Reviewed August 2017
Josh Meyer, Knowledge Manager
KieranTimberlake | Architecture, Planning, Research
Pidgeon Digital (PD) is a web-based digital collection of audio-visual talks and interviews of leading designers in the architecture and built environment community dating from 1955 to present. It is named for Monica Pidgeon, who originally created the collection in 1979 and edited Architectural Design magazine from 1946 to 1975. Initially compiled as a series of tapes and slides that sought to capture and provide access to the thought leadership of influencers in the global design community, it was distributed as the "The Pidgeon Audiovisual Collection" for over twenty-five years. The complete archive was digitized and reimagined as Pidgeon Digital beginning in 2006. At present the collection consists of just over 250 talks, with almost 25 interviews before 1980.
The tagline for British-based PD is seminal ideas from the world’s greatest architects, and the original intended audience is design students looking to hear the thoughts and words of designers through their actual voices. The product also identifies schools, libraries, museums, and architecture firms as targeted users. The PD user experience appears to be simple by design. Apart from the search bar and tile view on the home page, one can also browse the collection by subject, architect, location, or building through the Explore section accessed from the header menu. Although the metadata scheme for organizing and searching the collection is not entirely revealed, the thumbnail text on each tile gives the user an idea of the structure. The most useful browsing options for learning about the collection in its entirety is the All talks tab in the Explore section. Here one can sort the collection by speaker, talk title, and year recorded. The sole display option of tile view functions proficiently at this scale.
Pidgeon Digital allows all website visitors to browse the collection and preview talks free of charge, but does require a subscription and account for full access. Subscription pricing varies from £150 for a small firm (up to 20 people) to £2,950 with a three year subscription for an Institution with an architecture school. It is tiered to support the various needs and sizes of educational institutions, firms, and individuals. Talks can even be purchased separately for £5, although this provides a one-time access window with no saving capabilities. This web-based product supports all the latest browsers, and even functions well on smartphones and tablets with the Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer products tested by this reviewer.
For those seeking high-quality recordings of industry-specific conversation representing the world’s most influential designers from the midcentury to present, there are few alternatives. Many leading architecture schools and institutes such as Harvard GSD, The Berlage Institute (The Netherlands), and the Architectural Association School of Architecture (UK) leverage YouTube or a leading industry media outlet (such as ArchDaily) to distribute their collection of lectures, free to the public. However, most of these collections do not come close to matching the 60+ year period covered by Pidgeon Digital. There are some highly valuable smaller collections representing specific periods such as American Architecture Now in the 1980’s (e.g. Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, I.M. Pei) and the oral history collection on architecture from the British Library beginning in 1989 (e.g. Sir Hugh Casson, Ralph Erskine, and Mary Lutyens), but the scope of time and geographies are limited, especially with the latter product. Specific YouTube searches for 20th century designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Eero Saarinen (all of whom have entries in PD) will yield results, but few will offer the relevancy of content found in Pidgeon Digital. Apart from its superior quality and scope, PD stands out for its highly searchable content and curated, centralized database that is refreshingly annotated and ranks well above the standard YouTube channel functionality. Bottom line: you may be able to find free online videos on the architect you are looking for, but good luck replicating the valuable interview format and user experience afforded with PD. For those willing to pay, it is unrivaled.