The seek for the subsequent ‘Los Angeles Instances’ structure critic
The surprise announcement that Christopher Hawthorne was leaving his post with the Los Angeles Times to become the city’s first chief design officer sparked much debate about the increasingly important role of design in government.
However, the conversation among architecture writers quickly turned to another pressing topic: Who should take on the role of architecture critic in the newspaper next?
As the shrinking local news industry results in publications having fewer resources on topics like architecture, the number of full-time positions for local architecture critics has declined in recent years – at a time when cities are booming.
Especially in Los Angeles, where there is a shortage of news agencies alongside accelerated real estate development, this role may be more relevant than ever.
During his tenure, Hawthorne broadened the focus of the traditional architecture beat to write on topics like transportation planning and housing policy, a trend reminiscent of architectural criticism in general, said Frances Anderton, host of KCRW’s DnA: Design and Architecture. “In the past few decades, architectural criticism has moved from emphasizing formal expression – the wow factor – to rejecting formal expression and engaging with the urban realm, grassroots engagement and identity,” she said.
Many Hawthorne colleagues hope that LA’s new critic will continue down this path – and take a more holistic view of the city, like Hawthorne’s New York Times counterpart Michael Kimmelman, who added climate change and food justice to his tact.
“It’s not so much about giving the debate a new voice, it’s about bringing in someone who can continue to explain how design fits – and why it is so important in the long term to insist on the best possible buildings and spaces” said John King, architecture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.
At a time when the future of a city could be determined by the hiring of a single corporate office, telling the truth to architectural power becomes critical.
The architecture critic’s job in LA’s filing paper could become even more important when Hawthorne rises to City Hall to join these leaders, as Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin noted, “It is equally important that this critic have the strength to hold on the powers that be – architects, developers and officials, including Christopher in his new government role – to account. “
Speaking the truth about architectural power at the local level becomes critical at a time when a city’s future could be determined by hiring a single corporate office or, perhaps more relevant in LA, running for the Olympics.
At the same time, the Los Angeles Times is going through its own big changes – the newsroom has been unionized, but there have also been significant layoffs, and the paper has been bought by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong – which has worried many about the position is not occupied at all.
“I sincerely hope the LA Times doesn’t use Chris’s departure as an excuse for running out of an architecture critic,” lamented San Francisco-based critic Allison Arieff. “Now, more than ever, we need smart thinkers who can help us all understand the rapid changes in today’s cities.”
Mark Lamster, architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News, echoed Arieff’s concern. “I think it is vitally important that the job does not stay free and that anyone who takes it takes care of the whole city and the architecture too,” he said.
When architecture critic Inga Saffron of the Philadelphia Inquirer won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Architect had 13 full-time architecture critics at newspapers. Almost four years later, that number has shrunk to 11: David Brussat left the Providence Journal and was not replaced, and Robert Campbell has not made history for the Boston Globe since 2017. (Julie Iovine explained to Curbed that it was her. He has been a columnist and not a full-time critic for the Wall Street Journal since 2007. Justin Davidson is not a newspaper, but a locally focused architecture critic in New York Magazine.)
It’s also important to note that with the exception of Hawthorne’s impending departure, no sales were made in these other critical roles. The voices that the biggest megaphones have received about US cities change have largely stayed the same for over a decade.
Very few of the American writers who work full-time as architecture critics, in newspapers or for online outlets are women or people of color.
Do we even know if the LA Times will replace him? In times of journalistic upheaval and financial pressure, architectural criticism rarely has a high priority for management. I agree that leaving Chris’ slot open would be a disaster for LA. https://t.co/PlSCb46XYP
– Paul Goldberger (@paulgoldberger), March 13, 2018
Even in the current imprint of the Los Angeles Times, the art critics are predominantly white men.
Many architecture critics are calling for Hawthorne’s replacement to buck the trend.
“It should be a woman,” said Curbeds architecture critic Alexandra Lange. “This may be the last open position for a critic of newspaper architecture in America. 2.5 of them are currently women. We need more input from women on urban design and planning, and this is a prime place to do that, not to mention a lot of qualified candidates. “
The majority of the potential candidates for the job suggested online and in interviews for this story were women: Anderton, Arieff, writer and author Karrie Jacobs, Lange, Los Angeles Times art columnist, Carolina A. Miranda, architecture author Kate Wagner, critic and author Sarah Williams Goldhagen, journalist and critic Mimi Zeiger and author of this story.
Other authors included critic Greg Goldin, Lamster, editor and critic Sam Lubell, journalist and author Geoff Manaugh, journalist and podcaster Colin Marshall, and even a call to bring back Hawthorne’s predecessor Nicolai Ouroussoff.
The Los Angeles Times sale will close on April 1, and hiring decisions are unlikely to be made by then, according to a source in the newspaper who asked not to be named. In addition, the paper has to take on other roles, such as the national publisher, who, at least for the time being, will likely have priority over architecture critics.
Getting someone out of the paper right away seems like a particularly smart move for both the Beat and the city, which is why many critics named Miranda a clear front runner. Hawthorne himself specifically quoted Miranda’s clear voice when asked who should succeed him.
Miranda is the obvious choice, agreed Jacobs, who was herself a candidate for the Los Angeles Times architecture critic job when Ouroussoff was hired in 1996. “Before assuming her current position at the LA Times writing about art, she wrote convincingly on architecture for a variety of publications,” said Jacobs of Miranda. “She has a strong, unique point of view. When she writes a piece about the architecture of porn cinemas, I am excited to read about the architecture of porn cinemas. And I can’t think of a better fit for Los Angeles right now than a Latina architecture critic. “