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Is it silly to launch an architecture magazine with a 2,000-year-old premise?

Anyone who's lived through architecture school will remember, undoubtedly with great joy, the assignment from Marcus Vitruvius Pollio's De architectura , the oldest surviving book on architecture. Vitruvius, for those who missed class that day, was a practicing architect and contemporary of the Roman emperor Augustus. His book sets forth three essential qualities for architecture: utilitas, firmitas , and venustas —commodity, firmness, and delight, in the earliest English translation from the 17th century. Fast forward through titanic changes in every aspect of human existence, and no one's come up with a better definition of architecture and the responsibilities of a practicing architect. It'll do for ARCHITECT.

Translating Vitruvius into an architecture magazine is a complex task—whether the starting point is the original Latin or Jacobean English. The words commodity, firmness, and delight meant one thing in the 1600s; now they suggest different meanings, not all of them polite. Instead, today's architects say program, structure, and design, which can be confusingly technical, but are much safer to use in the company of clients. I think Vitruvius would understand.

For a magazine editor, it's tempting to skip the translation and let the buildings do the talking. The old-school method of architectural journalism is all about the building review, a story type with a fixed kit of parts: 1,000 words or so of muted criticism, a few presentation drawings, and a suite of photographs taken at sunrise or sunset, with no people in the way.

In this model, the design media habitually compete to publish the latest projects by the hottest designers, giving the occasional nod to large firms and emerging practitioners. But no matter the subject, a design review tells only one side of the story. You don't need Vitruvius to tell you which one.

Architectural journalism can serve the profession better by voicing the complexities, values, and concerns of the discipline itself. Every architect knows that architecture is more than just a synonym for a building, and that a building is more than just a beautiful object. ARCHITECT will portray architecture from multiple perspectives, not just as a succession of high-profile projects, glowingly photographed and critiqued, but as a technical and creative process, and as a community.

Because buildings do not spring from the ground, fully formed, ARCHITECT will celebrate the people—famous and otherwise—who get buildings built. Moreover, because the profession of architecture doesn't exist in a vacuum, ARCHITECT will introduce its readers not just to other architects, but to those strange creatures who labor on the periphery, such as contractors, real estate developers, and building-product manufacturers.

To be successful, ARCHITECT must be useful. In these pages, leading experts will share reliable advice about business development, building and information technology, practice management, and other subjects that don't fit the curriculum in architecture school.

We'll also try to entertain you. Our graphic designer, Abbott Miller of Pentagram, promises that every bit of this information will appear in an accessible and compelling format. In brief, ARCHITECT will use the language of design to engage a community of designers.

In my second year of architecture school, a professor told the assembled studio class, “You must take a position.” Her tone delivered a second message: “And if you don't, you're worthless.” The memory still upsets me. I'd like to think that questions are more important than conclusions. ARCHITECT is designed to be open-minded.

Instead of taking sides, ARCHITECT will provide forums for discussion. In print, on our website, and at events around the country, ARCHITECT offers every practitioner a standing invitation to share ideas and rally around issues of universal concern—from best practices in business to aspirations for society and the environment. Commodity, firmness, and delight are lofty goals, and ARCHITECT needs your participation to attain them. Join us every month for the making of a new ARCHITECT. Vitruvius will be there.

Hail and Farewell
As a new magazine arrives, an old one departs: In October 2006, Architecture published its final issue. The Architecture Home of the Year awards are slated to appear in the very next issue of ARCHITECT, and the P/A Awards will continue without interruption. This year's P/A jury met in October. For the results of their deliberations, look to the January 2007 issue of ARCHITECT. A call for entries for the 55th annual awards will soon follow.

The November/December issue of Architectural Lighting, sister magazine of Architecture, and now of ARCHITECT, will appear as scheduled, under the thoughtful direction of editor Elizabeth Donoff.


Comments (6 Total)

  • Posted by: in/site | Time: 11:45 AM Friday, December 29, 2006

    Having rolled my eyes for years at the shallow, smug and elitist trendspotting publications of our profession, I found the accessible, timely and relevant content of your magazine a very pleasant surprise. I especially appreciate your treatment of 'green' construction topics (Nov/Dec '06), for looking past appearances to principles, processes and materials. Well done.

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  • Posted by: pipsco | Time: 12:03 PM Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    I applaud the attempt to adress architecture not with mearly "high-profile projects" from high-profile architects. That sounds good to me. However you also stated that you will attempt to protray the profession as "community". I completely agree with this approach but I do not know if making the cover of the magazine a modified "glamour shot" of one individual in the profession really says community to me. The content appears right on track with the stated mission but I fear it may be packaged in the wrong wrapper. If this publication drifts into another example of the self-indulgent being applauded by the self-important you will have missed a golden opportunity to actually achieve what you set out to do. Very little in architeture is an individual acheivement even in a one person office. Why therefore do we need to see one of us larger than life at the newstand. I like the magazine, not in love with the cover

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  • Posted by: arch878 | Time: 1:19 PM Monday, December 11, 2006

    Good comment

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  • Posted by: L.Haines | Time: 11:18 PM Saturday, December 02, 2006

    Not sure exactly what particular criticism is referenced by "old school method", perhaps more recent and shallow efforts by other Architectural publications. If one goes back to the Architectural Review (London) of the early and mid 1960's, one finds penetrating criticism of a particular architectural thought mode as applied to a specific project. The analysis was thorough, the literal and firurative impacts amply discussed. I keep around a copy of AR from March 2005 which contains Peter Davey's commentary on the international Architectural scene encompassed by his 25 years at the editorial head of that magazine. I highly value his writing which is capable of taking on architectural scope from context to detail within a restricted scope of words. I do not believe we have seen comprehensive architectural writing in a monthly publication like this in the United States since Architecural Forum died over 35 years ago. My recommendation: Go for it!

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  • Posted by: aleksander tokarz | Time: 1:50 PM Friday, November 17, 2006

    Addressing the need to present architecture students and the public with other aspects of architecture besides the physical will be key in the future of this profession. Recognizing the power of the Internet and how it can start bridging social and design gaps all over the world is a great way of starting off the premier issue. Good Luck.

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  • Posted by: dpeacher | Time: 2:15 PM Thursday, November 02, 2006

    At last someone who seems to understand and more clearly articulate what the practice of architecture is in the real world. You may well be a welcome relief from the snobbery and boring esoterica of the traditional architecture mags. I hope you withstand.

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About the Blogger

Ned Cramer

thumbnail image Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, and editorial director of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, ECO-STRUCTURE, and METALMAG, published by Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based business media company. Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Cramer served as the first full-time curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), where he organized public programs and exhibitions such as "A Century of Progress: Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair" and "New Federal Architecture: The Face of a Nation." At CAF, projects under Cramer's direction received support from foundations and corporations such as Altria, Boeing, the Driehaus Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the McCormick-Tribune Foundation. He speaks regularly on architecture, design, and related issues. The Avery Architectural Index lists nearly 100 articles with Cramer's byline, many written in his former capacity as executive editor of Architecture magazine. The recipient of an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cramer has held positions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Menil Collection in Houston. Cramer is an alumnus of the Rice University School of Architecture. He was born and raised in St. Louis.