The past couple of months have been a period of great introspection at Curbed. We’ve debated how to best express our mission, talked with our writers, built decks (the slide kind!), presented to colleagues at Vox Media, tweaked how our network is structured, and taken stock of the amazing things we’ve accomplished in 2018. Add to that process a general uneasiness about the state of media—that’s for another columnist to unpack, but I’m sure you feel me—and more specific fretting over the state of architecture, and you’ve got a potent stew of purpose.
First, we’ve been both focusing and expanding Curbed’s ethos over the past few years. Our focus: We’ve pioneered a alternative model for local news—by surfacing it to a growing national audience who is more aware than ever of urbanism. And we’ve expanded our beats beyond real estate to cover the things people care about in the places they live: transportation, affordable housing, local elections, homelessness, gentrification, rental price comparisons, guides for people just moving to a particular city, guides for people just looking to get out of town.
Our conception of “home” applies on a broad scale: from the rise of the ubiquitous “modern farmhouse” look to someone’s flood-proof renovation, from a block association’s cleanup effort to a neighborhood’s rezoning, from a city’s investment in bike lanes to a nationwide coalition of mayors fighting climate change. Curbed is right there with you, engaged in the micro- and macro-issues of your city.
Meanwhile, the news cycle moves fast, and structure arrives slow. 2018 was not an especially exciting year for new architecture—instead we got a #MeToo reckoning for one of the field’s elder statesmen, a “Shitty Men in Architecture” list, and subsequent calls to end the lone architect-genius myth.
Curbed has always been about providing context, and our architecture coverage is no different. That’s precisely why we have a critic, Alexandra Lange, who sees beyond the traditional purview of architecture criticism.
One quarter of Alexandra’s pieces in 2018 discussed standalone buildings. That number doesn’t represent a lack of interest in buildings themselves, of course. It represents a move away from the lionization of a few firms that garner the majority of high-profile commissions, and toward an ever-growing curiosity about where mass culture intersects with the built environment, how architecture plays out in a museum setting, why postmodernism is worthy of preservation, and how public space can be designed for teens.
Now imagine if we limited her to reviewing only Architecture, singular, capital-A, in its most traditional sense? I love singular structures, don’t get me wrong—the title of my forthcoming* memoir is, after all, Distracted by a Building: The Kelsey Keith Story.
But single-building reviews do not an architectural media landscape make.
Writing on architecture—unless the discipline wants to die of dry rot, somewhere in an academic enclave—must adapt to the times. Trust me that this is a constant conversation: Alexandra and I both—as well as Curbed’s roster of talented, passionate writers and editors—believe strongly and surely that architecture publishing has to consider context (physically and historically), incorporate the public, tout collaboration and mentorship, and think intersectionally to be even remotely relevant.
Buildings do matter, and we hope everyone reading Curbed or walking around a city shares that opinion. But we as editors, and we as readers, understand that it’s folly to only talk about single edifices at a remove.
San Fransisco’s Millennium Tower is interesting because it’s sinking into the sand its foundation was piled into, not because of its glassy facade. The Menil Collection’s new Drawing Center intrigues because it’s part of an architectural landscape knitted into acreage smack dab in the middle of Houston. Oakland’s stadium is worth updating and preserving not (just) because it’s a Brutalist beauty, but because it’s accessible via public transit—and the shiny new toy proposed by BIG to replace it is not. A New York City airport isn’t just a terminal building, it’s a place of civic gathering, and one point in a giant multimodal transportation grid. And in a state adjusting to annual wildfires, one university’s William Pereira-designed campus isn’t just gorgeous midcentury architecture, it’s a radical model for shelter-in-place emergency planning.
I have long touted the power and impact of architecture and design—in fact, covering those two fields in a smart but accessible way, so that more people can buy into their value, has been the throughline of my career. That ethos is what led me to Curbed in 2015, and helped us grow it into something invaluable and unique: an outlet that encapsulates homes, and buildings, and streets, and neighborhoods, and cities, and movements, all co-existing as warp and weft in the urban fabric.
*Not quickly forthcoming; check back with me in 2038.
I’m going to be writing these notes on a semi-regular basis, and there’s no telling what direction they’ll take next. Stay tuned for more—and in the meantime, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any pressing thoughts, compliments, speaking invitations, pitches, or otter GIFs.