Ivory and Concrete Towers

The Architectural Review has had a long association with EC1. As the magazine celebrates 120 years in print, Cass Horowitz looks back at its pivotal moments – and contributing literary greats

The magazine publisher Emap used to inhabit several buildings around Clerkenwell. One on Bowling Green Lane; another on Farringdon Lane (an elegant warehouse built in 1875 for a clock manufacturer), and another on Rosebery Avenue. The latter, a glass-fronted office, was the rather unremarkable-looking place from which it produced its key architecture ventures, The Architects’ Journal and The Architectural Review.

Though Emap has since moved to the Old Street area, the AR, as it’s known, is still going strong. In fact, it has been going now for more than a century; this year it celebrates its 120th birthday.

A grand occasion for a journal with a grand vision. When it was founded by publisher Percy Hastings in 1896, with its first, Arts & Crafts- style cover, its mission was to be “for the artist and craftsman”. (Later it added “archaeologist” and “designer” to the strapline.) From the beginning, it adopted a belief that architecture should be displayed, not just discussed, and its large format allowed for a thorough exploration of it as an art, rather than a business.

The AR may be old but it’s always pushed to stay current. When it first relaunched, in 1913, it adopted new technology to improve the reproduction quality of its imagery and to allow for the innovative use of whole-page photographs. Six years later, it was chosen as the official publisher of coloured pictures of London during the peace celebrations – a result of its work documenting the destruction in Europe during the war.

After years covering new architectural movements in Europe, and commissioning articles from the likes of Le Corbusier, Ernö Goldfinger, Berthold Lubetkin and Walter Gropius, it returned to focus once more on peacetime efforts; this time, it was the work of the architects who were rebuilding Britain after World War II.

During the war itself, it was the renowned German historian Nikolaus Pevsner who was at its helm; he stood in as acting editor from 1943 to 1945. Other big names have graced the AR’s offices and used their time there to launch their careers. One such is the poet John Betjeman, one of Clerkenwell’s most famous former residents. He was the AR’s assistant editor from 1930 to 1934. Indeed, there’s a veritable Who’s Who of past contributors: DH Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Sacheverell Sitwell, Hilaire Belloc, Ian Nairn.

As a resource for architects, of whom there are so many based in EC1, it’s an essential. “We have copies in our office going back to the early Seventies,” says Geraldine Walder, director of DSP Architecture on St John Street. For her, and many other architects, the magazine continues to do what it’s done throughout its history: “stimulate architectural debate and promote cutting-edge architecture.”

How relevant the magazine will be in the future is a discussion point right now, as the magazine chalks up its milestone and enters a new chapter. There has been talk of it becoming an online- only offering.  But editor-in-chief Christine Murray insists the AR will keep its current print frequency, while at the same time creating “a richer digital experience” for its readers. Bravo.