Peter Buchanan, 1942–2023

John Hill
6. September 2023
Peter Buchanan authored five Renzo Piano Building Workshop monographs between 1993 and 2008. (Cover photos via Phaidon; image by World-Architects)

Peter Buchanan was born in Malawi in 1942 and received an architecture degree from the University of Cape Town in 1968. While he would go on to work as an architect and urban designer, he is best known to other architects as an editor and author. He joined The Architect’s Journal and The Architectural Review in 1979 and became deputy editor of the latter a few years later, a position he would hold for ten years. Subsequently working as a freelancer, he authored five Complete Works monographs on Renzo Piano Building Workshop between 1993 and 2008. Also notable is Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World, an exhibition curated by Buchanan in 2000 and companion book authored by him in 2006. In 2011, Buchanan returned to the Review to contribute a dozen essays in the year-long “The Big Rethink” series, in which he ambitiously argued for “a new culture integrating understandings of ecology, evolution and identity.” One can see a strong thread of “true sustainability” running through the RPBW monographs, Ten Shades, and the Big Rethink.

Peter Buchanan's Ten Shades of Green: Architecture and the Natural World was published by The Architectural League of New York in 2006. (Photos of cover and interior page via The Architectural League)

An obituary at AJ points out that Buchanan had been suffering from cancer and also features a tribute by Will Hunter, who was a fellow founder, with Buchanan, of the London School of Architecture in 2014/15: “Peter was always forthright in sharing his thoughts but always generous too, seeking to bring out the best in people. Architecture has lost a truly great and unique mind. My favorite quote of his is that ‘design is the way that humans can consciously participate in evolution.’ He had few rivals in architectural knowledge and wisdom.”

Arquitectura Viva describes Buchanan in its brief obituary: “Buchanan was an eloquent advocate of Spanish architecture, with which he was very familiar. […] Writer of strong aesthetic and ethic convictions, his informed and accurate texts paid as much attention to the vicissitudes of the discipline as to the historical circumstances of his time, with special emphasis on contemporary ecological challenges.”

The above is followed by a more personal take by AV director Luis Fernández-Galiano, who remembers Buchanan alongside Jean-Louis Cohen, who unexpectedly died in early August. He describes Buchanan as “the soul of The Architectural Review in the 1980s” and clarifies that Buchanan left it “when the Review was bought by a large company in 1992 and its editorial staff moved from the small cozy headquarters at Queen Anne’s Gate to a huge office shared by numerous publications.” Buchanan contributed numerous articles for Fernández-Galiano and AV since it launched in 1998; the last came in December 2021, when “he joined Kenneth Frampton and Vittorio Magnano Lampugnani in censuring the architectural canon put forward by The New York Times.” 

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