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This Is Not Architecture

August 14, 2016

IMG_6844 copyArchitectural 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.



11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2016 6:06 pm


    I agree with your POV completely. I’ve always admired and looked up to architects. I know several of them – they are my heroes because I can identify with the importance and symbolism of the subject, much as you said in your remarks. Sculpture is just that. Architecture is different.

    I’ve long felt that Trinity was lucky to have you as chairMAN of our properties committee. Your profession gives you a unique insight into the needs of our building, and history, while it may not thank you in time for you to hear it, will be eternally grateful.

    Keep cool, literally, my friend!


  2. August 15, 2016 11:22 am

    Absolutely right, seems like a nice piece of sculpture, but not architecture….And we wonder why architects are more and more marginalized with the greater public…

  3. August 15, 2016 11:22 am

    Duo, thank you for expressing what I think many of us architects felt seeing this cover. I didn’t open it right away when I got it but just kept looking at it and saying to myself “Is this really a building? It can’t be! What is it doing here?” The very title of the magazine tells us all we should be seeing pics of noteworthy architecture, either built, to be built, or just a concept never to see concrete under it. There are plenty of other journals where this cover would have made sense but not here.

  4. Michelle Plotnik permalink
    August 15, 2016 12:46 pm

    While I agree that it’s not architecture, I have to admit that I rarely even read the articles in Architectural Record anymore but I read this one and loved the cover. Yeah, it’s not architecture but it’s beautiful and interesting and the process for creating it was worth the read.

    I’m an architect and a fan of Duo but there’s a lot of published material that bothers me more than this.

  5. August 15, 2016 5:19 pm

    I would question even “the thing”s aesthetic quality. The setting itself is beautiful. The man-made thing is somewhat a harsh interjection in that setting. The program appears to have originated in an order for a full truckload of readi-mix concrete, with a slump of about nine.
    The on-site instructions seem to have been “Dump half of the load here and the other half
    yonder….and send a large backhoe or two out in a couple of days…”

  6. October 21, 2016 8:24 am

    Where does architecture start and sculpture Start? If they are Architects, is not all their work “architecture”?


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