Good on Paper
I’m rediscovering magazines now that magazines are rediscovering architecture. I recently renewed my subscription to The Architectural Review and, in their The Big Rethink series of articles which I’ll have more to say some other time, immediately found what I’d felt a lack of.
I’ve dipped into Blueprint once again, less rewardingly, but still better than I remembered. My biggest rediscovery so far has been MARK magazine.
As a thing, it’s well put together and a pleasure to hold and read. The content is well curated and edited. Turning over a page in anticipation of the next one, I gave every page my full attention, knowing that somebody had chosen and designed its contents in order to obtain it. I rediscovered interaction. Content was more than something somebody provided. I read things I would never otherwise have bothered with. I learned things. I learned things I thought I knew. I saw some things in new ways, bigger ways. It was money well spent. I want a subscription.
I WANT THESE PEOPLE TO HAVE MY MONEY. Some of this enthusiasm is the result of shared interests. There were some updates on Kurosawa’s Nakagin capsule tower you’ll remember from The Microflat post back in March.
I admired the way MARK presented it as documentary with description, photos and answers to some set questions about the residents’ motives for living there – mostly for mundane reasons such as close to work, etc. Nobody said “to live in a Metabolist icon” or similar rubbish. Rather than perpetrate some myth of the building, the article just showed some regular people with regular lives getting on with them in some rather extreme housing.
The piece assumed we weren’t even that interested in “what they did with the space”. And why should we be? It reminded us that people are different anyway, and that those differences show anyway, even if – ESPECIALLY IF – their spaces are identical. As a stance, architecture is not something that is derived from humans, but that lets humans be humans. This is the essential humanism of post-humanism.
Remember NEST? (Here’s a link to a description over on pedro gandahno’s blog.) I remember the first issue with a spread of some dude who decked his room out as a shrine to Farah Fawcett.
The magazine has become a bit of a legend itself. Over on Wikipedia, Rem Koolhaas is re-quoted as saying NEST was “an anti-materialistic, idealistic magazine about the hyperspecific in a world that is undergoing radical levelling, an ‘interior design’ magazine hostile to the cosmetic” – a statement with a core of truth struggling under The Remster’s ornamentally dense sentence stylings.
Moving back to MARK, the next article was on Hugh Broughton’s Halley VI research station – that misfits mentioned in last November’s Antarctic Architecture. Like with the Nakagin story, the text is in factual Q&A form that has none of the stench of scripted promotional interview presented as information.
Any architectural writing struggles to convey the non-visual qualities of buildings but efforts in this regard tend to gravitate towards the ABSTRACT and CONCEPTUAL aspects of the visual rather than describe regard given to senses OTHER THAN THE VISUAL, or even the PHYSIOLOGICAL aspects of that stuff we call LIGHT and that makes the visual stuff possible. It was informative to see the regard Hugh Broughton Architects gave to the non-visual senses, and refreshing to see it reported in terms of their importance for human well-being rather than opportunities for luxury stimulus.
The striking exterior blue on white (with a dash of orange) image made the cover but the other images of bedrooms and corridors and dining area conveyed a sense of what the building might be like to inhabit. Can’t ask for much more than that from a magazine.
Other parts of the magazine featured some European house+landscape porn,
and some of the amusingly inventive but irreproducible stuff from Japan that, although trivial, would brand a magazine as insufferably highbrow and intellectual were their sort excluded.
All projects were given space according to how much they deserved. There was a feature on some well thought-out slum-clearance housing in untrending São Paulo.
There was also an introduction to the Luodong Cultural Workshop titled THE POWER OF EMPTINESS and which was a refreshing antidote to the parametric dross we’re being led to believe is popular in China.
The only bum note for me in the entire issue was Aedas’ “The Star” in Singapore and the accompanying non-committal text by Aaron Betsky.
“The building itself is a spectacle but one that does not expose what is so spectacular from the outside. For all its expressive forms and vertical stacking, the Star remains an enigma, a mystery shot though with riddles and a rock riddled with openings.”
This is what the sound of one hand clapping sounds like. My mother always said that if you can’t find anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. That’s not always true, but it seems to be Betsky’s policy for this tricky commission. The words “DOG’S DINNER!” do spring to mind though, if not to lips or fingertips. There’s something desperate about The Star that reminds me of Arabian Performance Venue by the same architect at Aedas.
Thank you naver.com over in Korea, for this image and for not letting the memory of this project die. WE MUST NEVER FORGET!
O friendly Credit Crunch! Thank you for preventing this. We owe you.
And finally we come to this piece that provided the inspiration for this post.
Architecture workshop TD from Flachau, Austria, organizes a workshop every last Friday of the month. The entire office spends the whole day working out themes that are not related to TD projects but that contribute to the profession of architecture as a whole. The most recent workshop assignment was to conceptualise architecture magazines that would be interesting to read and would help the profession to evolve. … Would more specialised magazines reinforce the trend towards fragmentation, or is fragmentation a trend that can’t be stopped and should be acknowledged and served?
Dunno. But I do know that this little assignment that “reinforces the profession of architecture as a whole”, somehow (as these things do) found its way into a magazine for us to think about. So let’s do the right thing and think about it.
The idea of this magazine was to have a genealogical tree developed for every building featured. At first, this sounded like a good idea but the PR side of large architects offices do this anyway – it’s just that we can’t trust them. Maybe High-Tech was a mash-up of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, Chareau’s Maison de Verre, Eames’s Eames House and the sexier of the Case Study Houses, and with a dash of horizontal Gothic spiced up with that all-purpose influence Archigram. Whether or not this is the real lineage or a made up one hardly matters because it has now become the accepted WAY IT HAPPENED. I’m okay with this Once Upon magazine in principle.
This one is good. If we’re going to be stuck with celebrity architects, then let’s expect them to give more like we expect of other celebrities. Let’e get to know them, and not in a HELLO! way either. Let’s see them falling drunk out of taxis after a client schmooze and doorstepped and papped TMZ-style. Let’s see our favourite sleb architects pay the true price of fame. And let’s not just stop at time and space intrusiveness. While we’re at it, let’s also see them held to account for their ethical choices in much the same way as Sting was held to account for his earnings in Uzbekistan. (See ARKYTEKTYSTAN for more.) Here’s an update in the run-up to the opening of ZHA’s Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre in Baku. Expect a PR masterclass. Excited to see how they’ll play it.
This next one’s a novel idea. How about an architectural magazine that actually criticises design choices and decisions made? It’s a wild idea, but it just might work.
Or how about this next? A magazine about architecture but that describes everything using words. No images. The people who had this idea seemed to imagine readers using these descriptions of the visual to form an image in their minds to be later compared with the actual building they would presumably experience someday. Nice, but I think the real worth of such a magazine would be to take some of the emphasis AWAY from the visual, rather than indirectly emphasise the importance of it. For me, this imaginary architecture magazine only rejects the visual culture of magazines in order to more fully embrace the culture of visual architectural experience. Not good.
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All this thinking about magazines makes me think that paper hardcopy is in a good place once again. The internet did kill off many magazines but now the dust has settled, it was probably for the best. It’s true that the internet is more image-driven than text-driven, as proven by image-driven sites such as DEZEEN that publish text such as this.
Two circles look like the fucking number 8! Dezeen really are taking the piss. But it seems to be sufficient to flog watches in some pop-up store. Meanwhile, ArchDaily relies on promotional text supplied by architects. Although it covers the world, many of its houses from Equador to South Korea to New Zealand and back to Chile look oddly the same with their tastefully balanced mix of white walls and feature stone/timber walls seen against a forest/ocean. The New International Style. When every media event building and wannabe media event building now files dutifully through sites such as these, anyone addicted to the consumption of architectural imagery deserted magazines long ago. Producers and consumers of hardcore architectural imagery have now found each other in internet hell.
Now that magazines are rid of this readership (lookership?) and the obligation to gratify them, I sense that some are beginning to refocus on the slow cooking of thought, re-igniting real debates conducted with words instead of comment boxes and thumbs-up/down symbols, and rediscovering useful topics and agendas neglected these past two decades.