Last year we learned that the Dallas Morning News was partnering with the University of Texas at Arlington to bring an architecture critic to town. As we mentioned last August, it was the second time we heard about the idea for the model: the paper partners with a local university to split the burden of a new hire. In 2010 there was talk of trying to bring an art critic back to the DMN this way, but despite reaching out to a few candidates, there were no takers.
Not so with architecture. Today the paper announced Mark Lamster as their new architecture critic effective April. Lamster will also teach a graduate seminar on criticism at UTA and will “publish long-term research projects.” That sounds like a light-enough load, which is good. The concern with this kind of partnership is that the hire ends up being stretched too thin between obligations to his two bosses.
So who is Mark Lamster? The scribe is decamping from New York where he has been an associate editor with Architectural Review and a contributing editor at Design Observer. Previously he enjoyed a decade-long stint as an editor at Princeton Architectural Press, and he’s published books on the painter Peter Paul Rubens and an 1888 baseball world tour organized by sporting goods magnet Albert Goodwill Spalding. He’s currently working on architect Phillip Johnson, which dovetails neatly into his new assignment in Dallas, a city with no shortage of buildings designed by the architect. And Lamster’s background in art history may indicate that Lamster, like Cantrell, will contribute some art criticism to the daily as well.
And from the start, it seems like Lamster has his head in the right place. For one, in the News article announcing his arrival, he expresses interest not only in Dallas’ signature architectural projects, but also traditionally underserved communities. Indeed, while the starchitects often steal the spotlight, the more fascinating architectural practices in Dallas these days include smaller, community-oriented firms like Brent Brown’s bcWorkshop. And no surprise, Lamster also seems to grasp the particular idiosyncratic character of his new home:
In getting to know it, I’ve come to see Dallas as a city engaged in a tremendous effort to progressively reinvent itself for the new century, but one that remains burdened by a built legacy that has left it physically and metaphorically divided. In many ways it is the archetypical American city, and in every way it is a fascinating subject.
We’re used to kvetching about the state of criticism, but it really can’t be overstated what a boon this is for Dallas. Daily newspapers just don’t hire a lot of new critics these days, and so it really bodes well that the Dallas Morning News would work to find a way to make this work. And at this critical moment in Dallas’ history, as the city emerges as a maturing and diversifying cultural locale, the need for the friction created by a sharp public dialogue is perhaps greater than ever before.