A building can be a beautiful object in its own right. A building is also a component of a larger whole. It fits in with the surrounding environment, whether other buildings in a series of row houses or the natural landscape in a more pastoral setting. It interacts with the humans who go in it and those who walk around it.

When we only see a building as a piece of art, we end up with an architectural profession that reveres bizarre buildings that look impressive in a model but don’t accomplish their substantive purpose very well. We end up with New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff who never met a famous architect whose plan he didn’t like. And we end up with exhibits at the Kreeger Museum on “architecture as art” that train future architects to think they should aspire to buildings like Philip Johnson’s.

There’s nothing wrong with making spectacular buildings, nothing wrong with being a famous architect, and modern buildings can be beautiful. But I’d like architecture critics to write about a building’s influence on the street as much as they write about the “chiseled setbacks and crisp vertical lines”. When is the Kreeger going to have Vibrant Streetlife as Art? From the look of their building (designed by the same Philip Johnson), creating outdoor public spaces may be furthest from their minds.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.