Fixing boundaries. Architecture and criticism at the onset of the 20th century

Rute Figueiredo
gta/D-ARCH/ETH Zurich
Director of the Site of Discourse Research Project (Lisbon University)

Fixing boundaries.
Architecture and criticism at the onset of the 20th century

During the last few years, there has been an increasing interest on the reflection about the disciplinary “position” of criticism within the architectural disciplinary field, as well as a widespread consensus that criticism tends to define itself by the using of methods and approaches that, also, belong to other fields of knowledge. This tendency has strongly questioned the notion of the intellectual and scientific disciplinary autonomy of criticism — a self-contained and self-regulated field, under its own laws ­— and has contributed to a suspicion about the sources of its “authority”.
This paper will take the Portuguese architectural culture of the onset of the 20th century as a case study, to inquiry the regime of practices and discourses that distinguished the architectural criticism from the other kind of disciplinary fields, emphasizing the relevance of the architectural periodical press in the generation of criticism as an autonomous practice.
When, at the end of 19th century, accompanying the broad phenomenon of eclecticism, architecture was forced to deal with the complex system of individual practices and stylistic schools, favouring the lost of something vital for the traditional process of work’s evaluation ­— the canon —, the Portuguese architectural discourse was still a vague practice, diffused in social, cultural and art criticism.
It was the formation, in 1900, of the first magazine specifically dedicated to architecture and building construction — Construção Moderna ­(1900-1919) — that endorsed the entry of criticism in the architect’s professional space. This gesture might be seen not only as the institution of a new instrument of mediation but, fundamentally, as an instance of disciplinary self-understanding and self-reflection. It was the crucial moment that allowed the rise of a mutually dependent condition between: the new architect’s professional identity; and the beginning of architectural criticism as an autonomous field.