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Coming soon: Harvard Design Magazine 48: America reflects on the United States of America as a country, an idea, and a history

Harvard Design Magazine 48: America (launching in May, 2020) strikes at the essence and the history of the United States of America, while interrogating its physical contents—its buildings, its cities, and the people who designed them—seeking linkages among them. Taking on “America” as a topic in the year 2020 may be contentious, but it’s one that the magazine’s editors consider vital, as well as one that design can uniquely inform. “I believe in the value of intellectual discomfort as a fuel to rethink, debate, and advance knowledge,” says Florencia Rodriguez, who joins the Graduate School of Design’s Mark Lee to guest edit Harvard Design Magazine 48: America.

With the guiding hand of the GSD’s recently appointed editorial director, Julie Cirelli, Lee and Rodriguez have curated a reflection on America as a country, an idea, and a history. They’ve gathered design practitioners, historians, thought leaders, politicians, and others in order to approach the topic of nationhood from different angles.

Lee and Rodriguez bring a commitment to linking practice with pedagogy to the magazine. Lee, an architect and educator, has contributed to and curated a variety of media, publications, and exhibitions, including as artistic director for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial with his partner, Sharon Johnston. Rodriguez—an architect and writer—is the founder and editorial director of the publisher Lots of Architecture where she developed –NESS magazine, a periodical about architecture, life, and urban culture.

This issue includes a conversation on the culture of American industrial design in relation to the larger global practice; historians reflecting on the late English architectural critic Reyner Banham; and dialogues around the culture of the American South and the scale of Miami. Christopher Hawthorne offers an essay on “The State of the American City,” the GSD’s Sharon Johnston interviews Rahm Emanuel, and the GSD’s Jerold Kayden engages in conversation with Shaun Donovan. After all, “Politicians and public officials are critical in both the conception and implementation of design,” Lee observes. “Great cities and great architecture are reflections of the policies that govern their design. It is important for the makers of such policies and the designers who give form to such policies to be on the same page at the outset.”

Harvard Design Magazine 48: America invites readers in with a series of “Call and Response” features, for which contributors were asked to send a 200-word email provocation to friends and colleagues, and await a reply—or perhaps a debate. “We asked the contributors to use the initial email as a reflection, a strong statement of any aspect of American architecture, culture, or history that they believe is in need of being examined,” Rodriguez says. “These pieces set the tone for the rest of the publication.”

For the magazine's editors, reading is critical for stoking productive conversations about design and beyond. Lee points to the intensifying pace of global society—especially of consumption—and the counterpace of the experience of reading. He believes that it can encourage a deeper reach into one’s conscience than a lecture or an exhibition might.

“What architects and designers produce—buildings, cities, and landscapes—are often considered to have long-term impacts as opposed to immediate ones, and as a result are often overlooked in [political] cycles,” Lee says. “Rather than seeing such products as immediate remedies for urban or social issues, they should be seen as long-term investments, where the improvement of the built environment has a direct impact on social well-being.”

As Rodriquez explains, “That Harvard Design Magazine can act as a vehicle for the ‘translation’ of political and decision-making discourses to academia and vice versa is relevant and symbolic.”

Harvard Design Magazine is an architecture and design magazine that probes at the reaches of design and its reciprocal influence on contemporary culture and life. Published twice a year and helmed by editorial director Julie Cirelli at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Harvard Design Magazine invites guest editors to consider design through an interdisciplinary lens, resulting in unique perspectives by an international group of architects, designers, students, academics, and artists. For current and back issues, as well as subscription information and stockists, visit the Harvard Design Magazine website.