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Catherine Slessor

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AR Issues: Past Imperfect, Future Tense

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 April 2015 issue, her final editorial at the magazine, Catherine Slessor reflects on the changes in her two-decade tenure as a member of the AR's editorial staff - from the technological change that has irrevocably changed the nature of architectural publishing, to the worrying decline in the relevance of the architectural profession.

Cyberpunk king William Gibson once remarked: "The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed." But we’re getting there. The AR’s digital adventure has just climaxed with the recent launch of the AR app. Our lavish and incomparable banquet of criticism, culture and campaigning can now be savoured at your leisure, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. It’s a leap that completes the journey from paper magazine to digital multiverse, offering more and different kinds of content on your platform of choice.

AR Issues: Architecture That Goes Beyond Style Wars

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this editorial from AR’s March 2015 issue, AR Editor Catherine Slessor discusses the phenomenon of "architects and magazines pursuing content rather than style," arguing both that architects should be raising the bar and also that the media, by nurturing their critical stance, should be a part of the solution, not the problem.

In what style shall we – or indeed, should we – build? Historically, architecture’s relationship with "style" is complicated and vexed. We can easily identify the formal attributes and origins of specific styles that attest to why Gothic cathedrals or Victorian train sheds look the way they do. But beyond the constraints of such historical determinism, Postmodernist and Parametricist multiplicities have allowed a hundred flowers to bloom, and their aroma began to stink the place out long ago.

AR Issues: Architects Don't Invent, They Transform

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this editorial from AR’s February 2015 issue, AR Editor Catherine Slessor reflects on Álvaro Siza's ouevre, from his early work in Évora to his latest effort in China. Though the latter is admittedly elegant, Slessor concludes that in comparison to his older transformative designs the recent incarnation of "brand Siza" is a "predictable triumph of style over content."

The great Portuguese Modernist Fernando Távora once remarked "Style is not of importance; what counts is the relation between the work and life, style is only the consequence of it." His friend and protégé Álvaro Siza echoed this sentiment when he said: "Architecture does not have a pre-established language nor does it establish a language. It is a response to a concrete problem, a situation in transformation, in which I participate. In architecture, we have already passed the phase during which we thought that the unity of language would resolve everything. A pre-established language, pure, beautiful, does not interest me."

AR Issues: A Primer From the Prince

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this editorial from AR’s January 2015 issue, AR Editor Catherine Slessor reflects on The Prince of Wales’ ten principles for sustainable urban growth, which sparked widespread debate when they were published online near the end of December, arguing that the Prince's views are not just "some rose-tinted view of the past as the answer to the problems of modern life."

Some 25 years ago, the AR produced a special issue entitled "A Primer for the Prince". It recognised that in Britain, The Prince of Wales had come to exert a considerable influence on architecture, greatly increasing public awareness of the built environment and encouraging debate about the character of buildings and cities.

AR Issues: The Problem With Memorials and Memory

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this editorial from AR’s December 2014 issue, AR Editor Catherine Slessor ruminates on the contemporary approach to memorials, arguing that “as architecture can rarely truly grasp the notion of absence, memorial culture lapses into comforting banality.

Always uneasy bedfellows, this year the relationship between building and memory has had a particularly charged resonance. The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War has been framed by the familiar narratives of slaughter and sacrifice, while the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the moment when Communism in Europe finally faltered and collapsed. No doubt that these are profound, epoch-defining events, but how they are memorialised in built form is frequently problematic.

AR Issues: Beyond the historic panacea of the Garden City

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this post, we take a look at AR’s October 2014 issue which, inspired by URBED's Wolfson Prize-winning design, features a look at Garden Cities. Here, AR Editor Catherine Slessor questions whether Garden Cities could be the solution for what is fast becoming one of Britain's most potent political problems, asking “Could Howard’s Garden City and Rudlin’s winning proposal for the Wolfson Prize give crucial hints to come out of the housing crisis?

Every town-planning module for architecture students begins (and possibly ends) with the Garden City. Yet though Ebenezer Howard’s famous ‘Three Magnets’ diagram is now 116 years old, the notion of combining the better attributes of town and country in a socially reformed, neatly zoned, quasi Utopian city-on-the-hill still has a pervasive appeal. In Howard’s original vision there was room for all, even an insane asylum and ‘home for inebriates’ strategically corralled in a green belt between the city centre and an outer rim of allotments. 

AR Issues: Redefining Modulor Man for a New Era of Inclusivity

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this post, we take a look at AR’s September 2014 issue, which includes an examination of the sometimes difficult relationship between architecture and disability. Here, AR Editor Catherine Slessor argues that we should adapt our understanding of Le Corbusier's Modulor Man to be more inclusive, asking "What happens when disability is not seen as a problem for architecture to solve, but as a potential generative impetus?"

From Vitruvius to Le Corbusier, the mathematical proportions of the human form have historically been used to shape and define architecture. Man is, essentially, the ultimate measure of all things. The famous Modulor Man was originally based on the height of the average Frenchman (1.75 metres, or 5 feet 9 inches) but was later increased to a more strapping 1.83 metres (6 feet) because of Corb’s penchant for English detective novels in which (literally) upstanding characters such as policemen, were always 6 feet tall.

AR Issues: The Secret Lives of Buildings Beyond the Lure of Awards

Courtesy 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 post, we take a look at AR’s August 2014 issue, which examines the tension between the often idealised world of the architecture media and the messy complexity of real-world buildings. Here, AR Editor Catherine Slessor meditates on "the uneasy relationship between reductivist beauty contests and architecture’s nuanced narratives and complexities."

The recent announcement of the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist has stoked up the usual feverish debate about what constitutes ‘good’ architecture and what should or shouldn’t win. But an awards scheme that can pit the Shard against the Everyman Theatre, thus perilously straddling an engorged spectrum of style, scale, client, context, user and urban contribution, is a fundamentally impossible proposition when you get down to it. One former editor of The Architects’ Journal despairingly remarked that judging the Stirling was like trying to compare a cookery book with a slim volume of poetry. Apart from both being printed on paper, they have nothing else in common. So do you plump for cookery or poetry?

AR Issues: A Biennale for Critical Times

Courtesy 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 post, we take you back to AR's July 2014 issue, which focused on this year's Venice Biennale. In her introduction, AR Editor Catherine Slessor argues that while previous Biennales have been hopelessly out of touch, this year Rem Koolhaas has initiated a critical conversation at a crucial moment in time.

In its giddy, self-referential way, the Venice Architecture Biennale always seems blissfully detached from the real world. Set in the preposterous, decaying stage set that is modern Venice, the press vernissage is a frenzied bacchanal, as the global cognoscenti descend like locusts on a fragile urban eco-system already bludgeoned by battalions of tourists and hulking cruise ships.

AR Issues: Who Needs Architecture Critics?

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine's monthly editions. In this post, we take you back to AR's June 2014 issue, which examines the state of architectural criticism in our age of online media and ever-present PR. Here, AR Editor Catherine Slessor argues that "more than ever, architecture is in need of provocative, engaging and entertaining critics."

Ambrose Bierce, the great 19th-century satirist and author of the The Devil’s Dictionary, once defined a critic as ‘a person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him’. Critics occupy a curiously parasitical position in the modern cultural milieu, and an architecture critic perhaps especially so. But in an age when architects can easily find obliging PR minions to dispense their gospel and biddable publishers to churn out infinite, anodyne oeuvres complètes, who still needs critics and criticism?

Opinion: Architecture Should Not Cost Lives

Is it more dangerous to be a soldier or a construction worker? Astonishingly, it’s the latter. According to a recent report in the Guardian, 448 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan  since 2001. In the same period, 760 construction workers died on British building sites.

Life is cheap at the dirty end of architecture and not just in the UK. The number of fatalities of largely migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent imported to implement Qatar’s architectural ambitions, notably the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, has been the subject of much hand-wringing discussion. And rightly so − over 400 Indian and Nepali building workers died in Qatar in 2013, and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has warned that up to 4,000 workers may die before a ball is finally kicked in 2022.

If 400 people perished in a plane crash, there would be exhaustive inquiries into aircraft safety, lessons would be learnt and strategies of improvement implemented. There would also be a palpable sense of loss and accountability. But a fatality here and there on a construction site over a period of time does not have the same galvanizing impetus. 

A Seductive Abstraction: Architecture & Photography's Tacit Pact

Courtesy of The Architectural Review
Courtesy of The Architectural Review

ArchDaily has partnered with The Architectural Review to bring you short thematic introductions to the magazine's monthly editions. Up now: AR's April 2014 issue, which examines the complexities of architecture photography. Editor Catherine Slessor asks "what happens when controlled views of buildings are redefined by and adapted to new technologies?"

Roland Barthes once observed that there is no such thing as a photograph. ‘Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see’, he wrote in Camera Lucida. What we do see is the scrutinising gaze of the photographer, which can beguile or unsettle, but should always evoke some kind of response.

As a scientific and ‘truthful’ medium, photography has served architecture well, especially in the Modernist era when the evolving medium synthesised perfectly with a new approach to design. Yet the relationship between architecture and photography is an inherently compromised one. Unlike art practice, architectural photography lends itself less to searching critical enquiry, being essentially an unspoken pact between architect, photographer and publisher to render buildings in a way that discreetly flatters architectural ambition and sells copies of books or magazines.

The Architectural Review's Latest Issue: Architecture and Our War-Torn Cities

Courtesy of The Architectural Review
Courtesy of The Architectural Review

ArchDaily is happy to announce a new development in our partnership with The Architectural Review. Each month, AR’s editor, Catherine Slessor, will weigh in with a thematic introduction to the subjects addressed in their current issue. Up now: war and architecture. While our war-torn cities can be rebuilt, their fraught social linkages will never be the same.

At the height of the Cold War, the US developed the neutron bomb, an extreme and more ‘advanced’ type of nuclear weapon that could kill people but theoretically leave buildings intact. Described by both the Russians and Americans as the ‘capitalist bomb’, it was eventually sidelined but became emblematic of the crazed Dr Strangelove ingenuity that underscored the time.

Architectural Review's Latest Issue: "Is This The End of Public Space?"

Courtesy of The Architectural Review
Courtesy of The Architectural Review

ArchDaily is happy to announce a new development in our partnership with The Architectural Review. Each month, AR's editor, Catherine Slessor, will weigh in with a thematic introduction to the subjects addressed in their current issue. Up now: public space. Is it on the brink of extinction? And, if so, how can we reclaim it?

Just over 20 years ago, Mike Davis and Michael Sorkin predicted the end of public space as we knew it. ‘America’s cities are being rapidly transformed by a sinister and homogeneous design’, they wrote at the time. ‘A new kind of urbanism - manipulative, dispersed, and hostile to traditional public space - is emerging both at the heart and at the edge of town in megamalls, corporate enclaves, gentrified zones, and pseudo-historic marketplaces.It marked the beginning of the realisation that public space was being stealthily privatised and commodified; the historic freedoms of the agora and the piazza replaced by the patrolled and proscribed confine of the theme park and shopping mall.