Architects, critics and writers praise the editorship of Catherine Slessor
Catherine Slessor’s influence on architectural publishing has been profound and international - she is one of the foremost editors and writers of her generation. Under her guardianship, The Architectural Review has remained a beacon of critical discourse - long may it continue!
Catherine’s dedication to both the AR and the wider discipline of architectural journalism over the past three decades has been incredible. Keeping The Architectural Review on an upward curve after the impressive tenure of Peter Davey was no easy task, but she has managed it with aplomb over the past five years as Editor. During her time at the helm, Catherine has not only maintained The Architectural Review’s position as a prime UK architecture publication, but she has also led the magazine to become a global leader in its sector.
As someone from the periphery of the world in Chile, I thought that Catherine’s work as the Editor of AR was great, especially because of the focus the magazine had on what was happening outside the usual circuits. In particular its focus on the new regionalism that is emerging in the developing world and Catherine’s interest in vernacular architecture opened a door into a new world.
I’m so very sad to see Catherine Slessor leave The Architectural Review. It’s tough out here in media-land, trying to compete for attention in the multi-multi-platform universe with Snapchat and ‘cats-that-knit’ on YouTube. Slessor, wisely, did the opposite. She transformed the magazine into one of real quality - beautifully designed, without gimmicks, on lovely paper and stabled with the best writers and thinkers on architecture, from a brilliantly diverse range of viewpoints - and let the audience come to it. This is an extremely rare, probably old-fashioned tactic these days, sadly. But sometimes the old ways are best. The magazine has become the most interesting, readable, functional, occasionally infuriating, beautiful architectural magazine out there. Good luck to the new Editor, Christine Murray: I hope you make it your own, while honouring Catherine’s legacy.
Tom Dyckhoff, broadcaster and critic
Catherine’s beautiful smile welcomed me when I won the AR Emerging Architecture Award. It was my first time to receive an overseas award and I remember that I was extra nervous. The award eventually led me to a broader world of architecture. That first encounter with Catherine encouraged me and showed me a path into the vast, unknown worldwide world of architecture full of anxieties. I owe it to Catherine and deeply appreciate her kindness. I would like to devote myself even more to creating wonderful architecture so that Catherine will be able to see it. I thank you with great sincerity, Catherine.
Until Catherine took over, I have to admit that I felt the AR, though strong in many ways, lacked critical vigour. But she changed that - the difference was really dramatic and I started looking forward to each month’s issue just as I used to when I first read the issues of the late 1950s. I kept on wondering how, in a much tougher world of publishing than the one I had experienced, she managed to do it. Her successor has a very tough act to follow.
Peter Carolin, former Editor of the AJ and Professor of Architecture at Cambridge
Catherine has been at this longer than any of us, and for that I salute her. Epic space is a fickle bastard and she’s always given it what for. God bless her.
Ian Martin, comedy writer
Brevity is the soul of wit. And wit is the kindling for the brightest architectural criticism. Catherine Slessor’s wit is legendary, as is her brevity. Imagine the lovechild of Ian Nairn and Dorothy Parker and you begin to understand. Only a Scot could reduce such passionate advocacy to so few words. That she never garnered her own round table is doubtless her own fault for being born a century too late.
Our impoverished culture no longer values critical intelligence - let alone the critic. We feast on the tweet and the sound bite. Press releases are regurgitated as prose. Many magazines publish whatever guff can be grouted in the gaps between illustrations. And educated architectural criticism has all but vanished. Soon nobody will remember how it was done. With Catherine’s departure, the architectural media is undoubtedly the poorer.
David Jenkins, Publisher of Circa Press
Catherine Slessor understood the AR’s tradition of architectural discourse, coupled with its (in the best sense) patrician quality. On becoming Editor, she set about restoring the voice and character of the magazine leavened with a slight touch of mischievousness. The young editorial team she assembled ensured the necessary spirit of lively inquiry and the move into new media. Above all, Catherine’s AR was always a beautiful object in itself, one I envied. Oh for those seemingly endless runs of ad-free pages with large drawings! With her gone and her team scattered, their successors have much to live up to. I wish them all the best.
Hugh Pearman, Editor of RIBA Journal
For many years we have read the AR for its critical approach. We would like to congratulate Catherine Slessor for her leading role as an editor and promoter of excellence in architecture as well as for its support to the young and emerging architects.
Enrique Sobejano and Fuensanta Nieto
Catherine Slessor has led The Architectural Review at a critical time for the profession and for architecture as a discipline. Selecting projects with a sharp eye and editing texts with a fine ear, she put her visual and literary culture at the service of a magazine that has been a reference for my generation. Very courageously, she launched The Big Rethink that stirred the still waters of criticism, and hopefully rekindled the public commitment of architects, which used to be the DNA of our trade.
Luis Fernández-Galiano, Director of AV/Arquitectura Viva
Catherine Slessor has been an extraordinary force for good in architecture on the world stage. For over 24 years she has worked tirelessly, often behind the scenes, with some of the most difficult creative people in the world with seemingly effortless and certainly riveting journalism. From the beginning she promoted sustainability in its true sense, as well as my favourite annual event, surpassing the Stirling by far and without hubris, the Awards for Emerging Architecture. This gave a crucial platform to the stars of tomorrow from Vietnam to Mexico. I have revelled in the extraordinary creativity of the work identified. But Catherine is the real star and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Clare Wright, Wright & Wright
Catherine Slessor was always going to be difficult. From the top floor we could hear her arguing with her AJ colleagues: clearly a confident and well-informed voice, and one determined to be heard. The Calvinist background must have had an influence and so, I hope, did the place and the people of the Architectural Press. Catherine made a fine contribution in return. From opening up contemporary South African architecture, to international discussion, to organising and judging world competitions, she energetically helped expand the AR’s scope. She was always an invigorating and valued colleague. As Editor, she continued her thought-provoking and world-wide interest with energy and passion. She will be much missed.
Peter Davey, former Editor of the AR
Catherine Slessor was a wonderful Editor, setting a high bar for her successors.
John J Parman, The Architect’s Newspaper
It is difficult for an outside reader to comprehend why Catherine Slessor is leaving after only five breathtaking years of editorship.Having watched for decades the AR repeat a dead and tired formula of simply publishing architectural sunlit pornography with rare intelligent critiques, fronted by ranting editorial seemingly disconnected from the published material that followed, we were then suddenly treated to a new intelligence with Slessor at the helm: it took a woman to really shake up the firmament as Christine Murray did on the AJ.
The AR suddenly and most emphatically burst into sunlit uplands. The magazine discovered a consistent social and political conscience. It was not afraid of the British cultural aversion to philosophy. There were substantial pieces to read and argue with. Great and respected architectural writers were welcomed back into the fold, given space to provoke us from our slumbers. We began to see architecture from parts of the developing world utterly neglected for decades. Simple low-carbon, low-cost buildings for those most in need. The AR cover stopped saying it was just about the promotion of the latest Western over-consuming bombastic icon.
Yes the sharp graphic mind and eye of Simon Esterson was there, as were Will Hunter, Tom Wilkinson, Phineas Harper and Ellis Woodman, but it was Slessor who had the instinct to spot such talent and focus its energies.
Patrick Hannay, Editor of Touchstone
Catherine Slessor leaving the editorship of the AR was frankly a bit of a shock. The AR has been revivified under her leadership over the past five years; its clear, clever redesign, the thought ballast it was packed with each month, the great new team she brought together and the extraordinary range of contributors she attracted and pulled in from young guns to old shots, and even ageing blunderbusses. It’s been a wonderful read most months.
I got to appreciate her warm wit and pithy observations about the architecture circus as a whole - yet above all her knowledge and delight in it all. I am keenly interested to see what she turns her hand to next. Best wishes too to new Editor Christine Murray and for the future AR: if it builds on what Catherine has done it cannot go far wrong.
Rob Wilson, Editor of Uncube magazine
Over the 40 years I have written for the AR it has changed greatly, from a cosy gentleman’s club in Queen Anne’s Gate to the hot-desking high-pressure office of today, from the slow world of typesetting, galleys and plate-making, to instant composition by computer. If its existence seems threatened today by Twitter and the net, there remains every reason for a printed mag. Still we need to pore over drawings and compare them with photographs, still we need space for a real description even to begin to understand what a building is like, and still we need an editor who commands respect, and sets a moral agenda.
The AR has always been the focus of a discourse shared with practitioners, and an editorial hand on the tiller has been essential. Catherine joined the AR under the firm hand of Peter Davey, and very soon made her mark, not only writing intelligent critiques of her own and polishing the work of others, but suggesting policy. When Davey retired she seemed to me the obvious choice, but we waited through some editorial doldrums before she was given the chance to prove herself. And how she has shown it! A new emphasis on theory, a return to serious reviews, a readiness to print controversial opinions on big-name architects and to engage unfashionable social issues, and the deployment of fresh young writers. That she has been the first woman Editor could go unremarked, were it not that the profession is still so male.
Peter Blundell Jones, writer
I first met Slessor at a party at Nico and John Cooper Clarke’s Edinburgh flat sometime in the early ’80s (like many of my memories of that era, it’s a little hazy). Though she was still very young back then, and clearly somewhat abashed by the debauchery, I could already sense the drive that would take the AR to the heights it reached under her reign. Her wit - as dry as she liked her martinis, and just as freely flowing - will I hope reappear for our delectation soon.
Candy Spender, New York
The AR flourished under Catherine’s brilliant direction. She was intrepid in discovering excellent architecture from across the world. Her discoveries became a wonderfully varied collection when curated by Catherine’s judicious eye through the pages of the AR. They managed somehow to delight, educate and excite in equal measure. The encapsulation of this architectural aspiration was for me the anticipation that accompanied the thud on the doormat of each issue. Bravo.
I am well aware of Catherine’s tremendous contribution not just to the periodical but to the wider debates surrounding the built environment. I was particularly struck at how Catherine’s strong passion for great architecture clearly galvanised those who worked with her at AR - an infectious energy!
Jerzy Kierkuć-Bieliński , curator