In her first editorial, Isabel Allen writes about the responsibility – and the challenge – of shepherding in a new era at Architecture Today.


Isabel Allen


In 1999 Paul Finch wrote an editorial announcing that I was to succeed him as editor of The Architects’ Journal. The late, great, Cedric Price sent a pen-and-ink self portrait with a speech bubble saying “Hooray!” Others were less effusive. The phrases that stick in my mind are “it’s a very brave decision” and “it just seems a bit odd”. In fairness, it probably was. I was three years out of architecture school – PCL and South Bank. Previous AJ editors had been middleaged, Cambridge-educated and male.

Nowdays it’s hard to name a mainstream architectural magazine without a female editor. People of all ages and diverse backgrounds are finding new and inventive ways to publish projects and pass judgement. The digital landscape is awash with radical research, informed opinion, self-righteous outrage and fresh ideas. My main concern was that I might be deemed too safe a choice for the editorship of Architecture Today. That I might have jumped from wildcard to dullard without enjoying that elusive mid-career moment when you’re expected, but also trusted, to shake things up a bit.

As it happened, the first email in my inbox was a plea for continuity, not for change. “Congratulations on your appointment, but please don’t make change for change’s sake. It is an excellent publication that I have enjoyed for years.” As congratulations go, it was a little disappointing. But it was a salutary reminder of AT’s privileged position in the architectural world. Its readership is not just engaged but proprietorial. This is a magazine founded not by publishers or institutions but by architects themselves. Its business is not to trade in soundbites or attention-grabbing headlines but to provide a platform for architects to share ideas and critique each other’s work. To offer content that is trusted, authoritative, professional, informed.

The magazine has steered a steady course. Its leadership has been stable; departures have been civilised; its editorial ethos remains unchanged. But every publication must keep moving to survive. Its future depends on an ability to retain – but also to refresh – its readership. To stay relevant. To reflect the demographics and interests of the community it serves. The driver is not change for change’s sake but, to borrow from architectural parlance, adaptive reuse.

The challenge – the fun – lies in striking the right balance between conservation, restoration, refurbishment and change. In identifying those elements that can be stripped back or added or repurposed or updated. In recognising the value of strong foundations, sound structure and historic pedigree. In refreshing its spirits without diminishing its soul.