Btw, (in reference to normblog's reverse chiding) by absolutely no means am I hectoring or criticising anyone at all, and certainly not the bloggers to whom I have linked, even if they rarely, alas, talk about the physical world. I enjoy their conversation tremendously. My point is far more global and is an observation about our culture in general.
Decades ago C.P.Snow spoke of "Two Cultures" (The Two Cultures (C.P. Snow)) by which he meant science and the humanities. The two cultures which concern me are the one of people who carefully observe the built environment and the...what do I call it?....rest of our society. I haven't quite figured out how to term it but I know that there is such a lack of knowldge and sophistication as to be quite remarkable. And mind you, this is amongst otherwise very bright people, all of them alive and living inside the built world. Yet, to my ears, they seem blissfully unaware of it or if somewhat interested, then often somewhat lacking in knowledge, compared to what their general knowledge of other aspects of society. At least that's my take. The built world is just a given, part of the background of their lives and over which, perhaps, they have so little control that understanding seems a pointless endeavor. I honestly don't know. But I find it interesting, appalling and a bit confusing.
For example, 2blowhards had a fairly lengthy and illustrated post on Parking Lots and Downtowns. It presented what in some ways is a radical position:
"Cities hoping to score big revitalization points by investing tens of millions in a showpiece from a celeb-ritect such as Calatrava or Koolhaas might do well to give the state of their car parks some attention instead."
How many people commented? One.
I would have thought such a position --- "Forget genius. Consider parking" --- would have roused some discussion. But no. Not even one arts' buff condemning such a bourgeois mentality. Agreement? Acceptance? Criticism of any kind such "that just continues our dependence on cars!?" No. Niente. Nada. Yet people are easily roused to furious fever by a new apartment building in their neighborhood. And they do "ooh" and "aah" over starchitecture. So they do care some. Was the 2blowhards discussion just too mundane to grasp?
I don't really understand it. And it's something I observe everywhere --- for most people the built environment is simply a dead zone, just untouchable background to their lives. This is not so much criticism as observation. Here for example are the the columnists listed on the left-hand column of beloved Arts & Letters Daily:
William F. Buckley
E. J. Dionne Jr.
J. Peder Zane
Is there a one there who writes about the built world? Yes. But only a few, so far as I have scanned their columns. (Tell me if I am wrong and I will start reading him/her regularly; I do not mean to slight anyone.) Fulford, now and again. Sullivan seems smitten by his Cape Cod shore. No doubt the others care, as sophisticated people all do, about the built and natural environment.
But in terms of their usual rap --- I believe it's a rare sentence that indicates any awareness, much less a sophisticated awareness, of the built world. Notice that neither Paul Goldberger nor Blair Kamin nor Robert Campbell nor Neal Peirce (all writers about cities, with unimpeachable establishment credentials) to name just a few, are listed. Is it because talking about the built environment is something other than what the really important people do? Is it merely a speciality for "design critics?" Are many intellectuals scared of it because it is so vast and complex? Maybe all. And that, if I dare suggest it, is why we have starchitecture running riot: there are far too few intellectual police with the confidence to put such work in its proper place.