Making buildings is one of the most important things we do. Buildings have defining cultural impacts. Their construction and operation stamp giant ecological footprints into the planet. They are some of our longest-lived creations, right up there with landfills, extinctions and nuclear waste. We cannot change the world without changing what and how we build.
To change anything intelligently, though, we must first see it. Seeing buildings and places in a fresh way is the job of the architectural critic.
But architectural criticism is, by all accounts, a trade in crisis.
The latest issue of Arcade magazine (which for some reason is not yet up on their site) has a superb section exploring the state of architectural criticism in the US.
Tips on being a do-it-yourself critic
Have a Sense of Entitlement. Designing buildings may be incredibly difficult, but understanding them comes naturally if you let your own judgment lead you. Feel entitled to have your say, because most people who use buildings are not professional critics.
Be Self-Conscious. Observe yourself using the building. Does finding your way around feel intuitive? Do certain areas make you feel exhilarated, others frustrated or confused? Discern why specific elements of the building elicit such reactions.
Stare at Others. Public buildings especially should be able to handle large volumes of people. Look at how other people react to the building. Can they comfortably engage in activities common to public spaces, such as conversing with others, sitting down for a spell, or waiting for friends to arrive?
Gossip. When you've formed an opinion about a place, share it with people! The greatest service that professional critics have done is to popularize discussions about architecture. People with a passion for public spaces need to make their voices heard, whether it be at the dinner table, in the office, at a bar, or on the web
Travel. E.g. see how buildings are constructed in Switzerland. Built, it seems, to last for several hundred years. And individualized - each house, and especially each public building, can be distinctive while integrating into a harmonious whole. The bomb shelters in basements in case of disaster are a bonus...
It just so happens that yesterday I made a photo-'blog about a visit to Seattle's Central Library.
There were lots of people with digital cameras, myself included, wandering around the library on a Sunday, most of them doing the things you list.