Election 2020

An Architecture Critic Just Won a Seat in Pennsylvania’s State Senate

Meet Nikil Saval, South Philadelphia’s newest representative

While the world waits to see who won Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, its statewide results are worth taking note of—especially for those interested in architecture and design. That’s because frequent architecture critic Nikil Saval has officially won his race to represent (most of) South Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania State Senate. Once he’s sworn in, he’ll become the first Asian American to earn a seat in Pennsylvania’s upper legislative house.

Saval, a writer focused on architecture, urbanism, and the implications of design, has an extensive résumé. He’s contributed more than 20 pieces to the New York Times, opining on everything from Brutalism to the blurring lines between art and furniture design. Notably, he published his most recent piece on designing amid the pandemic after winning the Democratic primary against incumbent Larry Farnese Jr. in June.

In addition to further freelance assignments for publications such as the New Yorker, and the occasional speaking appearance at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, his tenure as editor at n+1 saw him speak out against Amazon’s particular understanding of urbanism. Furthermore, he wrote Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace in 2014. The book’s focus seems particularly relevant at a time when the future of where and how many of us will work remains so uncertain.

Saval’s careful study of those subjects, as well as his policy positions, led to an endorsement from fellow democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. In his primary campaign against Farnese, his platform included progressive positions such as support for the Green New Deal and the Homes Guarantee. In terms of local city planning, he also advocated for rebuilding every school in Philadelphia.

After successfully winning his primary challenge against Farnese, who’d held the seat since 2009, by more than 8,700 votes, Saval ran unopposed in the general election, officially notching another state-level win for democratic socialists. On social media, Saval’s peers in the architecture and writing worlds were among those to congratulate him.