
Stockholm based Tham & Videgård Architects is run by Bolle Tham and Martin Videgård and has attracted international attention with works such as the new KTH School of Architecture Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the Kalmar Museum of Art. Furthermore, the studio regularly participates in lectures and exhibitions at leading institutions around the world. Tham & Videgård has contributed to Damn critics! with the design Tectonic Objects as part of Experiment 4.
Architect and architectural critic based in Stockholm. Besides working as an architect at Arkitektstudio Witte, Frid is a regular contributor to journals and newspapers with her writings on architecture and urbanism. Ylva Frid has been involved in a number of international exhibitions, including as co-curator of ‘Nordic ID’. This was an exhibition that opened as part of the Moscow Architecture Biennale in 2012 before being shown at various galleries around the Nordic region. Frid has also served as editor of Tidskriften Arkitektur and sat on the editorial board for the St. Petersburg-based magazine Project Baltica. Ylva Frid has contributed to Experiment 3 with the critique Cathedral for a New Era.
Developed with support from:
c/o Morten Birk Jørgensen
Blågårdsgade 29B 1 th
2200 København N
c/o Anders Rubing