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The Crossroads of Academia and Architecture


Less is more. That mantra is largely true in journalism—but not necessarily in the higher-ed world, where “more” always seems to mean “better.” As an adjunct professor for Rosemont College’s graduate publishing program, I can attest to this—and so can MLT senior writer J.F. Pirro.

It’s been two-plus years since Pirro first had the idea of tapping a local architectural expert to help us pinpoint some of the lesser-known gems in the heart of the Main Line. The goal was to compile a list that would reflect the incredible abundance of riches that have survived here—structures of both “sustenance and historical merit,” notes Pirro. The result is this month’s cover story, “Architectural Wonders.” 

Pirro called on Jeffrey A. Cohen, a professor of architectural history and urban form in the “Growth and Structure of Cities” department at Bryn Mawr College and co-author of such books as Frank Furness: The Complete Works and Drawing Toward Building: Philadelphia Architectural Graphics, 1732-1986. “He was flattered but busy,” says Pirro. “I was busy but interested—and persistent. We remained two ships passing in the night. Once we collided, he sought to write doctoral dissertations on each site. I sought 250 words per site. We met somewhere in the middle.”

In fact, they actually came full circle—as all good writing projects should. “We toured 18 architectural sites on a Sunday afternoon in his not-so-historic yet enduring 1998 Toyota,” Pirro says. “It was exactly the immersive trip I’d originally suggested.”

In academia, they call them “due dates.” In journalism, we call them “deadlines.” “Because you’re dead if you don’t meet them,” says Pirro. “So we finally met, days before my deadline.”

Like me, Pirro exists in both worlds. “I enjoyed my years as a student, and I’ve enjoyed my ongoing work as a veteran secondary English educator and writer for parts of the last four decades,” he says. “But I realized long ago that the collegiate Ivory Tower—an appropriate analogy in an architectural feature—is only safe while you’re still on campus. Off campus, you need to make deadlines.”

And you also need to understand that others have deadlines, too.

“Things are real, and time is fleeting,” Pirro says. “But I’ve also learned to trust another old expression: If you want to get something done, you give it to the busiest and best person. And that was Jeff Cohen. His insight and keen eye serve our readers well in this case.”

Hobart Rowland

Hobart Rowland

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