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Critics and historians, prove you have sensual sensibility

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The average English critic is a don manque, hopelessly parochial when not exaggeratedly Teutonophile, over whose desk must surely hang the motto (presumably in Gothic lettering) 'above all, not enthusiasm' - Constant Lambert, 1950.

Lambert wrote this a year before he died aged 46. As I read the architecture columns of the national newspapers, I wonder how much things have changed. The past 15 years in particular have been devoid of intelligence.

We are typically served a description of the building, the background to its birth and one or two asinine comments. The critic has earned a crust for another week.

The relationship between the architect, the journalist, the critic and the historian has become blurred - journalists pose as critics, critics as historians. None is qualified to assume this uplift in responsibility and all are succumbing to the US habit of elevating everyone's status in order to keep pay rises and holidays to a minimum.

What should the relationship be between the architect and the best of these people?

There is a symbiotic relationship between them. In the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s, the affinity of exploratory architect Cedric Price with critic Reyner Banham was very important. The discussion and the architecture improved because of the interaction between the two. When Banham took up academic posts in Santa Cruz and Buffalo, his writings changed - although they remained interesting, they did not engage playfully with the work of practitioners.

Mutual respect and friendship must exist between the architect and the critic. From this relationship a new understanding can develop. It is a creative process, one that is largely absent from this country at present.

Many of the critics are journalists first and foremost - they do not act as critics, but as reporters. They ceased to be interested in 'ideas' long ago and confine themselves to fashion, style and personal position. Such a stance is inappropriate when buildings take such a long time to plan and construct.

We have a set of weary critics, but what of the historian? Here is someone who, with the benefit of time, can contextualise work.

Historians can examine ideas from new political, economic, cultural and technological perspectives, although these filters are not always clear. Such writing is usually interesting, highly subjective and totally fictional, even if for the best of intentions.

I like history. It is speculative. We have lived for years with the image of the Second World War presented to us by Winston Churchill's own account. What do we care about its accuracy? It was biased, naturally, because he wrote it soon after the war and time had not begun to apply its interesting haze.

History is someone's point of view peppered with reality. It is a real contribution to the world in the same way that the recipes in cookery books generally remain uncooked and are therefore always delicious.

Critics are not historians. The journalist, the critic and the historian can each contribute to the creative process. If they do not conform to their titles, however, they become mistrusted and lose their place in the world of architecture. They forget that architects' efforts are extraordinary and that some of their best work defies total analysis and exploration. They are magicians who perform while the critics remain lost for words. Under these circumstances, our three friends should prove to the world that they too are creatures of sensual sensibility.

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