Q+A: Ned Cramer

Posted inID Mag
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It’s a bewildering fact that the U.S. has 300 million people and countless buildings but sustains only two major professional architecture magazines. So it was good news when we heard of the impending arrival of a monthly called Architect, with Ned Cramer at the helm.

Cramer, 35, brings fine chops to the job, having served for four years as curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation and before that as executive editor of Architecture magazine. In his premier issue of Architect, launched in October, he promised to “portray architecture from multiple perspectives, not just as a succession of high-profile projects, glowingly photographed and critiqued, but as a technical and creative process, and as a community.” Diverse viewpoints are certainly evident in the magazine’s pages—issuing from principals and interns, department chairs and students, neotraditionalists and digital devotees. But anyone looking forward to a friendly competition between Cramer’s old and new bailiwicks will find their hopes dashed. Just as Architect was prepping its debut, its publisher, Hanley Wood, bought rival Architectureand shut it down. I.D. reached Cramer at his Washington, D.C., office to discuss how he’ll treat the built environment in the new publishing landscape.

Congratulations on launching Architect. When you first began talking with the publishers, what vision did you sell them? My entire experience had been about glorifying design as an art form. I began to see a trap in turning a blind eye toward process and technology and all the things we think of as less glamorous aspects of the profession. I sensed an information gap. And it turned out that Hanley Wood’s market research was pointing in that direction too. This was the first job interview in my life where I felt I wasn’t just spinning.

The most popular magazine in your niche is Architectural Record, and it’s lush with beautiful projects. Can you really compete with all that eye candy? Quite honestly, I think Architectural Record is an amazing resource—as their name suggests, they’re a chronicle of accomplishments. Our angle is different. Our name says that we’re about people and process, which isn’t to say we’re about the continuing celebration of star architects. The guy who designs a modest project in Des Moines, Iowa, has his place in the profession, too, and we have things to learn from him. When we show buildings, we’ll do stories about how the client interacted with the architect, the kind of technical solutions brought to bear. We’re interested in delivering market intelligence, which isn’t something that happens very often. We’ll show products in a way that transcends thumbnail images and 50 words culled from a press release.

You hired Abbott Miller from Pentagram as your designer. In what ways does the format express your goals? We wanted the magazine to strive for extreme utility and accessibility. If we had a paradigm in mind it was the language of manuals and newspapers and other dense, info-rich media. We wanted to deploy design to speak to designers in a way that was smart but not clever.

What are your feelings about the acquisition of Architecture? It’s an emotional thing for me. I worked there for eight years with a lot of people I loved and respected, and it’s always tough to lose a fine, independent voice, as it remained under its most recent tenure. At the same time, I think we’re offering a magazine so new and different that people will feel they’re getting something of equal value in return.

It’s ironic that Architecture in its day swallowed up a rival, Progressive Architecture. Why do you think architecture journalism in this country persists in being a zero-sum game? While it’s sad that the country seemingly can’t support more than two architecture magazines at any given time, I’m heartened by a shifting landscape that has meant that magazines like Metropolis, Dwell, and Wallpaper, which have both public and professional audiences, play a much larger role. And there are other arenas where architectural media are flourishing. The Architect’s Newspaper and web presences like Archinect and ArchNewsNow are also part of the mix. So yes, we’re seeing this strange, locked-in situation, but at the same time, the larger state of design journalism is pretty much thriving.

What’s in the works for your own website? We’ve started off with a series of blogs, and we’re introducing a feature where architects will be able to upload details of their work and eventually whole projects. We’ll have news feeds culled from around the world, and job postings, and the entire magazine content will be online.

Apart from tutoring your readers in practical matters, will Architect take a stand? My primary position is that I’m sick of professional infighting. I think it probably does more damage than the most aggressive ideologically driven development by any camp. As I wrote in my first editorial, I look at the profession as trying to recover from the collapse of urban renewal, the modern movement, and divorce from the day-to-day lives of end users. By blinding itself to the needs of the marketplace, it limits its capacity to be socially, politically, and environmentally relevant. I would venture that every architect in his or her way is trying to seek a way back to relevance and a greater sense of professional responsibility, and we really want to be part of that.

Julie Lasky is editor-in-chief of I.D.