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Final Say

We sometimes forget that media is also the plural of “medium,” suggesting a vehicle for the communication of ideas.

A little-noted anniversary this year was the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, the cultural theorist perhaps best known for the phrase “the medium is the message.” McLuhan was prescient in ways that even he, a master of self-promotion, might not have imagined. The phrase was coined at the dawn of what came to be known as the Information Age; soon information, or at least its relative quality, became less important than the technology that delivered it.

And so we now find ourselves at the dawning of yet another era, which might be called the Media Age. It’s perhaps a sign of primordial confusion that the word itself lacks precision—commonly used as both a plural and a singular, it is a homonym with multiplying meanings and manifestations: corporate entertainment and news entities; electronic gadgets such as smartphones and tablets; social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. The phenomenon has sparked Darwinian races for corporate survival, but it has also ignited a new hypervisual culture, where infographics abound, YouTube replaces manuals for how-to advice, and one of Amazon’s bestsellers is a book on typography (Simon Garfield’s Just My Type). Architects naturally find themselves in the middle of the fracas, scrambling for a foothold, knowing instinctively that some sort of reinvention of the profession is underway. Nor are their buildings immune from the effects: “media façades” sport a form of electronic ornamentation, their pixelated LED screens a digital version of the tesserae in ancient mosaics.

In the midst of corporate hype and consumer lust for all things digital, we sometimes forget that media is also the plural of “medium,” suggesting a vehicle for the communication of ideas.

It is that last definition that makes this issue of ArchitectureBoston an appropriate close to my tenure as the magazine’s founding editor, which has been marked by the conviction that architecture itself is a medium that expresses cultural ideas and values. When the Boston Society of Architects formed a communications committee in 1997, the notion of a magazine with a national distribution of 15,000 and an active website was in no one’s mind. I was hired that 3rd November to edit a quarterly 16-page supplement to the BSA newsletter, scheduled to launch the following March. But after discussions with members about the stories and material that might be included, the desire for something more substantial became obvious. The March supplement was canceled, and a new 48-page magazine launched the following June. By publishing standards, this was crazy. (Sometimes it’s good not to know any better.) But with its new “ideas” magazine, charged with the exploration of the ways architecture influences and is influenced by our society, the BSA found just the right medium for its message of inclusive public discussion of the built environment.

Can there be any better job than editing this magazine? No. The editorial freedom that the BSA’s leadership has accorded; the creative opportunities; the intellectual stimulation; the gifted coworkers with remarkable generosity and good humor; the chance to promote important ideas and bring attention to new talent; and, above all, the ability to engage with this region’s extraordinary design community—none of this can be matched.

But after 14 years, the unrelenting drumbeat of deadlines can make an editor yearn for something different. I am tantalized by the thought of diving deeply into new creative challenges, with all the fresh energy that can bring. Change can be good for people, and it can be good for magazines, too. ArchitectureBoston will thrive with fresh leadership—and with the continued support of the readers, contributors, editorial board members, advertisers, staff, and BSA members who have made it a respected voice in the national design discussion. I thank you all.