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Critical Eye: A year in review

In 2018, Alexandra Lange tackled the horror of home tech, made a case for Late Modernism, and visited a subtle standout in Houston

illustration of face Illustration by Franziska Barczyk

As 2018 winds itself to a close (just us, or has it seemed so long?), we’re throwing it back to some of Curbed’s most compelling stories of the year. Here, we’ve got eight powerful additions to Alexandra Lange’s Critical Eye column. One prevalent theme in Lange’s work from this year is that an architecture critic’s job isn’t just about single-building reviews. (Though, if that’s your bag, don’t miss her take on the new Menil in Houston.) We’ve got teen space! We’ve got post-#MeToo architect profiles! We’ve got Black Mirror! We’ve got 1960s-era tram cars in a 630-foot-tall stainless steel arch!

For more Alexandra, don’t miss the annual year-in-review design awards, co-authored with eternal partner-in-judgment Mark Lamster, critic at the Dallas Morning News. We’re saving that one for next week, so you have can enjoy some piping-hot pithiness in an internet landscape of warmed-up leftovers. Look for it here on Thursday, December 27.

The end of the architect profile, April 19, 2018

In which our critic takes a stand against perpetuating the solo artist myth in architecture writing. Excerpt: “Something, anything, to keep your reader from the truth: that your subject is an abstraction-spouting workaholic with a huge team of people who have drawn, rendered, detailed, supervised, constructed the work in question. The profile lives to serve the simplest possible narrative of architecture: one man, glorious inspiration, a building.”

Why Postmodernism is the palate cleanser we need, February 1, 2018

Our love-to-hate-it relationship with postmodernist architecture may be more important to design progress than we think, and 40 years on, it’s at a preservation inflection point. Excerpt: “Boring architecture is not the endpoint but the banal before the storm.”

A museum grows in Houston, November 1, 2018

Probably the most anticipated new building opening of 2018—and Johnston Marklee’s Drawing Center at the Menil Institute delivered. Excerpt: “The glory moment is the Drawing Institute’s westernmost corner: white-painted plate steel, folded on a knife crease and seemingly suspended in air. It provides a preview of the whole, which looks simple and laid-back from afar, but wows you with crispness of the detail up close.”

How we get from coveting midcentury things to the Internet of Things, from March.
Illustration by Franziska Barczyk
Playacting espionage in a total design environment, from April.
Photo by Margaret Lin

‘Black Mirror’ meets HGTV, and a new genre, home-design horror, is born, March 8, 2018

As the definition of “home” is redefined, not with soft goods but with personalized tech gadgets, the landscape for horror at home has intensified exponentially. Excerpt: “There was a time, circa 2009, when no home design story could do without a reference to Mad Men. There is a time, circa 2018, when no personal tech story should do without a Black Mirror reference.”

Spy kids, April 5, 2018

It was cool enough that David Adjaye designed a spy museum in New York City—but even cooler when Lange had her 10-year-old son co-review it with her. Excerpt: “I wanted to go because I’m interested in the future of museum experiences, which too often feel either like stuff in a room or rooms made for selfies.”

Gateway to what? June 28, 2018

A new, accessibility-driven era for Eero Saarinen’s iconic catenary curve, the St. Louis Arch. Excerpt: “The $380 million megaproject—which touched everything but the Arch, which is, as I said, perfect—offers a succinct and positive statement of where we are today in city-building. Public. Accessible. Local. Landscape.”

Meet the Hunters, Vermont’s modernist-house pioneers, August 9, 2018

God knows we love regional modernists here at Curbed. Here, Lange profiles another non-Eames, postwar couple who designed glassy houses, patented chairs, and rethought modern living. Excerpt: “‘These houses reflect who we are as Americans today’: car culture, informal, open kitchens, working women. Peg and Ted Hunter saw the way culture was going earlier than most, and found families that were ready to leave tradition behind.”

Why SOM’S modernist Union Carbide building is worth saving, February 22, 2018

Advocating for renovating a midcentury, peak corporate-modern skyscraper in New York City—designed in part by an underrecognized SOM associate, Natalie de Blois. Excerpt: “Does it feel like I am always yelling at you that this plaza from 1968, or that building from 1983, must be saved? It feels like that to me, because I am, because the architecture that makes New York great, giving it variety, texture, and some generosity amid the towers, is constantly under threat.”

Alexandra Lange’s architectural criticism column, Critical Eye, has appeared on Curbed since 2015. You can follow her on Instagram at @LangeAlexandra (ditto Twitter), and for even more, subscribe her monthly newsletter for story recaps, architecture-hunting travels, and links to the wider world of design journalism.