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AD Magazine - 80 years in print

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With a succession of talented editors, AD has given weight to numerous architectural movements. Following a symposium this week celebrating 80 years in print, Steve Parnell looks back at the magazine’s illustrious history

We all know and love AD today as that glossy, bi-monthly magazine-cum-book that publishes the latest in architectural theory and the occasional building. But behind it is a rich and influential history that stretches back to 1930, when it was originally given away freely with the Architect’s Standard Catalogue and was called Architectural Design and Construction.

Barbara Randell and Monica Pidgeon took over its editorship immediately after the Second World War. A great networker in architectural circles, Pidgeon brought contacts, energy and optimism to the magazine. Forever looking forward (history was frowned upon in her magazine), she had a real nose for the next big thing. But it was the series of talented technical editors beginning with Randell’s replacement, Theo Crosby, in November 1953, who guided the magazine’s content. Crosby transformed the magazine with the grooviest covers and offered a platform to Peter and Alison Smithson, with whom he shared a house and an interest in the Independent Group, and who had just completed the school at Hunstanton (published in AD, September 1953). Between the Smithsons in AD and Reyner Banham in the AR, the neo-avantgarde movement of the new brutalism was born and raised amid post-war austerity. Until the early 1960s, with modern architecture as the choice of style for reconstructing Britain, architecture was all about the building, epitomised particularly by the remarkable September 1961 issue on Sheffield.

In 1962, Kenneth Frampton took over from Crosby and it was while touring Europe for AD and seeing how modernism was attuned to individual architects in the continent’s varied cities that his ideas on critical regionalism were formed. More critical articles appeared on, for example, Atelier 5 and Hans Scharoun and whole issues dedicated to the work of Mangiarotti & Morassuti and Lingeri & Terragni in Italy, Aris Konstantinidis in Greece, Ernö Goldfinger in Britain and ATBAT in France. While the AR remained British and committed to its visually orientated Townscape campaigns, AD was more international and promoted the likes of Buckminster Fuller (July 1961) and space-race technology transfer (February 1967), thus becoming the magazine of the younger generation. It was Frampton’s successor, Robin Middleton, who became technical editor in 1965 and subsequently introduced Archigram to the magazine, having previously worked with them at Taylor Woodrow under Theo Crosby. AD was the first of the British commercial architectural press to publish Archigram (AR left them well alone) and this attracted subscribers during the revolutionary late 1960s. Middleton and Archigram were disillusioned with what modernism had become and AD reflected this change of attitude in Cosmorama (see Back Issues, AJ 12.03.09), which gradually took over the rest of the magazine as architecture became more about the idea than the building. AD became associated with the Architectural Association, a relationship that has endured ever since.

In May 1968, while students around Europe revolted, Architectural Design became simply AD. Advertising revenues had been declining in all magazines through the 1960s and in October 1970, AD shunned advertising completely and became a ‘little magazine’, financed solely by subscriptions. New printing techniques and reduced paper quality allowed this and it resulted in complete editorial freedom for Middleton and Peter Murray, who succeeded him in 1972.

Around 1973, as the ‘golden age of capitalism’ was coming to an end and Britain was moving from an industrial to postindustrial society, the Standard Catalogue Company wanted to sell AD. Pidgeon left in 1975. A couple of uncomfortable ménage à trois years between Haig Beck, Martin Spring and Andreas Papadakis ended when Papadakis bought the others out and was left as both publisher and editor of AD by 1979. The magazine changed tack completely and history was not only allowed, but encouraged.

Catherine Cooke’s brilliantly researched issues on Russian constructivism influenced the image-making of the next cul-de-sac fad, deconstruction

With the birth of the ‘AD Profile’, the monograph became a staple of the publishing diet and the architectural celebrity was promoted: Rem Koolhaas published a nascent Delirious New York in an issue dedicated to OMA, and Charles Jencks tested his ideas for The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. It was the era of the Prince Charles’ attack, and Papadakis promoted his post-modern interests through Léon Krier, Robert Stern, James Stirling and Demetri Porphyrios. Papadakis also held big name seminars to provide publication material but complemented this with Catherine Cooke’s series of brilliantly researched issues on Russian constructivism which, somewhat ironically, influenced the image-making of the next cul-de-sac fad, deconstruction. The first of three deconstruction issues appeared in 1988, starting a trend of seductive autonomous formalism masquerading as ‘avant-garde’ - architecture was now about the image.

Papadakis sold out to a German publisher in 1992 who quickly sold on to John Wiley. Throughout the 90s, AD shifted focus to more theoretical concerns and digitally justified blobs, starting with Greg Lynn’s Folding Architecture in 1993 and continuing with themes like cyberspace and hyperspace. And this remains the general format today, with a new chapter of architectural philosophy arriving every other month.

The Big Issues

September 1961
In the early 1960s, Sheffield was the only city in Britain whose modern architectural aspirations could match those of London. Using techniques developed on his Southam Street series of the previous half decade in this issue (see page 40), photographer Roger Mayne focused on people and activity in the recently completed Park Hill and Castle Markets, instead of the buildings themselves. This radical approach was to influence future architectural photography, in particular AR’s future Manplan series. This issue also contained more pages of adverts than any other issue of AD (146 compared to 56 pages of editorial).

February 1967
This issue from February 1967, with the iconic faceless astronaut cover (see page 40), instantly recalls the space race technologies of the time. The issue was guest edited by former Independent Group member John McHale, who was at the time working with Buckminster Fuller at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. It features
Buckminster Fuller’s predictions about the year 2000 and NASA technology throughout, and McHale’s essay ‘the future of the future’ prefigured his book of the same name two years later. One of the most popular issues ever, it immediately sold out and was reprinted.

April 1977
Charles Jencks had shown glimpses of his forthcoming book, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, in January 1977’s issue on Arata Isozaki, where he wrote: ‘There is a new situation developing within modernism. We have a plurality of styles, an ever-so-slight tinge of historicism and a discrete sequential revivalism’. The April 1977 issue (see page 41) was dedicated entirely to post-modernism and Jencks’ book, featuring articles by Charles Moore, Geoffrey Broadbent, Robert Stern and Jencks himself, effectively launching the movement to a confused profession.

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  • A good documentation of Aris Konstantinidis's Xenia hotel in Paliouri makes it clear that paper lasts longer than buildings.

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