I recently received my November Issue of Architect and for the first time since the blogs caused us all to begin devouring images at warp speed and sent print media into a battle for survival, I actually "read" an architecture magazine. It was truly satisfying.
From its inception, the idea behind Architect was clear; its title was the proof. Architectural Record had lost touch. It had become a glossy product placement catalog, serving its advertisers but increasingly bereft of intellectual rigor. Architect promised to peel back the facade of idealized pre-occupancy images and to share the stories of the people who make architecture: to deliver us process and ideas. The bar was high and so were many of our expectations. Perhaps that is why I have been so underwhelmed as Architect has struggled for nearly 7 years to find a voice. The magazine has taken us on a journey from in-depth interviews of firms producing irrelevant projects, to garnish cartoony graphics that distracted from meticulously researched and provocative exposes like Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson's "The 50-Year-Old Intern", to the absolutely laughable solar decathlon house that graced the November 2011 cover, to a most superficial visit of David Salmela's home-office conveying a whole five 2-sentence paragraphs of insight. August 2012's coverage of Spontaneous Interventions at the Venice Biennale got close by rolling out the reviews of a dream team roster including Michael Sorkin, Mimi Zeiger, and John Cary. While the writing was excellent, the issue was fragmented and read like a series of blog posts that showed up a month after ArchDaily's coverage. The simple truth is that few architects would even bother to flip through Architect if it didn't just magically show up in their mailboxes each month courtesy of their AIA dues. For me, Architect had become collage material for my 5-year-old daughter.
While this account may come across as unnecessarily harsh, the context it provides is necessary to situate why the quality of this month's (November 2012) issue blew me out of my chair. Beyond simply wielding the names of serious contributors and significant works of architecture, this issue delivers them at their best and gets us underneath the skin of the projects, so we can talk as architects about the making of architecture. The surreal cover image of SHOP's Barclays Center drew me in to Philip Nobel's down to earth story. While Bill Richards's AIA Voices has been a reliable look at members who are shaping the professional dialogue, now coupled with an AIA Feature, we get some practical perspective on the positions laid out in the interview. Christopher Hawthorne's 7 page profile of Johnston Marclee was everything the Salmela story wasn't. And, although I scour the blogs daily, this issue of Architect introduced me to Atelier Deshaus's sensually crafted Quigpu Youth Center: did I miss this one or did a print publication actually beat the blogs to break a story? Just as I was thinking "wow, Architect finally found it's voice", they slam a home run with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's exquisite Logan Center, authentically occupied and exquisitely captured by Tim Hursley, with enough drawings to understand the spatial relationships and last but certainly not least an interview, letting Tod and Billie tell their own unfiltered story. This simple move, replacing the criticism with an interview and giving readers a direct path to the architects, is everything I had always hoped Architect would be.
Charting new territory is never easy but Ned Cramer and his staff have relentlessly pursued exactly that, boldly reinventing the format nearly every month. This month they have finally spoken loud and clear. While this issue was near perfect, ongoing experiments like the ESTO Gallery, which brings us powerful photographs like Jeff Goldberg's "Make It Right" images with the immediacy of dissemination that sustains the major blogs, suggests that we have only seen the beginning. In the mean time, my daughter will be looking elsewhere for collage material and I will be checking my mail with anticipation for the December Issue.