Birds of a Feather: Reporters, Architects Share Passion for the Profession

Matt Chaban of The New York Observer answers an audience member’s question. (l-r) Robin Pogrebin, Rob Lippincott, Steve Cuozzo, Matt Chaban, and moderator Julie Iovine.

Daniel Fox

Event: Architecture and the Media Series #2: Design Reportage: The Business Press and General Interest Media
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.03.2012
Speakers: Matt Chaban, Real Estate Editor, the New York Observer; Steve Cuozzo, Reporter, The New York Post; Robert M. Lippincott, Senior Vice President of Education, PBS; Robin Pogrebin, Reporter, The New York Times
Moderator: Julie V. Iovine, Executive Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper
Organizer: Center for Architecture; AIANY Oculus Committee; AIANY Marketing & PR Committee; The Architect’s Newspaper

When it comes to reporting on architecture, real estate in publications is at a premium. Journalists struggle to justify to their editors that a project is “worthy enough” for print. And, with so many current projects either stalled or on hold, it is even more difficult to find projects to write about without being repetitive. For Robert Lippincott, senior vice president of education at PBS, what determines whether or not a project gets covered depends on the reason why it is important. Generally, projects that represent a trend, controversy, or window into architecture from an outsiders’ perspective make the cut.

Panelists agreed that the starchitecture “movement” helped bring attention to the subject of architecture that wasn’t on the public’s radar. However, The New York Observer‘s Matt Chaban also thinks it gave the public the perception that architecture is a commodity, rather than a necessity. Robin Pogrebin, reporter for the New York Times, would like to check in with developers who chose to work with starchitects to see if they felt the result was ultimately worth the investment. Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post compared starchitects to modern ballet in the 1970s, when Baryshnikov brought a new audience to the art form.

In general, the panelists prefer to report on completed projects. Renderings are a fantasy, said Pogrebin, and without first-hand experience of a building, it is difficult to evaluate its merits. Also, while she enjoys hearing about architects’ intentions, what they say does not always translate into the final built structure. Chaban is skeptical when architects claim they will transform the world with their designs, and Lippincott is leery of potential ulterior motives behind architects’ presentations. Perhaps they are trying to influence a community board, or change their standing with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, for example.

When asked about what they are interested in writing about currently, answers ranged broadly. Cuozzo prefers to write about projects that aren’t new and high-profile, such as the buildings in Battery Park. Chaban sees merit in writing frequently about some of the large-scale developments, including the World Trade Center and NYU, to help build momentum for the projects. Pogrebin searches for stories about unknown firms and up-and-comers, like the winners of the annual MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program. And Lippencott features programs that expose the history or culture of a place through architecture.

Ultimately, the reasons that reporters write about architecture is similar to why architects practice in the field. They share a love of the city, want to bring appreciation and discourse about policy to the forefront of public awareness, and they want to make a difference in the built environment.