This Is Not Architecture
Architectural Record is a 125 year old old icon of architectural journalism. It was the flagship publication of America’s only national guild of Architecture, the American Institute of Architects for a very long time.
This month’s cover of Record is beautiful. The color, composition and design depicted is kinetic and static and balanced and its surfaces intriguing and evocative. But the cover and the cover story Is Not Architecture.
Covers of magazine used to be about eye candy, about luring an impulse purchase at a bookstore or magazine rack – but there are almost no magazine racks left, anywhere: covers no longer draw attention, they reflect editorial positions.
I know from covers. I have fought for and slaved over 8 book covers over 35 years. My work has been on covers; HOME, Better Homes and Gardens, Fine Homebuilding among them: each cover was chosen as a statement: the essence of summer, the future of the kitchen, the first interior on a HOUSES issue. Covers Are Statements.
Then what replaced architecture on this month’s cover?
Is it about a noble social effort? A breakthrough material? A fashion model? No. It is more problemmatic than these options (all previously done by architecture mags). With this cover Architectural Record effectively endorses the aesthetic fetish of most cutting edge elite architects in academia, the Awards Machine, and criticism.
The cover of Architectural Record is simply a really neat sculpture. That’s it.
Designed by architects, of course, who else designs nationally published sculpture these days?
Per the cover article:
“In the summer of 2013, when the architects Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa first visited the 11,500-acre Montana cattle and sheep ranch that’s now home to Tippet Rise Art Center, an hour southwest of Billings, they thought it looked like a lunar landscape….How could any manmade object compete with such a vast natural setting?”
There it is: architecture is any “manmade object” (I assume women can make them too, as one of the cover subject’s designers was a woman…) It’s a neat sidebar: architects who are also fine artists: but sidebars are not cover stories. In fact, the stated topic of the issue is work place design…
Magazine covers are the graphic sound bites of any given magazine’s premise: it’s essential POV. Political humans or icons are on political magazine’s home page or cover. Tech stuff is on tech mags’ covers, On the cover of American Architecture’s most respected magazine cover the message is clear:
Architecture worthy of cover publication IS sculpture.
The messaging could not be clearer: it is literal, unnuanced, and, to me, truly beautiful.
Of course, for decades, many (many) Record covers have had buildings designed to reflect the extreme reductionist aesthetics of formalism. Many covers focus on sculpture as being integrated with the buildings in the cover:
This cover is akin to Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue – which is Not about sports and this issue of Architectural Record should not project sculpture as its central message. Making sexier “Click Bait” on cyber “cover”’s is now necessary, but here “sexier” means sculpture, not building. One commentator on this piece says the next cover will have kittens or babies on it, per the Facebook Canon of clicking…
But architecture is not just, literally, exclusively about its fine arts sexiness. Architecture is the Mother of the Arts: it is not just one segment of its genetic code. Use, interior environment, safety, stability also come into play. Even a pyramid has a function beyond being a pyramid. It is inadequate, and I believe lazy, disingenuous and simply a lie to effectively equate architecture to any “man made object”.
Making a building disappear to gain the pop, power and beauty of the Record cover is sophistry: buildings are not sculptures: They Are More.
Sculpture is about shape, surface, space, allusion, light, all those ineffable things that make this cover image beautiful.
But It Is Not Architecture.