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Architecture has a long-lasting effect that “lives on” to the future, it can therefore often be opinionated by the public eye in a positive or negative limelight. People from different professions are able to judge and criticise the building and the surrounding environment to make them places that people would want to “live and eat and shop rather than avoid”. The three texts in which I am going to compare and analyse on the V&A in Dundee will be written by Duncan Macmillan for The Scotsman, Rowan Moore for The Observer, and Hana Loftus for Architecture Today.
The three texts above are from different kinds of mediums and therefore appeal to different audiences. The Scotsman, a compact newspaper produced in Scotland, appeals more towards the Scottish public, however, it is known for its balanced views for foreign and domestic news. The Observer, on the other hand, usually published on Sundays as part of The Guardian, has the tendency to be centre-left in their political alignment. The Observer usually appeals more towards the Liberal Democrats, those who are middle class and in the areas in which have not been associated with high levels of union movements in the past, it is a cosmopolitan paper. Both the Scotsman and The Observer have digitalised and physical copies making it widely available to the public across the world. On the other hand, Architecture Today is controlled through subscriptions and therefore has a more focused audience, the majority being architects and students. There are some articles accessible to the public though. The readers are therefore narrowed down into architectural professions or people who have interests in architecture rather than the generalised public.
Though the paper itself could be influential upon writing reviews, the author is another factor that can affect the tone and the structure of the architectural criticism itself. Duncan MacMillan is an art critic for The Scotsman along with being an Art Historian and writer. Rowan Moore, a Cambridge graduate, is an architecture critic and author for The Observer and was named Critic of the Year at the UK press awards 2014. Hana Loftus, the Director for HAT Projects, writes publications for Building Design magazine, Architecture Today and Icon. All three authors have very different interests and viewpoints regarding the building of Kengo Kuma’s newly built V&A piece in Dundee.
Their interests and viewpoints are vividly shown in each piece. With regards to MacMillan’s article within The Scotsman, as an art critic, he focuses more upon the interior rather than the exterior of the structure. The exhibitions and displays are written in great detail whereas he skims through the details of the structure designed by the architect, Kengo Kuma. Due to the nature of his profession as an art critic, he’s naturally analysing the displays and objects inside the V&A rather than describing and evaluating the V&A as a structural and architectural building. On the contrary, Rowan Moore analyses the building in regards to its surroundings in Tay and how architecture is about the usage and the connections between the public and the structure itself. Moore believes that the building has an “unclear purpose”  and that the space is not aligned to the “uses advertised”. As a Southerner, the tone in which Moore is using is almost as if he is mocking the city of Dundee and Scotland as a whole, “tough Northern location”. The tone in which he uses will surely receive backlash as The Observer is widely read by people across the country, not just those in the South, primarily London. The conclusion of this view, “perhaps by playing a Dundonian game on your phone”, reflects quite harshly upon the means of the residents of Dundee, making it sound like an overall snide article.
Ultimately, Hana Loftus has more of a view towards the structure of the building itself in regards to the surroundings, community and the future. She delves into the public mind unlike Rowan Moore and has carefully researched into the historical background of Dundee. The tone in which she gets her viewpoint across is more informal yet sophisticated in the way that she writes. As her audience are architects, she expands on the materiality and the concept of the building. As a skillful author and writer, by using sibilance in the form of “skewed shells skilfully”, Loftus is able to engage the readers’ attention in the form of painting a picture in their heads with the help of the photographs.
In Loftus’s article, simply named “V&A Dundee” it allows readers to simply understand the concept and what the article is going to be about. The heading, however, lends to the reader to understand the overall concept – that Kengo Kuma has ticked all the boxes for the construction, however, there is a “hollowness at the heart of this project”. The photographs and the plans of the V&A within the article compliment and aid the text. The main image is a wide-shot of the V&A, with the sky behind it and the river Tay. The photographs place the building within the surroundings perfectly as the text goes on to talk about the community. As the general audiences are architects and the people with similar interests, unlike the other two texts, Loftus includes elevations and mentions of the project team in the end. By including plans and elevations within the text, it allows Architects and those alike to examine the building further and to understand Loftus’s points of argument. As Loftus is more sophisticated and has more of a narrative in the way of writing, her structure and tone allow readers to know the historical, social and architectural context.
Contrarily, Rowan Moore’s article highlights his opinion on the V&A, “a flawed treasure”. Upon initial impression, readers of The Observer know that Moore has a negative opinion of the building itself. The first couple of paragraphs shine no light upon the building and the structure but on the overall history of the V&A and the one main room, the Oak Room. The tone of Rowan Moore’s article is snide towards Scottish people and the narrative in which he uses in some ways is informal “Let’s start with the view”, “That could be OK” and “There must, surely…”. These phrases are conversational phrases, in which the audience can imagine the tone in which the author is writing in. It allows for a more fluid writing style and engages the audience into knowing what the author’s viewpoint is – whether it be negative or positive. In this case, Rowan Moore’s opinion on the V&A is clearly defined as he does not like the overall interior design of the building and there is nothing to “connect and unify the like and the unalike”. In some ways, a conversational style is easier to understand and due to the nature of the source in which it is being published in The Observer, where the general public can read the building review. It makes it easier to understand and comprehend for the audience.
Likewise, The Scotsman’s review by Duncan Macmillan reviews the V&A building itself in a negative light. It’s almost as if he dislikes it so much that he doesn’t want to mention it in any way – which is what is happening. Macmillan’s review does not give a thorough architectural insight into the materials, the way that they were formed and put together such as Loftus’s review. The way that he writes this criticism on the architectural structure is as if through observation, however merely just on the appearance. Due to the nature of his profession as an art critic rather than an architectural critic, he shines light onto the exhibitions and the displays inside of the V&A with little mention of the architectural structure as a whole. The tone in which he writes, however, suggests that there are some negative viewpoints towards the structure – “a great pile of concrete beams” and “be all angles and corners with sharp edges”. The word “pile” often implies disorganisation and this case, Macmillan makes his point across highlighting that the building has no specific structure. Unlike the other two authors, Macmillan does not mention the surroundings of the V&A.
In conclusion, due to the different professions in which each of these three authors takes, the language, tone and the nature of the publisher give distinct perspectives on the overall architectural building. The way in which the three authors write in regards to the space, the exterior, and the interior are different. Architectural critics and publishers write to inform people in architectural professions in the ways of making, the ideas and concepts behind the buildings and the way it affects the public. Whereas, in the case of an art critic, he focuses more on evaluating the displays and the historical importance of each object.
- “About”. 2018. Hat Projects. [Accessed October 18]. https://www.hatprojects.com/about/.
- Hana Loftus. 2018. “V&A Dundee | Architecture Today”. Architecture Today. [Accessed October 18]. http://www.architecturetoday.co.uk/va-dundee/.
- Alexandra Lange. 2012. “How To Be An Architecture Critic”. Places Journal. [Accessed October 18] https://placesjournal.org/article/how-to-be-an-architecture-critic/.
- Duncan Macmillan. 2018. “Review: The V&A Dundee”. The Scotsman. [Accessed October 18] https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/art/review-the-v-a-dundee-1-4798618.
- Rowan Moore. 2018. “V&A Dundee Review – A Flawed Treasure House On The Tay”. The Guardian. [Accessed October 18] https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/sep/15/victoria-and-albert-museum-dundee-v-and-a-flawed-treasure-house-on-the-tay.
- “Rowan Moore”. 2018. Profiles, The Guardian. [Accessed October 18]. https://www.theguardian.com/profile/rowan-moore.
- V&A Dundee digital image. 2018. V&A Dundee. [Accessed October 20] https://www.vandadundee.org/news-and-blog/blog/opening-date
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