Philadelphia's well known architecture critic, Inga Saffron, has been advocating for the city's built environment for almost fifteen years. The three time Pulitzer Prize nominee finally received the recognition she's been waiting for when it was announced that she'd received the Prize.
Saffron's critiques have been incidentally divisive, an element of good journalism. Good journalism doesn't placate and doesn't hate, it doesn't promote the politics or the sponsors of the publication, it honestly delivers the news. Critics speak from a more complicated podium. How do you criticize or praise anything objectively without citing schooled jargon from experts? After all, those trained chefs, architects, and artists that define the good and bad are critics in their own right.
Critical journalism is opinion without editorializing. Somewhere, someone will defend their McMansion and somewhere an educated architect will explain why a Brutalist monstrosity is "good design." You can't argue with facts, but you can argue with a critique.
But Saffron is more than a contrarian. You can find those writing a dozen blogs about Philadelphia architecture, including Your Truly. But Saffron is employed by the Inquirer and a Pulitzer Prize recipient because she doesn't deliver unpopular opinions to get clicks and comments. Her eye for the brick and concrete around us is consistent, even when it's unpopular.
Despite her consistent - and deserved - criticism of the Mural Arts Program, traditional design, and popular developers, she speaks to her audience as a colleague, not a teacher. Critics often school their readers from a soapbox as an elitist. Saffron may come off elitist to her audience, but only when those readers disagree. Pulitzer Prize or not, Saffron cannot definitively be an elitist because her exposure to architecture is as organic as it is to anyone reading the paper. She's not an architect. She's speaking to her audience from the seats of the theater, not the stage.
I received an email from her after my very first post on Philly Bricks, and while she didn't completely agree with me, she's as open to dialogue as anyone. She doesn't blindly defend her positions with books and citations, suturing the conversation with "you're wrong, and here's why." She has her positions and knows why, but clearly understands why others may sometimes disagree.
The media is full of obnoxious chefs who defend themselves by criticizing others and art critics who offer little more than rehashed critiques. Saffron's balance between knowledge and honesty is refreshing. She's a Philadelphian like the rest of us, one with an award winning portfolio of journalism.
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