In my very first editorial, in the very first issue of ARCHITECT, I promised to abide by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s ancient architectural principles of utilitas, firmitas, and venustas. In 1624, English polymath Henry Wotton translated those three Latin words as “commodity,” “firmness,” and “delight.” Today, one might say “business,” “technology,” and “design,” as we do at ARCHITECT. Knowing that the design media has historically focused on aesthetics, sometimes to the exclusion of all else, we have from the outset been determined to promote a more well-rounded, Vitruvian practice of architecture, one that encompasses the discipline’s technical, economic, environmental, and social qualities. Because a decade has passed since that first issue hit the desks of architects nationwide, this, our 10th anniversary issue, seemed like a good time to reiterate the philosophy.
We originally ran portraits on our covers, to shift attention away from the conventional depiction of buildings as fetishized art objects. This was not a popular move, but it did make plain the differences in our editorial focus. The subjects usually weren’t famous, and rarely were they design stars. Instead, we spotlighted experts and exemplars of a broad range of issues—building performance, for instance, and professional diversity—that we found important and deserving of greater attention.
Nowadays, the buildings themselves take pride of place, but our inclusive notion of architecture has not wavered. We continue to celebrate the profession’s inner geek, with the annual R+D Awards program as well as regular coverage of material science, digital design, and innovations in fabrication. We still investigate and encourage smart and healthy approaches to business, as in our Best Practices series and our annual ARCHITECT 50 program, which recognizes firms that excel financially, provide a positive environment for employees, meet stringent sustainability standards, and deliver exceptional design to clients and users. And we champion innovation and emerging talent through our Progressive Architecture Awards, Studio Prize, and Next Progressives profiles of groundbreaking practices and practitioners.
So has anything changed since the publication launched in late 2006? Well, the world went through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the Middle East imploded, the iPhone debuted, social media remade the way humanity communicates, partisanship overtook national politics, and globalization became a fact of life. So yeah, a lot’s been happening, and architecture—as well as ARCHITECT—has changed apace. The website and magazine look and feel different than they did a decade ago.
Given the tumult at home and abroad, there has been a real benefit in basing our editorial policy on “a 2,000-year-old premise,” as I wrote 10 years ago. As journalists, we are constitutionally inclined to scramble to cover the latest firm merger, the hottest new project, the most awe-inspiring technological advance. Doing so through the lens of utilitas, firmitas, and venustas keeps us grounded. It gives us the benefit of the long view. Because, while architecture has undergone a world of change in 10 years, the tenets that Vitruvius articulated in The Ten Books on Architecture, back in the first century B.C., still apply.