As I write this editor’s letter from the dining room table, while listening in on my first grader’s virtual homeroom meeting, I’m thinking of all the New Yorkers whose daily routines have been upended by the coronavirus. Our Oculus editorial team often works remotely at the start of each issue, but we come together in the production phase for photo editing, markups to many versions of layouts, and final proofing. Not this time! This issue was created almost 100% virtually, and I hope our readers will excuse any resulting rough spots.
Even though the annual Design Awards Luncheon and the associated exhibition at the Center for Architecture are postponed, we wanted to seize the opportunity to celebrate the award winners as planned in print. For this issue, we were lucky once again to have our excellent writers Linda G. Miller and Richard Staub on the case, and were delighted that DC-based writer Deane Madsen returned to contribute a special essay on our Best in Competition winner, Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD, by Thomas Phifer and Partners. Based on Deane’s evocative piece, Glenstone is just the kind of meditative environment we could all use right now. His words along with Iwan Baan’s incomparable photography transport us there.
We’re multitasking in unexpected ways from unexpected places. For many of us, our daily commutes are suspended, our MetroCards are in hibernation, our bike tires are freshly pumped, our ride-sharing is reduced. Acknowledging this massive shift in routine, we’re adding a lens to our upcoming Summer issue dedicated to Urban Transportation at All Scales: transportation in a time of crisis. How does something like coronavirus affect how we move around the city? What should we learn from these new conditions? What changes should we retain once the threat has subsided? How can we better prepare for future events? We’re calling for op-ed articles from our membership responding to this theme and its associated questions. Please send your 800-word submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30.
Ultimately, there are sure to be silver linings in this surreal period, but there is no denying that it’s a painful moment in the history of New York that will leave scars. As this issue was about to go to print, we learned of the death of architect and critic Michael Sorkin, who contracted COVID-19. This was devastating news not only to those who knew him personally, but also to everyone who knew him through his electric writing. Critical in his assessments and fearless in his choice of subjects, Michael’s teaching and writing impacted so many in the architecture profession and beyond. He was one of the first people I commissioned for an op-ed when I became editor of Oculus; for me, working with him on that piece about climate change for our special AIA conference issue (Summer 2018) was challenging, yes, but immensely rewarding. (“You commissioned an op-ed—don’t you want my opinion???” was his reaction to some proposed cuts. We tussled via email and found a stylistic middle ground that didn’t compromise his argument.)
Michael’s words will be held up as exemplary by many generations of architects and writers yet to come. It was a thrill to learn that a friend who operates in the spirit of Michael—that is, she is immensely knowledgeable, insightful, and not afraid to speak truth to power—is this year’s recipient of the Stephen A. Kliment Oculus Award. Alexandra Lange, who currently writes for Curbed, brings a Sorkin-esque clarity and wit to her writing on a broad range of design subjects, most notably architecture and urban environments. Her book Writing About Architecture has become a must-have of aspiring architecture journalists, and her latest book, The Design of Childhood, puts a spotlight on relevant and fascinating but critically under-examined territory. Writers like Alexandra keep the architecture profession on its toes, and, more importantly, make architecture a public conversation. Congratulations to Alexandra and all the 2020 honorees and award winners!