Today’s Best Architectural Journal

June 19, 2010

I have lamented many times in this blog the paucity of substantive, critically balanced, and socially engaged architectural writing  currently available to a literate audience in America. I contend that The Architect’s Newspaper offers the best journalistic work available now. The New York Review of Books is generally concerned with published work, not architecture per se, but Martin Filler has begun to write about the built environment with real fire and an intelligent point of view. However, if one wants the kind of serious periodical that one used to expect out of Perspecta, The Architectural Review, or Oppositions, there is almost nothing to read these days. Having edited one of the Ivy League student journals in the 1970s (a heady time) I can say there is nothing of that caliber in student periodicals now.

One of the things that traditionally set fine architectural journals apart from other kinds of periodicals was their exquisite graphic design. Collectors still value early issues of L’Esprit Nouveau, Perspecta, and other influential “small magazines” for their sheer beauty. In the age of internet publishing, concern with paper quality, bindings, typefaces, duotone printing and color lithography seem to be things of the past. Yet architecture is concerned with craft as much as with dazzle, and a good book is a crafted object.

There is a little-known architectural journal that has been published sporadically since the early 1990s that increasingly challenges the public with its ideas, artistic works, buildings, crafts and fine scholarship. It is called The Classicist. Though that title may suggest to many a Luddite point of view, or at the very least a focus on the Antique, such an interpretation would sell short the intent and content of this fine journal. Yes, the classical tradition is invoked often, and many writers are scholars and artists trained in that tradition, yet much of what is presented is engaged with present day problems in urbanism, architecture and art. Indeed, for those wishing to fine a really critical analysis of many of the ills in our built environment, this is the place to go.

Volume 8, edited by Richard Johns, an English scholar teaching at the University of Miami, is the best yet issued by The Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America, the sponsoring organization based in New York. Not only is the book exquisitely beautiful, it contains work of  such consistent quality and depth that any sympathetic reader will be pleased to own it. It will soon become a collector’s item in its own right. Printed  in full color on elegant heavy stock, every page is a delight to look at. Moreover, there is so much to read a curious architect will be busy for months.

I won’t go into the detail about the contents in this blog, but will write more in a later post. I can only say now that with this extraordinary publication, ICA and CA can justly lay claim to producing an architectural journal worthy of standing with the best in a canon dating back to The Builder in the 19th century. Bravo. The competition, if such exists, will have a high bar to reach.

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