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Ack! A blogroll in a blogpost

8 Sep

Fans and lovers!
It’s been a month! Now twelve days to go! Not sure if I will post intensively but today I am, both to excuse myself and to get my head around what I’ve been doing.

A chat with Jack Self about 4-5 weeks ago crystallised a few things for me; instead of trying to locate my thesis in the established realms of reading, writing and publishing, it was necessary to step outside of it and recognise I am dealing with a still-blurry new thing. That turned things on their head, because from then on I set out to conduct some not-so-systematic research, talking to as many architectural bloggers as possible, for as long as they were kind enough to give me. I didn’t ask their permission to do so, so I won’t publish the full transcripts here – I might slap some extracts up in order to refine/define what I’m going to use in my paper. But do let me take this near-silent opportunity to express my heartfelt THANKS to all the kind men who gave me time and wisdom, greedily filched by me from their industrious days. If you, dear reader, are interested in any of our conversations – and well you might be, they were great – get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. Same goes for any of you publishing houses.. if you steal this idea and come up with some cheap-format book, Imma kick you in the ass. Serious.

Scary, innit

I feel like Hans Ulrich Obrist

So, warmest hugs of gratitude and itchy-fingered anticipation for the application of my conversations with (in chronological order):

1) Joseph Grima, of domus.web and founder of Postopolis
I visited Joseph in the Rozzano offices outside of Milan, to speak with him about his take and experiences with working on such an established and prestigious magazine such as Domus on the web. I visited after a couple of days teaching in a summer workshop in Venice IUAV; never was it so clear to me that particularly Italy is entrenched in an historic legacy of traditional architectural discourse and presentation. We chatted about Domus on the internet, about the coexistence of print and digital media, and about the circumstances which formed Postopolis, pulling the architectural and urban blogosphere (bleurgh) out from behind the flatscreen and into real life exchange.

2) Sam Jacob, partner at FAT Architects and blogger at
Sam is one of the few bloggers I spoke to who is also a practicing architect, so we spoke about blogging as part of a personal practice; about the different modes of working on interests; about the nature of reading and lots more..

3) Mario Carpo, whom you really ought to know by now
This was less an interview, more a cup of tea and lovely, rambling chat; (if you’ve read anything else on this blog you will know that) Mario has much to say on the parallels between the birth of the printing press and the dissemination of architectural thought today, as well as the only clear definition of  Web 2.0 that I’ve ever received. The distillations from this conversation will run deep and long after submission..

3) Geoff Manaugh, of BLDGBLOG and much precipitated fame besides.
It was almost mandatory to speak to Geoff, as he epitomises the unprecedented success of a true architecturally motivated blog; he now teaches at Columbia and the University of Southern California and recently completed a residency at CCA. We talked candidly about his experiences and trajectories as a writer working in a blog format, and about how that becomes a valid practice

4) Steve Parnell, of The Sesquipedalist and previously aka Norman Blogster (R.I.P)
Steve is a former architectural practitioner and current scholar/educator; he was pulled into the world of architectural magazines via his candid, cynical blogging as Norman Blogster, a fictional and long-suffering jobbing architect. We discussed the merits of putting yourself out there, how content changes over the lifespan of a blog, how to blag (not blog!) books and what the technical limitations of format appear to be.

5) Douglas Murphy, of entschwindet und vergeht
A relative newcomer to me, and the other practicing architect among the many I spoke to; Douglas’ particularly poetic and personal approach led me to ask him why he decided to jump into the already busy pool of architectural blogging, and where it might lead.

6) Enrique Ramirez, of aggregat456
Enrique is an architectural historian who blogs his incredibly scholarly musings online – in parallel but not in conjunction with his PhD studies at Princeton; we talked about his evolution as a practitioner in terms of writing and research, the widespread disdain for the term “blog” and different ideas of value. Also, a really insightful tangent on exploitation within architectural publishing..
swiftly followed by..

7) David Basulto of (and perhaps more crucially, the spanish-language plataforma.. sites)
.. who totally blew me away with his eloquent critical and highly politicised stance on architectural media, coming from a site that I have to confess, I do not frequent that often. As the founder of what is currently the highest-viewed architectural website in the world, I guarantee his agenda is totally different to any of the above – but not in the ways that you might think, which made our chat particularly fruitful.

viii) Cassim Shepard, of
..who pretty much taught me how to blog and set up this thesis in the first place. Cassim is the only person I spoke to who runs a website or blog under the wings of an established (though not state-funded) institution, in his case the Architectural League in New York. We spoke about the notion of publics, the need for editorial rigour and the reasons for rising public interest in urban issues and the built environment.

I would still love to speak with Kazys Varnelis of (no link – links come with participation, K-Roc!), but already, what a great collection of thinkers and doers! What I have to do now is synthesize our conversations such that I can do justice to their insight and time, and to the kindness and generosity with which they shared it.

Brr… no pressure!


Reading & Transmitting: Half-baked cookies

3 Aug

So then…

Via Mario Carpo’s text,  we were discussing the notion of primacy of (architectural) text, superceded or forever conjoined by image.. in particular Alberti’s ‘dictum’, that despite his championing of drawing as an architectural process, and showing much enthusiasm for the visual, he wished for his architectural treatise never to be illustrated..

1. So is that the moment when text gains the authority, the upper hand forever more? Works of scholarship, i.e. those of words, whether or not they are accompanied by frivolous or useful images, receive the prestigious status that defined the architect as a belletrist, a “man of letters”? 

2. Coming back to blogs as a paradigm:

If we define that the interactive or exchange potential of blogs is the crux of their critical faculty – for without that potential for exchange and interconnection, they are simply isolated, individuated assemblages – fragments of ideas and broken, rhizomatic or synaptic trajectories..

2.1 .. Let us consider for a moment the nature of those trajectories, in terms of media. I was thinking about blogs, and their discourse, as the re-emergence of text as the critical media through which ideas are transmitted. Because there are such sites which act as galleries and image banks, but the critical capacity emerges only when these are selected/curated/elaborated and critically, verbally discussed. But content does not have to be purely alphabetical; even if the code ends up as a form of text, it is increasingly easier (and less reliant on text interfaces) to incorporate media such as video and image into an exchange of ideas. 

Fittingly the field of communications technology points the way towards where this might lead, in terms of discourse. Small programs which perform increasingly sophisticated functions are now a highly commodified notion; I’m thinking directly of [iPhone] apps. For the most part, consumers share, purchase or download “apps” or applications to use them as their name suggests; applying them to perform a certain function. Looking at the increasing – and increasing in the sense of amoebic, rhizomatic, synaptic – community of developers, and companies who produce products, applications, soft and hardwares both for and with their ‘base’ of developers, we can identify a new method of production, that is to say one of “Open Source”. 

(Perhaps not so new: there was a interesting-lite article in The Sunday Times Magazine about the Grateful Dead’s reciprocal relationship with their fanbase, the Deadheads, in helping to proliferate their product by allowing taped recordings at live shows, and in boosting creativity by encouraging independent merchandise. The article cited the Dead’s anti-accumulation philosophy as the loose origins of [the business models of] companies like Apple and other digital developers, who capitalise (and in this case I can use that word) on the “community” of their consumers. I would provide a link, but as you know, the Sunday Times is made by – or at least produced/distributed by bastards. So.)

2.2 So what is exciting about that whole thing, is that what is being exchanged, pushed forward, (even) in a commercial sense, is half-baked. Programs that are “buggy”, hardwares that don’t wait for endless testing in a hermetic environment, products that are not so much user-defined as user-refined.. I’m particularly excited by the exchange of softwares, incomplete programs and applications, which are worked on by developer communities. It seems to me that what is being exchanged here is raw, live, like DNA or creative matter, sort of like stem-cell tissue! If the exchange of semi-formed commodities is commercially accepted and viable – and not simply as a gimmick towards “customisation” but genuinely to engage mass creativity – to me this heralds a new method of production and points to a new kind of status, in a way…

Now, any phenomena at all can have an effect on someone’s mind, and this can take seed in a highly individuated way, and produce something cool; of course we don’t HAVE to have the exchange of half-baked cookies for that to happen. But what if – for example in academia – it’s less “cool” to have a static theory printed in a book, what if the real currency is in producing an idea, format or framework that can be endlessly extrapolated, mutated and improved?  

.. Is this the total dissolution of authorship? 

As you can see, feeling pretty half-baked myself this morning…

Reading or Transmitting: Reading Carpo I

2 Aug

For centuries, the alphabet was the standard code for information interchange. “

Alright, here we go:

In Mario Carpo’s “How do you imitate a building that you have never seen“,  the idea of dissemination is discussed – once an oral, verbal or written transmission of inspiration and ideas, which has since the sixteenth century become increasingly graphic. Up until this point, Carpo narrates, works of art, architecture and visual mirabilia 

“had been transmitted primarily by word of mouth, orality and memory having been occasionally superseded or complemented by alphabetical writing. Drawings did not participate in this process, and ample evidence proves that when they did, it was by accident: as everyone knew at the time, drawings could not, and should not, be relied upon. In a word, they did not matter. Visual forms were to be described by words, not by pictures.”

It seems to be almost a given that the cult of the image has now far superceded that of words, transcending cultural, geographic and linguistic restrictions to present the recipient with an immediate “picture” of the subject in question. Words have become an embellishment which elaborate the subject; since the advent of photography, the nature of truth itself has been de-authorised in a sense and priority has been awarded to the photographic simulacrum, as opposed to words which are subject to the partial voice of any author, writer or transmitter. 

This in turn has had an undoubted effect on design and art, and architecture; last year I heard Juhanii Pallasmaa coining the term “Retinal Architecture” in the context of the iconic, and I think this phrase is very telling in terms of the point of impact of design.