Doidge, Charles, with Rachel Sara, and Rosie Parnell. Cartoons by Mark Parsons. 2000. The Crit. An Architecture Student's Handbook. Oxford: Architectural Press.
Nearly every student in the making disciplines - architecture, and design, fine art, and applied - sees the crit as a difficult experience. Whether it involves a project during study or the final presentation for a degree, the crit is a central aspect of an education in these fields. Understanding how to make best use of the crit will help design scholars in every field.
This book is a useable, well-written guide to the crit. Directed to students, it will also help teachers and research supervisors. While many fields of design research make no use of the crit, nearly every design student and design teacher will take part in a crit or review at some point. This book offers helpful suggestions and benchmarks. It is also useful for professional presentations.
Despite its value as a practical guide, this book is less satisfactory in scholarship. It is seasoned with useful quotes and citations that are poorly sourced. It is unacceptable to cite a single fact or a one-sentence quote from a 257-page by casually referring to author and year. The scholar's work involves organizing sources and making them useful. When architecture and design professors make claims to scholarship, the standards of good scholarship apply.
Good scholarship also involves critical attention to historical fact. The authors claim that the crit began with the eighteenth-century tripos of Cambridge University. Their dates are off by over a thousand years.
The crit is rooted in two traditions, the guild tradition, and the academic tradition. When guild apprentices sought journeyman status, they were required to submit a piece of work to a board of masters. The jury of masters reviewed the journeyman piece and conducted an oral examination on technique, craft knowledge, and professional ethics. After passing this crit, an apprentice advanced to journeyman and was allowed to work freelance. A similar examination took place when a journeyman submitted his masterpiece for advancement to master standing. These traditions are probably rooted in ancient history. Some aspects of these traditions go back to the ancient crafts of the Middle East. These customs were clearly in place among European guilds by the Middle Ages.
The academic tradition of public debate to defend a scholarly thesis began more than two thousand years ago with the philosophers and rhetoricians of classical Greece. The medieval universities established the custom of public lectures, debates or defense of a thesis by the 1200s. Public presentation was required for the inceptio that inaugurated a candidate into the body of masters or doctors.
The authors of this well structured book on educational and professional practice should have restricted themselves to what they know. They attempted to spice the book with learning, enhancing its authority with scholarship and history. When designers, architects, and artists make scholarly claims, they must respect the requirements of scholarship. These include proper sourcing and critical investigation of factual claims.
Ken Friedman Professor Norwegian School of Management, Oslo, and Denmark's Design School, Copenhagen
This review originally appeared in Design Research News
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