Six months ago, Inga Saffron, the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a column, “Buildings Matter, Too,” deploring riot damage to buildings near the city’s fashionable Rittenhouse Square. Saffron herself did not write the headline, and anyway she buys into Black Lives Matter’s false narrative of America’s institutional racism. She remains on the job.
In my 30 years as an architecture critic I’ve written every headline to appear above my byline, both when I was on the editorial board of the Providence Journal and on my current blog. So when I first heard of the tempest involving Inga Saffron last June, I assumed she must have written the headline. I thought that she had resigned. Since then, I have regretted that I did not throw a lifeline to my fellow member of the very small tribe of architecture critics.
I am glad she didn’t need it. The editor who actually did resign, Stan Wischnowski, should not have. He was the Inquirer’s chief editor. Maybe he deserved to resign for the stupidity, cowardice and fecklessness he displayed by resigning, but not for the headline itself, which he did not even write. (The New York Times story on this does not say whether either of the two editors involved with the headline lost their jobs. The Inquirer’s publisher, Lisa Hughes, did not resign but should have – for accepting Wischnowski’s resignation.)
The headline itself falls squarely in the tradition of headlines that pun or play on phrases or slogans in the news or with a long cultural patrimony. “Black Lives Matter,” thus: “Buildings Matter, Too.”
A craven letter of apology by the editors reads: “The headline … suggested an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of black Americans.” No, it did not. This accusation was fabricated from whole cloth by those who cynically find it convenient to discover an insult in even the most benign of associations. We’ve all run into people like that.
If there were any offense in such a play on words, then how can it be inoffensive for Saffron to place the destruction of buildings on anything like a par with the murder of black people? How could she even think of discussing the two topics in the same article? Maybe she should have been fired after all.
No. That would be ridiculous. But she probably thinks I should be fired for defending the headline.
Perhaps this is all inside baseball. But modern architecture has bought into the rejection of tradition globally for a century, more so than any major field of human endeavor. The loose thinking of most architecture critics – including Inga Saffron – consigns the world to ugliness and sterility.
These features invite a rejection of humanism and an opening to authoritarianism that threaten to reverse more than a century of historical progress toward equality – progress that is belittled by the false narrative that fueled the Saffron imbroglio.