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Cathleen McGuigan Named Editor in Chief of Architectural Record 

May 2, 2011

By Jenna M. McKnight

McGraw-Hill Construction announced to staff members today that Cathleen McGuigan, the longtime Newsweek architecture critic and arts editor, has been named editor in chief of Architectural Record, the nation’s leading architecture publication for more than a century. The announcement comes three months after Robert Ivy stepped down from the post in order to head the American Institute of Architects.

Cathleen McGuigan
Architectural Record's new editor in chief Cathleen McGuigan

McGraw-Hill Construction president Keith Fox introduces Architectural Record's new editor in chief Cathleen McGuigan.

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“It’s obviously a great honor to be asked to lead Architectural Record given its stature in the field,” McGuigan says. “It’s a tremendous opportunity, and a challenge, too.” She notes that the magazine, established in 1891, has many assets, including a long history, a loyal readership, and a highly respected staff. Under her management, she expects to facilitate an “evolution” rather than a “revolution” at the award-winning, New York-based publication.

“What we want to do is make the best magazine we can for our readers going forward, ” she says. “In today’s competitive media environment, we want to be timely and quick, while maintaining the magazine’s high editorial standards. We also want to keep exploring ways to better integrate our print and digital journalism.”

McGuigan is the second female to serve as editor in chief of Architectural Record. The first was Mildred Schmertz, who led the magazine from 1985 to 1990.

In addition to guiding Architectural Record, McGuigan will serve as editorial director of GreenSource, a sustainable design magazine launched in 2006, and SNAP, a products publication that debuted in 2009. She officially starts May 23, although she will attend this year’s AIA convention on behalf of McGraw-Hill.

“Cathleen comes to us with a rich history as an editor, journalist, and critic,” says Keith Fox, president of McGraw-Hill Construction. “Her love and passion for the architectural profession are evident. She has immersed herself in the study and reporting of architecture and the arts for more than 30 years. She also has a deep commitment to the education of young adults. She possesses proven skills in management and will take Architectural Record to new and even greater heights.”

McGuigan, a Michigan native, comes to the company with more than three decades of cultural journalism experience. After earning an English degree, with a minor in art history, from Brown University, she joined Newsweek in 1977 as a researcher and reporter for the magazine’s art critic. She rose up through the ranks, becoming a senior editor in 1992, a demanding position that entailed overseeing a weekly arts section and managing a staff of a dozen writers and reporters. That same year, she earned a Loeb Fellowship from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In 2008, McGuigan left the full-time staff of Newsweek and became a contributor to the magazine.

In recent years, McGuigan has worked as a consultant for various clients, including the U.S. Institute of Peace (while it was building a new headquarters designed by Moshe Safdie) and the Syracuse University School of Architecture. She also served as an executive editor of HQ: Good Design Is Good Business, a McGraw-Hill pilot project. Her articles have appeared in venerable publications, such as The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, and Harper’s Bazaar. Presently, she is conducting research for a biography of the critic Aline Saarinen.

In addition to her editorial work, McGuigan is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She also serves on various design juries and sits on the board of trustees for the Skyscraper Museum in New York.

In selecting McGuigan, McGraw-Hill has strayed from its tradition of appointing an architect to lead Architectural Record. McGuigan notes that her strong background in architectural criticism, paired with her publishing aptitude, will enable her to steer the magazine through today’s challenging media landscape. “I have ample experience in telling stories and in visual presentation,” she says, “and I think that’s as important as ever.” She adds: “Journalistically, I’m very competitive. I hate to get beat. I want the best stories, the sharpest stories, and I want them quickly.”

While a dogged journalist at heart, McGuigan’s deep interest in architecture traces back to the 1970s, when she occasionally assisted the design critic at Newsweek. She was impressed with architects’ level of engagement with the world and their ability to convey the meaning behind their creations—qualities she didn’t often find during her explorations into the art scene. “I became very intrigued with covering architecture, talking to architects, and looking at building sites,” she says. “I love raw buildings, and I love a good hard-hat tour.”

In time, she started writing extensively about architecture and urban development and was the first national critic to write about Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, completed in 1997. “The interior of the Guggenheim Bilbao was still under construction when I first saw it, but what impressed me was how beautifully the outside of the building engaged the riverfront and the old city,” she says. McGuigan notes that the project was very provocative. “People were discussing it long before it opened,” she says. “The only other project of its scale at the time was probably the Getty Museum in Los Angles by Richard Meier. ”

Another significant story that McGuigan closely followed was redevelopment of the World Trade Center site after September 11. She was particularly struck by the public outcry against the initial design schemes. “People were demanding that something very good be built there. To me, it was incredibly important that regular citizens cared so much about the architecture,” she says.

When asked what constitutes good design, McGuigan says first and foremost, buildings must function properly. “I do think how a building works—how it suits its purpose and serves its users—is the bottom line. It sounds so obvious, but there are buildings that fail in that: buildings that are uncomfortable, that are impossible to find your way around, that have materials that don’t perform,” she says. “I like architecture that is beautiful and has artistic flair, but it should function.”

Under her direction, she expects Architectural Record will continue to feature high-profile projects across the globe yet also present innovative, lesser-known works that are relevant to readers. Another priority: reporting on shifting trends in the profession, such as increased collaboration across disciplines and technological advancements that empower budding firms to take on large commissions. She also intends to monitor how the recession is affecting architects. “Certain firms I’ve talked to are doing quite well, particularly those who specialize in public works and university and healthcare projects. But I know there’s tremendous downturn in the commercial sector and, certainly, the housing sector,” she says. “We have to continue to find ways to cover this for our readers.”

McGuigan arrives at Architectural Record at a critical moment. Last December, Ivy announced he was leaving after nearly 14 years leading the magazine. That same month, McGraw-Hill’s contract with the AIA expired, marking the end of a 13-year publishing partnership. (In January, Hanley Wood’s Architect magazine became the publication of the AIA.) While the AIA is a vital organization, and Architectural Record will continue to report on it, McGuigan says no longer having an alliance with the Institute restores the magazine’s editorial freedom. “Architectural Record has published continuously for 120 years, and for only a very short period was it the AIA magazine,” she notes. “We have kept our readers, and I think going forward, the independent voice of Architectural Record is going to be tremendously important.” She adds: “A magazine’s integrity depends on editorial independence.”

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