THE RESPONSE OF THE CRITIC AND PHOTOGRAPHER IS ALWAYS A SURPRISE
As AJ editor, you find yourself cast as an unlikely Cupid, brokering shotgun marriages between the buildings you choose to review and the people you choose to review them. In the days when the AJ relied on photographs commissioned by the architect, those reeling from the blow of an unwelcome critique could console themselves with the knowledge that the building had at least been presented in all its airbrushed perfection.
The decision to commission our own pictures has made each building study the result of a transient triumvirate of building, photographer and critic.
The result is always a surprise.
From time to time, those involved in the murky business of architectural publishing feel compelled to justify their existence by arguing that criticism has an inherent worth. The AJ's online columnist, Peter Davey, draws a distinction between 'grand criticism' as exercised by the likes of Ruskin and Corb, which prescribes what ought to be done, from the more mundane descriptive criticism, which is content to review what has been done, arguing that the latter should attempt to conjure up a building in readers' minds using no more than two-dimensional photographs and drawings and the one dimension of linear prose.
Michael Collins' photographs of the Manchester Transport Interchange (see pages 25-35) show a striking building, but are shot with a realism which makes the absence of people look less like architectural conceit than evidence of underuse. The impression is compounded by Austin Williams' critique, which is concerned not so much with the architecture itself as with the wisdom of attempting to unite a collection of basic infrastructure requirements into a work of Architecture with a capital A.
Together they have produced what, by Davey's criteria, would be a third strand of criticism; one which asks not so much whether the building has been done satisfactorily, as whether it should have been done at all.