Architecture is More Than Buildings

Martin A. Pedersen, one-time New Yorker and former editor of Metropolis and Graphis, now a New Orleans resident, just started a unique site whose formal title is the Common Edge Collaborative. It a nonprofit founded by his creative partner and friend, Steven Bingler, a New Orleans–based architect and planner; they’d met while covering the city’s Katrina recovery for Metropolis. He’d been thinking for years about a project called the Common Edge that would cover his belief that contemporary architecture was almost terminally disconnected from the concerns of real people. And he thought there had to be a kind of Third Way: an architecture that fused the common truths, derived from 5,000 years of architectural thinking, with the cutting edge of innovation. Hence, the term Common Edge. It shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. In December 2014 he and Bingler published a polemic in The New York Times that “stirred things up a bit and got us thinking about creating a platform for these ideas.” I asked Pederson why architects, urbanists and designers in general should bookmark another site.

 

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Common Edge is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting architecture and design with the public that it’s meant to serve.

With Common Edge, what is the space that you are filling, and why does that space and audience need a voice?
We’re deliberately defining our mission, public engagement, as broadly as possible, so that we ourselves can engage with a variety of issues: architecture, planning, cities, social justice, functionality. It’s really trying to look at these issues from a user’s, from a citizen’s, viewpoint.

Architecture is as essential a design activity as we have. What do you think Common Edge is saying that both the architectural and lay communities need to know?
It is absolutely one of the essential design activities, and yet you wouldn’t know it. The dialogue around it, even though there are many, many terrific critics (some of them my friends), is a bit insular. It tends to exclude people who don’t speak the code. One of the things I’ve been trying to do, in the early going, is recruit lay people to write about architecture. Most of them, tragically, say, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly, what would I say? I’m not qualified to write about architecture.” And my answer is, “Of course you’re qualified! You’re a user of the building!”

 

If the designers had been asked to create a setting that signals the chaos of this campaign, they could not have done it better.

If the designers had been asked to create a setting that signals the chaos of this campaign, they could not have done it better.

That’s valid but I think there may be too many amateur critics. You are a pro, but you say you’re an amateur when it comes to the web. So, what are your primary concerns, and how are you getting them aired?
At this point, we’re so new and I’m such a digital infant that my primary concerns and my principal means of getting them aired is very much a work-in-progress. I spend far too much time at Facebook. I’m learning Twitter (overrated). I’m trying to write “stickier” internet-friendly headlines that don’t embarrass me (this is definitely a work-in-progress). It’s a slow process that requires patience, in a medium that doesn’t reward patience, but we are getting some traction and appear to be gathering an audience.

You obviously focus a bit on our patron saint Jane Jacobs. How does she play a role in your editorial thinking?
There’s a lot on the site about Jane Jacobs for a rather fortuitous reason. May 4th was the 100th anniversary of her birth. She is, in my eyes, the most important American urbanist of the 20th century, and in many ways, the ultimate Common Edger. She was always about the wisdom of the crowd. The users of the city. I suspect, even with the passing of the centennial, her name will continue to percolate on the site, and for very [good] reason: Her ideas still matter.

 

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With the insanity, buffoonery, cluelessness, bigotry and narcissism, Trump’s candidacy is tapping into something else besides racism and xenophobia: economic displacement.

The wisdom of the crowd is an interesting concept but what about the wisdom of the editor—what are your favorite themes?
I’ve always been partial to stories and essays about how cities form, how they develop, how they change, and what that means for the people who live in them.

What is on your coverage wishlist?
Healthcare. Post-occupancy stories about celebrated buildings. The social justice issues surrounding the built environment. There’s at least 20 more that I can’t think of right now because I haven’t drank enough coffee yet. It’s a bottomless well. But for me, it’s important that this is a group effort. The last thing I want this to be is me, pontificating on the state of design. I want to be part of a collection of diverse voices: designers and users. The public and the people who are supposed to be designing for them.


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