AR Issues: Looking Back on 120 Years of The Architectural Review

Courtesy of The Architectural Review

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this introduction to the December – January 2017 issue—the magazine's celebration of its 120th anniversary—Editor Christine Murray discusses the legacy that comes from more than a century being one of architecture's most respected magazines, and looks forward to the future of the publication. "Looking forward, we are committed to doing things differently – which, paradoxically, is what we’ve always done," she explains.

The archive of The Architectural Review is a great cabinet of curiosities – a cacophony of voices, styles, illustrations and photographs, Outrages and Delights, personalities and proclivities, polemics, failures and fetishes. In creating this anniversary edition celebrating 120 years of criticism, we wanted to capture the diversity and eccentricity of this ongoing architectural conversation. As such, the archive content is organized not chronologically, but in perennial themes that have echoed and evolved across the decades, from technology to education – forces that have shaped the profession.

Courtesy of The Architectural Review

Each thematic chapter is prefaced with a newly commissioned piece of writing that explores the significance of these architectural concerns which have captivated our readers for more than a century. While the keynote essay looks to the future, considering the role of architectural criticism in a post-truth era, a complete history of The Architectural Review is provided at the heart of this special edition.

It is our privilege to act not only as custodians of this great archive and its treasures, which cannot all be reproduced here, but also as agents of change bringing the traditions of this historic brand to new audiences and new futures. We hope this eclectic selection will whet your appetite. We will continue to share inspiring archival material and the contemporary provocations it elicits as we celebrate across our 120th year.

Will the AR of the future be collated by artificial intelligence, delivered into an earpiece, or consumed as a psychedelic drug that induces instant creativity while implanting in the mind a thousand precedent studies from the archive? It is vertiginous to contemplate the next 120 years. For now, I am preoccupied with current opportunities and challenges. There’s the thrill of a readership that spans six generations (GI, Silent, Boomer, X, Millennial and Z), all with their different tastes, politics and appetites – the youngest of which, under the age of 24, has surprised us by being delightfully passionate about print.

Courtesy of The Architectural Review

We’re enthused, also, by the new creative toys in our play den – films, talks, podcasts – while relishing the sense of event and craft at the heart of everything we do: curating our matrix of global collaborators; editing disparate voices; distilling the art of photographers and filmmakers; focusing the website and its breathless, instant, endlessness; and, of course, making the magazine itself – the painstaking assemblage of every page, every sentence, and working with our printing house to achieve the hand-inserted mix of papers, perforations, die-cuts and gatefolds.

As for the challenges, they are rooted in this troubling post-truth era, in which too many architects fail to recognize the difference between an independently written article by a critic who has visited the building and a press release – a distance that should be as obvious as the gulf between reality and render. But some don’t care. Like Narcissus, they prefer the digital mirror’s filtered fantasy selfie – blue skies above a sanitized architecture in which 12-year-olds fly kites on private corporate estates, while in the windswept real world, 12-year-olds stare only at their mobile phones.

Meanwhile, here at the AR, we are so old that we are becoming brand new – reincarnate and slippery as a wet baby in a caul of resistance, committed to doing things differently, which, paradoxically, is also how they have always been done. We are committed to a slower journalism – carving out space for ideas to unfurl. We exist for readers who feel dissatisfied, standing against that empty scroll of clickbait images. We want you to pause for reflection, to quench your thirst for some meaning, a glimpse of enlightenment, an idea on which to place a stone.

Courtesy of The Architectural Review

Creativity takes time, requires nourishment. But in the post-human future it is the most valuable skill architects have left – to synergize past, present and future, and care about complex social contexts. While artificial intelligence may learn to design buildings for a site, it can’t make moral decisions, predict the future or perform jazz; it lacks empathy and complex understanding. While firmness, commodity and delight may be reduced to an algorithm, architecture that serves people and place for 100 years cannot.

To enhance the creativity of our audience, we need to commission empathic writers who spend more than 15 minutes at a building and can tell the story of its context, documentary photographers who know how to capture reality, filmmakers who can craft a rich, thoughtful and compelling experience – we need to create a considered arena for journeys of discovery and change, as well as events that bring us together to challenge traditional viewpoints and talk about the issues that matter to you. Good journalism is honest, not neutral, and architects need a critically independent voice to consider the impact of what we build, beyond aesthetics.

Over the coming year we are planning special editions, salons and documentary films that will confront some of the most pressing issues of our time and how architecture can address them: water and the lack or excess of it; the post-digital and post-human society; craft and delight. We can only do this with the continued support of the subscribers who invest in our work and secure our future. I’m grateful to you, a global tribe that shares our belief in the importance of critical thought to spur architecture forward. You resist with us.

Courtesy of The Architectural Review

About the cover

Dissatisfied with the muse of architecture portrayed on the cover of the first issue of The Architectural Review – a Pre-Raphaelite mother-of-all-arts clutching a tiny Arts and Crafts castle in her hands (right) – we desired a new muse for the future of the AR. Our first cover was, after all, a retake of the Classical muse, typically painted slaving over drawings and clutching a tiny Parthenon. For this 120th issue, we sought fresh inspiration and pay tribute to the goddess Kali, with all her complexity: mother of creation and destruction, warrior, protector and liberator of souls, with the permanence to outlast the universe. The darkness of Mother Kali is the darkness from which everything was born, a mother not of the arts, but of nature – appropriate because architecture is part of nature as it springs from the human instinct to build, just as a bird constructs its nest and a spider its web. As slayer of the human ego, which must be destroyed to attain moksha, we have placed a garland of starchitects around Kali’s neck to free the profession of its earthly vanity and focus instead on its social responsibility beyond a single lifetime. In Kali’s hands we have placed not one style of architecture, but an arsenal of antecedents, each representing the power of our architectural precedents. Illustrated by the Mexican creative studio Skinpop, this powerful interpretation is a provocation to the profession to come.

Subscribe to The Architectural Review here, or purchase the December – January 2017 issue here.

About this author
Cite: Christine Murray. "AR Issues: Looking Back on 120 Years of The Architectural Review" 25 Feb 2017. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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