Yesterday, the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced, and Inga Saffron of the Inquirer won the Pulitzer for criticism!
Saffron’s one of my favorite local writers, and I’m thrilled to see her win the prize after being a finalist several times before. (Unlike many other journalism awards, the Pulitzers are legit because they come with a cash prize — $10,000!) It’s extra cool because, well, how many American newspapers have an architecture critic on staff any more? Or ever?
As a big enthusiast of city living, I’m thrilled the Inquirer has such a passionate advocate for urbanism on its staff. Critics are important. The best critics have the opportunity to praise worthy subjects and call out crap. There’s just so much crap out there, in every field, and so much of it goes un-criticized — whether it’s because the people behind it are nice, or because they’re powerful, or whatever. Not all that crap deserves to be called out, but a lot of it does. And Inga Saffron is one of the best at it. I’d put her ability to call out crap at the level of another great critic and Pulitzer winner, Roger Ebert. She is that good.
To commemorate one of my favorite critics receiving such a prestigious award, I went through Saffron's archives and found some of my favorite lines of hers.
"Nightmare on Broad Street," October 26, 2007:
Except to those who resolutely averted their eyes during construction, it won't come as news that Symphony House is the ugliest new condo building in Philadelphia.
This is the first sentence of her review of Symphony House, and literally the best summation of the pink palace. It's such a good review that it even has a Google autocomplete when you search "inga saffron s". (Or perhaps I've just searched it so many times it comes up for me.)
"Cookie-cutter hotel cheapens Center City," August 9, 2013:
In the heated competition for the worst new architecture in Philadelphia, the sickly yellow, synthetic-covered mid-rise across from the Reading Terminal Market is now the one to beat.
Then she essentially updated the lede to her 2007 Symphony House piece last year when discussing Home2Suites, the ugly new hotel that is only slightly better than the surface parking lot that once stood at 12th and Arch. This is just great. I hope she's still writing in 2019 so we can find out what will be the next building to win this award.
"Little enlightenment on waterfront plan," October 10, 2013:
For decades, Philadelphians heard barely a word about serious planning for the Delaware waterfront. Then Mayor Nutter took office and promised to transform the city's big river. Now it seems we never stop hearing about waterfront planning.
I really enjoyed this lede last year, too. Does the Inky let anyone else get this snarky?
"It's LOVE Park, not $$$$ Park," December 12, 2013:
Less than two weeks before Christmas, Philadelphia is up for sale. School buildings. Roadside views. City parks. Pretty soon, we could be auctioning off naming rights to the years, like they do in David Foster Wallace's dystopian novel, Infinite Jest. How does "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" sound?
Ah! This one too!
"Will our move to Market Street move the street?," July 7, 2013:
East Market Street is not exactly a prestige address, I realize, but then neither was North Broad Street.
This is what I reassured my friends at the newspapers when they were moving to the digs at Eighth and Market: You're actually moving to a nicer neighborhood.
"A slots barn, herding them in," May 11, 2007:
Given the proximity of the state prison across from Harrah's new Route 291 racino in Chester, the inmates probably enjoy the best views of the hall's dazzling neon marquee, with its oversized simulated slot machine. And given the cheerless design of Harrah's gaming floor, the state inmates are probably no less confined than the slots slaves tethered to their electronic consoles.
This is just yet another fantastic intro to a piece.
"Reviewing the plans for Philly's second casino," April 19, 2013:
The six proposals clearly do not deserve serious architecture reviews. How can you evaluate a mirage?
Even when she doesn't review a proposal, she has a good reason.
"Surface parking lots hurt more than they help," May 18, 2012:
Drew Becher, who moved from Chicago to run the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, said he has been surprised at the city’s “obsession” with parking. “I’ve never seen a car culture like this. I go to events and people want their cars valet-parked,” he explained.
Saffron's pieces are frequently so strong because she's such a good reporter. You can tell she's talked to people and done background research and studied a lot. It's exactly what a good critic does.
"The gaping hole at Family Court," March 2, 2014:
The only court representative to return my call was Majid Alsayegh, of Alta Management, who serves as Judge Dougherty's construction adviser. He acknowledged that there was no money available for art. (But don't worry, the wooden benches for the judges have been ordered.)
And here's one from this year to end on. I eagerly await reading more of her pieces — positive reviews, too — in years to come.
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