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A Cover Story: 18 of the AR’s Most Striking Covers

Collected here are 18 striking covers charting the trajectory of the AR’s editorial ambition and highlighting key moments of its 117-year story

Contrary to the maxim, you can – and should – judge The Architectural Review by its cover. Shifts in critical position, architectural preoccupations and even editorial re-shuffles can be glimpsed through the vivid history of the AR, rendered in everything from hand-drawn caricatures to subversive photographs.

The Architectural Review: A Cover Story – an exhibition demonstrating this rich archive – opens at WORK Gallery on 29 May. Focusing on the magazine under the leadership of editor Hubert de Cronin Hastings, the exhibition draws on the covers’ ’40s and ’50s aesthetic, led by Hastings’ theory of Townscape. This, however, represents merely a decade. Since the earliest issues, the AR’s covers have been vivid reflections of its editorial ethos.

First Cover

November 1896

The first issue of the AR depicted the fictional muse of Architecture, cradling a building and guiding her sister muses forward. Posited as a magazine ‘For the Artist and Craftsman’, and featuring columns inscribed with ‘Painting’, ‘Sculpture’, ‘Design’ and ‘Craft’, the first early issues were broad in scope and designed to make architectural criticism visual rather than purely verbal.

This zeitgeist, inspired by Ruskin and Pugin, soon shifted, but the AR’s position as a disseminator of not just architectural criticism but all of the arts still remains.



February 1945

Barbara Jones’ striking illustration for the cover of this 1945 issue paraphrases the combined pleasures and nightmares of the fun fair, the focus of her and Eric Brown’s central piece on carousels; ‘Roundabout: Demountable Baroque’.

The unprecedented look at this iconic fun-fair staple presented it as one of the last vestiges of Baroque, lavishly decorated like the one that spins inside this nightmarishly large, sharp-toothed mouth of a giant cat in Jones’ drawing.


March 1948

The most complicated of the giant astronomical instruments at Delhi, The Misra Yantra, sits sideways on the cover of the March 1948 issue. Thought to have been constructed by Maharaja Singh in the mid 19th century, the Misra – along with the rest of the constructs at the Astronomy of Brobdingnag – is a lesson in achieving monumental effect with abstract forms.

Alongside is a diagram of an Azimuth compass – a smaller brass instrument that likely did a better job plotting the heavenly bodies than Delhi’s gargantuan devices.


March 1949

The 1949 exhibition 40,000 Years of Modern Art at the ICA presented ancient works alongside contemporary painting and sculpture – including the Congolese mask on this cover – to highlight the hugely influential transference of ideas from the primitive to the contemporary. The Songye people were renowned for their belligerent wooden masks, disjointed in structure with protruding features.

In the issue Roland Penrose discusses the impact these primitive works had on modern masters like Picasso and Klee, and subsequently Modernist architects.


October 1949

The AR’s affinity with the pub was celebrated as early as 1949, amid the latest reconditioning of the nation’s wine bars, gin palaces and taprooms. The late journalist and broadcaster Maurice Gorham provides a lengthy history of the pub through the centuries, occupied not with its exterior form but its developing social role and function.

The issue’s cover sets this tone, Osbert Lancaster’s painting cutting off the pub’s exterior to show the everyday interior that is seldom considered until it is lost, full of nostalgic pub paraphernalia.


February 1952

The chapels of the Via Crucis that line the approach to the Sanctuary Church of Congonhas do Campo provided the image for this 1952 issue. Inside each chapel are successive, life-size scenes of the Passion, carved from wood by Brazilian sculptor Aleijadinho. While the cover does not portray the figures’ crude nature or bright colouring, their sinister sense of caricature is all too apparent.

Aleijadinho also turned his hands to the stone Prophets on the Church’s terrace, which he famously sculpted while desperately ill, a hammer and chisel strapped to his hands.


August 1954

Swedish architect and sculptor Egøn Möller-Nielsen’s Play Sculptures were part of a collaboration with Frank and Theresa Caplan alongside their 1945 manifesto, Creative Playthings. In what was possibly the most enthusiastic ever drive for designers to stimulate the imaginations of children, Creative Playthings collaborated with MoMA, Louis Kahn, Henry Moore and others on original playground designs.

The cover of this 1954 issue celebrated the interaction of children with Möller-Nielsen’s fibreglass blobitecture, emerging from the smooth forms that later inspired a series of children’s toys.


May 1957

The Machine Made America issue of 1957 featured a collage by Scottish artist John McHale, founder of the Independent Group – the Pop Art progenitor that grew out of a fascination with American mass culture.

Using glossy magazine prints of steaks, cakes, dream-kitchens, cars, machines and electronics, McHale created this ominous, robotic personage, accompanying the issue’s analysis of the impact of America’s material world on architecture.


March 1963

Covers throughout the AR’s history have tracked architecture’s changing obsession with typography, to this day a constantly developing relationship between image, text and logo is evident.

Several issues of the ’50s and ’60s opted purely for typography, such as the striking designs of Philip Thompson which branded ‘ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW’ or simply ‘ar’ across the entire cover.


December 1965

With the ’60s in full swing, the AR deployed this psychedelic cover by experimental photographer Vincenzo Ragazzini in response to the fashion for Op Art, conveying a strongly architectural sense of depth and perspective that constantly shifts and morphs.

Once an architectural student in Rome, the issue was published shortly before an exhibition of Ragazzini’s work in London. Despite the emergence of the label in the ’60s, the techniques of Op Art had long been familliar to students of the Bauhaus, Cubism and Dada.


April 1968

Artist Gerald Nason produced a series of drawings that depict cut-away heads, each with a unique idea of what goes on inside. The drawing on April’s 1968 cover shows a head full of steampunk, ramshackle mechanical Victoriana, a chandelier and decadent wooden fascia in place of a brain and teeth moved by pistons.

It straddles the ground between whimsy and the slightly sinister – one of many disembodied, broken heads that would feature on the cover of the AR over the years.


December 1968

Oskar Schlemmer, infatuated with the world of costumes and masks, used both humans and mechanical marionettes to mirror architectural archetypes. As both head of sculpture and the theatre workshop at the Bauhaus, Schlemmer’s abstract, performative art equated the performer absolutely within their architectural surroundings.

Prior to the publication of this issue in 1968, a performance of the Bauhaus ballets had served as the opening to a memorial exhibition at Stuttgart. The cover shows Kavla Grosch performing a scene from the Metal Ballet, a vision of industrial strength finished with silver foil.


March 1970

Hubert de Cronin Hastings’ final years as Editor of the AR were marked by the most ambitious period in its history: Manplan. A dark humanist manifesto comprising eight issues that provided a vastly alternative approach to architectural journalism, Manplan took the AR’s critical position of social responsibility to new heights, drenching it in specially formulated matt black ink and arguing for the architect’s involvement in the reform of everything from local government to religion.

Manplan’s covers were as striking as its content, often sporting decapitated heads or skulls that gradually became more macabre and fetishised. The cover of issue 5, which examines religion, shows a Brazilian human trophy head of the Mundurucú tribe – for the tribesmen a symbol of great prestige – bathed in an orange half-light.


December 1974

High-tech masters Rogers and Piano built the ‘smoothly detailed piece of advanced building technology’ that adorns this 1974 issue – with an eye-catching shade of almost-Renault-yellow.

A steel structure clad in pre-fab, glass-reinforced cement panels satisfied the need for a cheap, fast resolution for this factory in Tadworth, lent a ’70s futuristic appearance by its pod-like modules and rounded windows.


December 1989

Roundel Design Group’s short-lived identity for British railfreight, emblazoned on a freighter travelling across a bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne was the cover of the 1989 Making Connections issue. The bold and bright geometric shapes helped create an image that has remained unchallenged since the privatisation of British Rail.

At a time when morale was low and performance even worse, the design of unique insignia for each maintenance centre led to Roundel Design Group winning a Financial Times award for a beneficial effect on the culture of the organisation.


September 2007

The September 2007 issue was handed over to Terry Farrell to present a Manifesto for London, 20 propositions to improve the city ranging from eliminating all pedestrian underpasses to rediscovering lost villages and towns.

On the cover was a version of Farrell’s ‘unified mental mapping’ of the metropolis, an attempt to make London more understandable. The map uses the outer ring of the M25 to link London to the whole of the South-East and the Thames Gateway, giving a simple impression of where London sits with the Circle line in the centre. In the issue Farrells showed this map overlaid with walks, bus and train routes, a one-size-fits-all alternative to our various different means of route planning.


October 2011

Stripped back to its naked, reinforced-concrete frame, Park Hill’s structural grid is a bold send off for the October 2011 re-launch issue, which marked a striking return to the AR’s critical writing. Christophe Egret’s question ‘Leave the frame and start again?’ captures Park Hill’s instructive paradigm as socialist ideal turned ghetto; the images are a grim vision of its downfall but set the hopeful stage for redevelopment.

Perhaps Urban Splash’s proposed re-design of the Sheffield landmark – a sustaining of character with an impetus for improved social provision – had much in common with the AR’s critical re-shuffle.


October 2013

Frances Edith Cooper’s Variegated Lilly and Solo Silo, part of her winning entry to the 2013 Global Architecture Graduate Awards, floats in a sea of pink emblazoned with a silver logo on the cover of the education special that featured all of the GAGA winners.

Frances’s project proposed to make the Wynyard Quarter – a reclaimed waterfront area in Auckland, New Zealand – ‘fervently public’. The authority of the scheme was matched by stylised, nuanced visuals for even the smallest of elements, two of which won pride of place on the issue’s cover.

The Architectural Review: A Cover Story

Where: WORK, 10A Acton Street, London

When: 29 May - 29 June




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