Waving 'bye to Ouroussoff


Sam Hall Kaplan — who probably lost his weekly commentary gig at KCRW for dissing Frank Gehry during the Disney Hall hoopla last year — writes in the Downtown News that the departure of Nicolai Ouroussoff as L.A. Times architecture critic is being cheered in some local planning and design circles. He draws a parallel to his own departure as Times design critic in 1991.

The persistent complaint during my decade there was that my coverage was bent toward such local issues as urban design and historic preservation that some aspiring star architects considered mundane, to the detriment of aesthetics of architecture and other academic concerns.

They were right, of course. I considered architecture then, as now, a social art, primarily involved with creating spaces and places for human endeavor, and regarded myself an advocate of the design and development concerns of the general readership, not for a narrow group of peers, select professionals and academic sycophants, however seductive.

Invitations to their soirees and seminars had a pernicious price of publicity I did not want to pay. These self-appointed aesthetes tended to be insufferable, even if their settings displayed exquisite taste.

Conversely, the major criticism of Ouroussoff is that he devoted excessive and indiscriminate coverage to celebrity architects considered on the cutting edge of an increasingly iconic-oriented profession; and that he was prissy and disdainful, preferring theoretical issues rather than, say, pressing local needs, such as more and better designed housing, schools and livable streets.

I know architects who think Ouroussoff is great, so I suspect opinion is more divided than Kaplan allows. In any case, the architecture community could do worse: the LAT has gone more than two years without a theater critic since Michael Phillips moved to the Chicago Tribune.

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