Last Sunday, Nicolai Ouroussoff at the NY Times wrote that New York City needs new heroes for architecture. He reminiscences about the New York Five of the 1970s who wanted to “reassert the importance of architecture as art form” and we couldn’t help but recognize how drastically different that kind of thinking is compared to the demands of architecture today. Nowadays architects are asked to address climate change, habitat destruction, the housing crisis AND make buildings that are aesthetically pleasing. All this certainly sounds like a job cut out for no one less than a hero.

Luckily, Andrew Bernheimer at The Design Observer points out that there are already many eager and responsible architects who are courageous stewards of the built environment and valiant defenders of public space. Bernheimer says, “The work and teachings of many of my colleagues is mostly lacking in self-promotion but overflowing with substance. This is what makes them influential and, at times, heroic.”

If substance is what makes a hero, what definition does Ouroussoff have of substance for New York City architecture? “[NY5’s] greatest contribution, in retrospect, was its assertion that architecture had not reached a dead end. The architects saw themselves as artists and thinkers — not activists…” So does Ouroussoff feel that art should take precedence over social change? “Real change will first demand a radical shift in our cultural priorities,” he says. But how can we respond to contemporary culture without being an activist of some sort? A Design Observer reader says the argument is between “object- versus fabric-oriented architecture,” with New York City architecture needing to fit into a restricting urban grid. So what do you think? Where do you stand in this debate?