Monica Pidgeon: Influential editor of 'Architectural Design' for more than 30 years
Thursday 12 November 2009
For more than three decades Monica Pidgeon edited the Bloomsbury-based Architectural Design (AD). This influential and radical journal was a prime source of information on contemporary architectural culture, and had an international reach. It gave prominence to the work of such architects as Le Corbusier, Jose Luis Sert, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Richard Buckminster Fuller, and Alison and Peter Smithson.
Monica Lehmann was born in Chile in 1913, the daughter of an emigré family; her father was French and her mother Scottish. When Monica was 16 years old, the family moved to London in order for her to complete her education.
She studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, where she met Raymond Pidgeon, whom she married in 1936. The couple had two children, and divorced in 1946. That year, too, she was appointed editor of Architectural Design, having succeeded the previous editor of Architectural Design and Construction, as the magazine was originally named.
As the doyenne of post-war international architectural publishers, Pidgeon presided over the appearance and contents of AD with good humour and a wry smile. She encouraged a wide diversity of content but, after a few early book reviews, wrote very little herself. Her role was that of skilful entrepreneur. She encouraged her constantly expanding network of contacts, which included well-known architects as well as not-so-well-known ones, artists and designers, to submit their work and gave younger critics opportunities to extend their ideas. It was a journal you could not afford to miss and my first copy arrived at my desk in an architect's office in 1952.
Pidgeon was able to draw into its pages the talent of the post-war generation of architects just returned from service. She was receptive to the new ideas emanating from the London County Council and Hertfordshire County Council's Architecture Department, as well as the design groups working on the reconstruction of towns and cities.
The latter became the main theme emerging from the reinvigorated CIAM (Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne) which, due to the destruction of so many European cities, was to hold its first post-war congress in, of all places, Bridgewater in Somerset in 1947. It attracted to these shores the celebrated architects who had created what we now call modern architecture, including Le Corbusier, Sigfried Giedion, Jose Luis Sert (the then president), Walter Gropius and many others
Four years later, CIAM 8 was held in a Christian retreat in Hertfordshire celebrating the 1951 Festival of Britain and produced a rather inadequate report on the theme of the "Urban Core". Pidgeon acted as host for these events, the latter with the British architect Henry Cadbury-Brown. But Pidgeon had an even more important role as the organiser of the International Union of Architects' (UIA) conference in London in 1961. There she was joined by her technical editor, Theo Crosby, who designed the fine press pavilion with the typographer Edward Wright. Many of the architects they met in 1961 were later given space in AD.
At that time, too, Pidgeon met Richard Buckminster Fuller who was, it appears, prevented from addressing the conference with his ideas for a "World Design Science Decade". This important statement, aimed largely at the upcoming generation of design students, emphasised the catastrophic depletion of world resources and their responsibility to address it. AD took up this theme and published Fuller's series of papers in the July 1961 issue, thus becoming one of the first magazines to draw attention to population control and sustainable design.
AD was also interested in what was going on in architecture schools in the 1950s, and encouraged them to develop designs for communities rather than for isolated sites. In 1956 the editors invited fourth-year students of the Architectural Association to undertake a programme based on the "habitat" theme devised by CIAM. The designs, tutored by John Killick, were published in the September issue of AD.
In 1962 Pidgeon visited Latin America, where she met the architect John Turner, then involved with the housing quality of the barriadas [shanty towns] in Lima. Housing the poor became another issue introduced into the pages of AD.
Meanwhile the journal had seen some important editorial changes. When Theo Crosby left, he was succeeded by the architect and writer Kenneth Frampton, who in turn was replaced by the historian Robin Middleton. But in the late 1960s the owner of AD, the Standard Catalogue Company, announced it could no longer produce the magazine. Pidgeon persuaded Standard to keep the magazine going by relying entirely on subscriptions revenues, not advertising, and costs were cut to the bone.
Peter Murray joined the journal and, under his influence as technical editor it moved towards being a new kind of counter-cultural journal, less about international celebrity architecture, more about nature-orientated projects which took inspiration from Buckminster Fuller's geodesic designs. It also introduced often weird-looking "organic" houses set in the American south-west, as well as the hybrid structures of Paolo Soleri, autonomous housing, the Archizoom and the Archigram groups, and much on Cedric Price. It was essentially a period of "paper" architecture; of an architecture drawn but not built.
In 1975 Pidgeon resigned as editor of AD, which was sold, and became the editor of the RIBA journal, a post she held for four years. But in 1979, looking for ways to sustain her income and her wide circle of contacts and friends, she launched a new series of recorded, half-hour-long talks by architects under the title "Pidgeon Audio Visual". This series brought together many of the personalities who had first appeared in the pages of AD. The tapes were popular with college libraries throughout the world and Pidgeon continued to produce new ones well into her eighties.
In 1970 she was made an honorary fellow of the RIBA and an honorary member of the AA in 1979. Her work on the Pidgeon Audio Visual (PAV) earned her an honorary fellowship of the American Institute of Architects in 1987.
Monica Lehmann, architectural editor: born Chile 29 September 1913; married 1936 Raymond Pidgeon (marriage dissolved 1946; one son, one daughter); died London 17 September 2009.
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