“Icon” is not a word to be used lightly on these pages but, on the occasion of our hundredth issue, somehow it seemed appropriate
Icon of the Month is Icon’s longest-running feature – it has appeared in all 100 issues of the magazine. The first subject was Oscar Niemeyer, and icons don’t get much more iconic than the centenarian Brazilian architect. But we can’t say that – there’s a rule about this page in Icon’s style guide: “Avoid using the word ‘icon’ or ‘iconic’.” The Icon of the Month cannot simply be called an icon, and that’s that – its iconism, its iconicity, must be justified, argued for, fought and won. Its aim isn’t to say “such-and-such is an icon”, it’s to say “this is why such-and-such is an icon”. This magazine has always been more about showing than telling.
It’s funny how words lose all their meaning if you see them too often – something that’s clear re-reading the preceding paragraph. When Icon was founded back in 2003, the word “icon” was a perky little creature, neatly expressive of architecture’s new-found confidence in the post-Bilbao boom years. Eight years later, it has lost most of its zest. Via the public relations industry, it is slapped on to every spec-built brick box with a wobbly roof; it’s been applied to bathroom taps and chocolate bars. The word went thoroughly sub-prime in the financial crisis of 2008-2009. But that didn’t make much difference to us. Titles really don’t mean that much once a publication is up and running – when did The Telegraph last have anything to do with telegraphs? What defines a magazine is its attitude – for Icon, being plain-spoken about things, thinking for ourselves, not following an agenda.
The earliest issues, under editor Marcus Fairs, had a devil-may-care verve that made the magazine’s name – a particularly memorable early stunt was architect Alex de Rijke roaring through a new-built concrete house on a trials bike (Icon 003). Icon grabbed attention – with award-winning design by Violetta Boxill – and held it by blazing through the biggest names in architecture and design, with Zaha Hadid, Jonathan Ive, Dieter Rams and Jacques Herzog on the cover in the first year. But the magazine has also shown a persistent knack for identifying rising stars – putting Maarten Baas on the cover at the threshold of fame, for instance.
Under editor Justin McGuirk, the magazine matured and experimented. It launched the much-imitated “Conversation” feature, a series of dialogues in place of conventional profiles, devoted issue 050 to 50 manifestos by big names, and ran the acclaimed Fiction Issue (Icon 080), catching the rise of design speculation. Last year the magazine relaunched under editor Christopher Turner, with a new logo and look by Ken Leung, theming every issue to decisively set our own agenda – pursuing themes such as Survival, Flight and Oceans, subjects that have taken us from the North Pole to tsunami-stricken Japan, from Norman Foster’s cockpit to the studio Ai Weiwei built in Shanghai and beyond architecture and design into art and technology.
Even so, after eight years and 100 issues, we still feel the best is yet to come.