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In her recent book Critique et Architecture. Un état des lieux contemporains [Criticism and Architecture. A contemporary state of play] (2019), Hélène Jannière presented how architectural criticism has a history. More specifically between the 1930s and late 1970s, the author demonstrated the modulations and issues raised amid a specialization process. In her book, one can identify some important markers of this process. For example, through the 1930s, architectural journals became a privileged space for debates among critics. In the texts produced in that period, one can observe a distancing from those recognised as history. Their authors justified this division due to engaging in the promotion of an incipient modern architecture, as if the discourses about the past were not, also, implicated by their authors’ strife in the present and, therefore, in their projects of future.

However, still according to Hélène Jannière (2019, p.60), it was in the post-war period that architectural criticism started to increasingly highlight the need of debating the specificities of its role, autonomy and criteria. At that new moment, contemporaneous to the crisis of the “modern movement”, the activity of critics seemed to gain distance from an attitude of promoting architectural production, toward investing in the renovation of architectural theories seeking to fulfil what was considered insufficient or outdated in the previous critical posture. The author points out the ascension of a visual criticism that sought, most of all, to give objectiveness to the criteria of architectural criticism. Not by chance, at that point in time the Gestalt theory was increasingly present in the debates.

In the early 1960s, two other movements marked the search for autonomy. On the one hand, the increasing presence of critics in academic circles and the construct of a scientific posture for criticism; on the other hand, the constitution of increasingly specialised spaces that sought to define the relations and boundaries between history, theory and criticism. These two movements marked a distance from the Gestalt theory and, in their turn, amplified researches on methodologies of conception, design studies and theory of shape, as well as instruments for reading architecture as a language, therefore bringing it closer to semiotic studies.

The narrative conducted by Hélène Jannière, despite the schematism that the writing limits of this presentation impose, is based on a fine and complex attention to art and architecture journals, books and their authors and to their main participants’ spaces of circulation and association. Therefore, there is no lack of references to the journals Architectural Record, Progressive Architecture, AIA Journal, l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui and Casabella, just to mention a few. There is also no lack of evaluation about the trajectories of Siegfried Giedion, Bruno Zevi, Manfredo Tafuri and Lionello Venturi, among several others.

In Brazil, there is no similar effort of systematization regarding the history of architectural criticism. However, there are important contributions that help us to interpret its development in the country.

To deal precisely with this period ‒ between the 1930s and the 1970s ‒ in Brazil, the bibliography on the subject can be organized in two large sets. A first set, departs from art history studies to become dedicated to the historiography of architectural criticism, whose approach mainly centres on the figure of the critic Mário Pedrosa; a second set, formed by a group of scholars interested in the historiography of modern architecture, who map their main interpreters, diffusion vehicles and problematization. In the first group, should be highlighted the studies by Aracy Amaral (1981) and Otília Arantes (1991); and in the second group, a series of studies as those by Carlos Martins (1999), Nelci Tinem (2006) and, with a more specific regard to periodicals, Maria Beatriz Cappello (2016).

These two large sets of texts also draw some limits. The books by Aracy Amaral and Otília Arantes interpreted the sources, issues and affections that led Mário Pedrosa to be increasingly dedicated to architectural themes, and, therefore, starting from the particular case to see a movement larger than his own field. The works by Martins, Tinem and Cappello focused on the non-neutrality of the narratives, presenting the journals and books in which architectural criticism was shaped. Taken as enclosed in their own contents, these two sets of readings seem entirely different archipelagos of geographic and epistemological landscapes. However, are there no routes and currents that enable the navigation between them?

This colloquium was designed seeking to answer this question. The studies that will be presented in the two days of the colloquium are intended to enable a compared perspective. With this same objective, the presentations of the colloquium concentrate on a delimited period, interpreting the production of architectural criticism produced from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s. For Hélène Jannière, in this period there was an evidence of a discourse of criticism autonomization; and for Brazilian interpreters, the period presents a thriving production. This delimitation seeks to face the fragmented landscape, previously described, with openness and complexity. Therefore, the aim is to offer the public that will attend the colloquium different views of the same object, group of questions and network of actors.

Nevertheless, moving through a period when there was a multiplication and broadening of the scale of the most diversified media ‒ large circulation newspapers, illustrated magazines, specialized journals, cinema, and slowly, television programs ‒ the organization of the colloquium encouraged the participants to study the specificity and impact of the modes of criticism diffusion. As stated by Dosse (2018, p.16), when presenting some of the specificities of the French intellectual production between 1944 and 1989, the place of intellectuals in this period was directly affected by the “[…] massification of the public and the increasingly potent mediatisation” [free translation].

About this aspect, and in a more direct relation to the intellectuals dedicated to architectural criticism, it should be mentioned that numerous recent studies, in Brazil and elsewhere, have been approaching the preponderant role that specialized architectural journals had in that period (CAPELLO, 2005; PARNELL, 2011; JANNIÈRE, 2019). However, when accessing collections such as the Digital Newspapers and Periodical Library of the National Library (PEIXOTO, 2020a; 2020b), or studies such as those by Paula Dedecca (2018), one can verify the significant participation of critics interested in architecture in the newsroom of large circulation newspapers. In this context, it is also worthy of note the close relationship established between communication vehicles, organization of modern art museums and the amplification of criticism production and diffusion.

Therefore, the colloquium seeks to have an enlarged framework of architectural criticism. Far from seeking to identify movements or schools, we propose to highlight a field of debates, respecting its heterogeneity, diverse temporalities and tensions, but that, nevertheless, achieved the construct of some shared projects. We seek to discuss criticism without trying to see it as a specialized knowledge, but rather, seeking to approach critics as intellectuals who raise questions and publicise their reflections on architecture. Thus, with no ambition to reach a conclusion about these issues, the colloquium Architecture criticism, media and memory seeks to bring to light the constellation of actors and debates that voluminously gather around them.

Priscilla Alves Peixoto (crítica_memória-LANA-PROARQ-UFRJ)

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