Matters of Radical Media

by JasonMunn:

If someone were to ask me to list a dozen adjectives to describe myself, “radical” would not be on that list. It’s probably because I teach at a school bursting at the seams with self-professed radicals — and I often find myself somewhat alienated by the provocateur orthodoxy. Nevertheless, I’ve been asked to talk about “the materiality and aesthetics of radical media” next month at “Being the Media: Designing a New Rrradical Media,” an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of Paper Tiger Television.

There’s a panel discussion — with folks from the Center for Media Justice, the Yes Lab, Colorlines, and Women in Media & News — on the evening of Friday, 2/10. Then the next day is a full day Media Intensive + Design Challenge, which kicks off with a few short presentations — including mine — and an afternoon workshop in which teams design prototypes for a new radical media. Chosen pieces will be shown at Fortnight 2012: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film.

I’ve posted a draft of my not-fully-fleshed-out presentation notes below:


[SLIDE 2] Define Materiality

  • Colloquial understandings:
    • [CLICK] Artefacts, stuff
    • [SLIDE 3] materialism (both in the colloquial sense of acquisitiveness, and in the Marxist sense)
  • [SLIDE 4] Something that exists in the space in-between people and things
    • Materiality, and its perception and use by a user, generates affordances and constraints
      • [SLIDE 5] Not determined entirely by the matter constituting the object – thus, even the digital, the virtual – things we can’t see or feel – can be thought of as having materiality
      • [SLIDE 6] Particular significance of the invisible or intangible: “The less we are aware of them, the more powerfully they can determine our expectations by setting the scene and ensuring normative behavior, without being open to challenge. They determine what takes place to the extent that we are unconscious of their capacity to do so.” (Daniel Miller, “Materiality: An Introduction” In Materiality (Duke University Press, 2005): 5)
        • Something like software fits this description perfectly

Materiality is Deeply Political.

  • [SLIDE 7] Marxism rooted in humanity’s capacity to transform the material world through production, and in the process, to create a mirror of ourselves
  • [SLIDE 8] Materiality implies different ways of existing in the world – different ontologies – and different ways of interacting with the things and people we share the world with
  • Recent interest in new ascriptions of agency – e.g., theories that propose the dissolution of the separation of subject/object; Actor Network Theory; object-oriented philosophies – non anthropo-centric models

[SLIDE 9] Relevance to the PPTV Project at Hand?

How is this not purely a semantic or academic problem?

  • [CLICK] Because materiality implies, or embodies, politics. And if our goal here is to think about what constitutes radical media, the materiality of that media matters very much in shaping its politics. Radicalism does not reside solely in a medium’s content. It resides in its material properties, too.

[SLIDE 10] Must acknowledge the non-radicalism of my own media. PowerPoint is not a radical medium. Garamond is not a traditionally radical font.

[SLIDE 11] Where Do We Find Materiality in Media?

  • [CLICK] N. Katherine Hayles: materiality is “the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies” (“Print is Flat, Code Is Deep” Poetics Today (2004)).
  • [CLICK] Bill Brown: frames, folds, borders, margins, authorship and authority, typing and printing, gathering and dispersion, size, style, color, opacity/transparency; paratexts (Bill Brown, “Introduction: Textual Materialism” PMLA (2010): 24)
  • [CLICK] Appadurai: embodiment of social relations
  • [SLIDE 12] Bill Brown’s “multiple orders of materiality”: “the phenomenological account of the interface between user and technology, an archaeological account of the physical infrastructure of the medium, and sociological account of the cultural and economic forces that continue to shape both the technology itself and our interactions with it” (“Materiality” In W.J.T. Mitchell & Mark B.N. Hansen, Eds., Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago 2010): 59-60)


  • Caveat: no parallel structure to the following lists

[SLIDE 13] Materiality in the Production of Media

  • Walter Benjamin, in his 1934 “Author as Producer” lecture, encouraged progressive creative techniques that embrace new technologies and transcend “specialization in the process of production.”
  • [SLIDE 14] [CLICK] Choice of modality itself – e.g., politics biases (see Innis) inherent in decision to publish a magazine, make a video, make a crowd-sourced map – and format (e.g., video file format; Flash or HTML5)
  • Review/adjudication process, selectivity of content
  • How authorship is ascribed, how credit is attributed
    • Giving credit to technicians, designers, copyeditors, etc.
  • How intellectual property is conceived
  • Funding & business models
  • Production models & work-flow
  • [SLIDE 16] Selection of Production Tools
    • Professional, “prosumer,” or consumer tools
    • Affordability, portability, hackability, etc.
    • [SLIDE 17] Politics of manufacturing your tools of production: made how, by whom, using what parts
      • E.g., Apple + Foxconn
  • [SLIDE 18] Choice of proprietary or open-source software
  • Physical infrastructure of chosen media:
  • [SLIDE 20] Decision to make “the guts” – the inner workings – opaque or transparent, and to what end?
  • Even choices that we might reduce to subjective aesthetic choices, are political: typeface, color, leading, kerning, paper weight, overall style

[SLIDE 21] Materiality in Distribution/Exchange of Media

  • [SLIDE 22] [CLICK] Material networks and labor of distribution
    • E.g., File-sharing site, Wikileaks, Creative Commons, – or hand-to-hand exchange in specific physical sites among particular communities?
      • Politics of selective distribution – not always elitist
    • [CLICK] Ownership of conduits of distribution
      • Must consider whole “stack” of distribution
  • [CLICK] Fully-open, public access, or limited distribution?
  • [CLICK] Cost for consumer purchase of goods or services, or costs involved in distribution that the consumer never sees?
  • [CLICK] How well the object lends itself to user-directed exchange beyond the initial purchase, download, viewing, etc.?
    • [SLIDE 23] E.g., Distribution libraries, like International Public Space Library

[SLIDE 24] Materiality in Consumption of Media

  • Informed by many of the choices made during production – just as the media maker’s desire to cultivate a particular media-consumption experience informed the choices they made in the creative/production process
  • [SLIDE 25] [CLICK] Phenomenological experience of reception – [CLICKS] informed by form, dimension, material, color, style, etc. of the medium – and cultural contexts and situational context in which it’s consumed
    • E.g., 900-page Hillel Schwartz book – imposed limitation on variety of places in which I can experience this book
    • Are you distributing your zines in bar bathrooms? Slipping them in-between the pages of the National Review at Barnes & Noble?
  • [CLICK] Social experience of various types of consumption activity

[SLIDE 26] Also “radical” is a recognition that these aren’t necessarily three distinct phases presided over by three distinct classes of people.




Todd Pattison, Little Library, via

I’m writing an article on “little libraries” for a journal — but, as usual, I’ve got way too much material, and the resulting article has turned out way too long. I’m prepared to have to do some painful pruning. I’ve already decided that my intro had to go, so I’m posting it here:

Illustrator and comic book artist Adrian Tomine is perhaps best known among the general reading public for his New Yorker covers, which usually depict people’s public engagement with books. In one, an independent book shop owner catches his neighbor accepting a shipment from Amazon; in another, a teenage girl atop a double-decker tour bus ignores what has so captivated her photo-snapping parents and chooses instead to focus on her novel; in still another, a motley crew in an airport lounge reads, independently yet in unison, while they wait out a snowstorm; and in yet another, a pair of attractive young singles, sitting in passing subway trains, shares a glance through the window and discovers they’re reading the same book. In each of these scenes, the book lives at the center of a social world, either connecting or disconnecting people, informing how they interact with their material surroundings. And in each, there’s a hint of preemptive nostalgia for what’s about to be lost, and an unease about what’s to come. Will the snow stop and the airplanes take flight again before these would-be travelers exhaust their reading material? Are the boy and girl in the subway fated to meet again? How will the shop owner and his neighbor greet one another on the street after this awkward encounter – and will his bookshop beat the odds and survive the Amazon onslaught?

A more recent Tomine cover illustration raises a related set of issues. Depicting a bookstore display of canonical-author paraphernalia – bobble-head dolls, hats, posters, t-shirts – opposite a selection of e-readers, it calls into question the material futures of the book and reading. As the text itself becomes virtual, will these literary souvenirs become the only material trace of print culture? We’ve wondered, and worried, for decades now about the futures of our bookstores, our libraries, our books, and the future of reading itself….

And off I go…


Artist as Typographer

Simon Evans, Letter to the Future, 2011 @ James Cohan:
Simon Evans, Letter to the Future, 2011 @ James Cohan:

I have a long list of article and book ideas — definitely more than I could even hope to accomplish in my lifetime. Near the top of that list — which means it’s been there for a long time — is “do something about Dexter Sinister.” That sounds mildly threatening — but by “do something” I don’t mean “call the authorities on them” or “have them evicted.” I mean “write something.” I’ve been admiring Bailey and Reinfurt for years; I go to their events, buy their books, see their shows and performances. I think they — along with James Bridle and Craig Mod and a handful of other critically engaged designers — offer some of the most provocative and compelling ideas about the future of print, the book, the document, writing, reading, distribution, circulation, etc.

When I found out that DS were among the artists that Tom McDonough would be discussing tonight in his Hilla Rebay lecture at the Guggenheim, I was totally psyched. A lecture titled “The Artist as Typographer” would’ve piqued my interest regardless of the artists it focused on — but the fact DS that were among McDonough’s case studies was certainly a draw.

I’ll attempt to synopsize the lecture below. My writing hand is terribly out of practice, so I often found myself falling behind with my note-taking this evening — which means I inevitably missed some bits. But, for my own benefit — and perhaps for others’ — I’ll recount as much as I can:

*     *     *     *     *

McDonough is interested in language as a material form in contemporary art. In recent years there’s been a proliferation of artwork that employs typography and print — e.g., the work of Shannon Ebner (about whom McDonough wrote a great piece in Artforum in 2010), Adam Pendleton, Matt Keegan (and Ron Terada, whom McD mentioned only briefly at the end — and whom I happened to have discovered at the MCA in Chicago last week!). These artists are interested in language’s “material realization.”

Historic precedent — Herbert Bayer, Karel Tiege, Bauhaus, Dada, Fluxus, etc. See also Mary Kelly, Renee Green (both of whom, it seems to me, are interested in systems for organizing texts)

Recent work explores language and materialism — sign as a physical form, language as object. The artists McD features are “practitioners of wild semiosis.” Overview of Saussure — focus on arbitrariness and relational nature of language and meaning; sign as merely a “psychological entity.” S’s model notably omitted vision — the graphic (he regarded writing as a signifier of the signified, speech); the “mode of inscription” of the sign is irrelevant.

These new artists attend to vision — and space. They prioritize the mode of inscription.

Ebner, Landscape Incarceration

Parallels between the work of Shannon Ebner and Ed Ruscha.

From Benjamin’s One Way Street:

Script — having found, in the book, a refuge in which it can lead an autonomous existence — is pitilessly dragged out into the street by advertisements and subjected to the brutal heteronomies of economic chaos. This is the hard schooling of its new form. If, centuries ago, it [writing] began to lie down, from the upright inscription to the manuscript lying on the slanting desk, in order to be finally bedded flat in print, it now begins just as slowly to lift itself up from the ground again. Already the newspaper is read more in the vertical than in the horizontal; film and advertising finally push writing into the dictatorial vertical position.

This new art, in a sense, makes language rise again. McD suggests, if I understood him correctly, that this “hard schooling” leads to print’s “return to public significance.” [If you follow the Benjamin passage a bit further, he talks about how the “card index marks the conquest of three dimensional writing.]
McD suggests that these new typographer-artists call attention to, or perhaps revive, this three-dimensionality and materiality by focusing at times on the “material evidence of the hand’s crafting of language” (see Evans’s embroidery at the top of this post.)

Ebner, Strike and Risk, 2010
Dexter Sinister’s shield, via Walker Art

McD then turns to Ebner’s interest in the slash, and draws a parallel to the slash in Dexter Sinister’s heraldic shield. Brief history of DS.

DS represent a new conception of publishing — perhaps anti-Fordist, collapsing the Fordist division of labor. Their alternative form of production, just-in-time printing,…

run[s] counter to the contemporary assembly-line realities of large-scale publishing. This involves avoiding waste by working on-demand, utilizing local cheap machinery, considering alternate distribution strategies, and collapsing distinctions of editing, design, production and distribution into one efficient activity (via MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies).

They coordinate print production operations on a “horizontal plane.” [I want to think about how their Serving Library (an exhibition of which I visited last month) fits into all this.] Are they importing post-Fordism into graphic design? Given their description of their design process in terms of references to efficiencies (?) and feedback loops, one might think so — yet McD argues that their goal is not to promote efficiency but “autonomy” and a measure of self-sufficiency.

Pendleton, Black Dada, via Art Documents:

McD relays how DS’s David Reinfurt critiqued Adam Pendleton for his use of Arial, “a half-resolved typeface, a debased Helvetica at best, produced in the service of IBM and Microsoft! Come on.”

[I’m afraid I was too busy catching up with my note-taking to pay proper attention to McD’s discussion of Pendleton.]

Keegan, It’s Not You…

Much of Matt Keegan’s work features messages of negation — “no no no,” “nothing to declare,” “it goes without saying,” “it’s not you, it’s me”… McD focuses on the work’s sculptural qualities.

[I think using only art historical models and thinking of the dimensionality of Keegan’s work — of any of this work — as sculpture, means that we miss an opportunity to look at it as media. I mean, just look at Don’t Worry: it’s a folded sheet of pink paper. That’s significant. I’d imagine Keegan didn’t choose pink paper, and fold it, simply to highlight paper’s sculptural qualities. He chose it because of its particular properties as a medium. It seems obvious to me that Keegan’s thinking about medium specificity; consider his Picture Perfect, below.]

Finally, why the “typographic turn” (oh, another turn!) now?

  • Builds upon a critical design history that was established in the 80s
  • Responds to digital technology’s transformation of our print production and reading practices
  • Reassesses of the legacy of conceptual and post-conceptual art (with particular reference to Lawrence Weiner) — employs techniques of foregrounding the materials and “backgroundng” the author
    • Links back to concrete poetry and forward to Liam Gillick
Gillick, via GMS:

McD concludes by stating that much of this work exmphasizes the fungibility of language [,which I’ll buy] — and the capacity to transform this fluidity into the formation of new collectivities [,which I’m not so sure about; I really don’t see that here. Thanks perhaps to relational aesthetics, It seems that all art anymore has to somehow promote the creation of “new collectivities” or “new forms of sociality.” I really don’t think everything‘s about the social. Sometimes, I think work is often, and just as validly, about the material — the stuff in and of itself.]

And I’ll leave it there.


Media & Architecture Syllabus

Port Authority – via GKD Metal Fabrics on ArchDaily:

Ta da! I now have an almost-complete draft syllabus for my spring “Media and Architecture” graduate seminar. I’ve taught multiple variations on this course over the past decade: a Freshman Seminar at Penn in 2003, a grad seminar at The New School in 2005, an undergrad lecture course at The New School (with mostly Parsons students) in 2007, and again a grad seminar in 2009. But because this course reflects my main area of research and draws on resources I’ve been collecting for the past 14 years, reviving the course isn’t simply a matter of pulling out the old syllabus and dusting off the books. On each go-around, I rethink the whole thing. I comb through all the new resources I’ve collected since I last taught the class, I identify new examples, I consider new field trips and guest speakers, etc.

That’s what I’ve been up to for the past month or so. And I now have a nearly complete draft — with just a few questions remaining.

  1. I’m not sure if I should ask students to kick off the discussion each week. I’ve used start-of-class student presentations in other courses — but in “Media & Architecture,” I’ve found that it’s more helpful for me to start the class with a little architectural history — which is a background my students don’t have — than to have students summarize the readings, which they’re all doing in their Reading Responses anyway.
  2. I’d like to schedule a class tour of the new Google offices and the data center facilities at 111 8th Ave for our Media Workplaces & Labor lesson. I haven’t yet made contact with the right people, but I really hope we can swing this.
  3. I’m not sure about my readings for the photography lesson on March 28. I have lots of great resources to choose from — but most are too detailed for a “generalist” course. And many are out of print and exist in formats that prevent easy and clear scanning. I’m trying to include more non-Western texts, so I decided to use a chapter from Maria Pelizzari’s Traces of India: Photography, Architecture and the Politics of Representation; I’m not sure how it’ll work. *If anyone has recommendations for a more effective and exciting collection of “architecture and photography” texts, please share!

I always have to keep in mind that my students are media studies students — not design students. Very few have any background in architectural or design history and theory. That’s why I try to incorporate as many opportunities as possible to concretize the material for them; field trips serve this purpose well. This is also why, after having taught this course a few times, I decided to flip it from a chronological to a reverse-chronological organization, so we can start with what students are most familiar with — new media — and then dig further back into time, drawing connections between the old and the new, as the weeks go on.

So here it is:


[Here’s a pdf]

It wasn’t long ago that the digital vanguard was prophesying the arrival of the “paperless office,” the death of the book, and the “dematerialization” of our physical bodies and environments. Despite those proclamations, we have not traded in our corporeality for virtuality—nor have we exchanged all of our brick-and-mortar edifices and cities for virtual versions. In fact, many architects, urban planners, sociologists, psychologists, geographers, and scholars and practitioners in related disciplines argue that as our media have become ever more virtual, the design and development of our physical spaces—through architecture, landscape design, and urban and regional planning—have become even more important. If our media and our built spaces do not follow the same evolutionary paths, what is the relationship between these two fields of production and experience?

This course examines the dynamic and complex relationship between media and architecture.  We will look at architecture as media, symbols and embodiments of particular ideas and values—and at the impact that communication media have had on the practice of architecture and the way we experience our built environments. After equipping ourselves with a basic design vocabulary and a selection of relevant theoretical frameworks, we will trace the contemporaneous development of media and architecture from the scribal era in the Middle Ages to the digital era of today and tomorrow. Along the way, we’ll explore design, history, criticism, and theory from media and design historians and theorists, media makers, and designers. In the process, we will find that underlying and inspiring these various systems of cultural production throughout history are certain foundational elements—particular value systems and kinds of experience, cultural perspectives and worldviews.

Assignments: The students will be completing (almost) weekly reading responses, an exhibition/site review, a project proposal, and a final paper or theoretically-informed, research-based creative project.

WEEK 1: January 25
Introductions, Preview, Gauging Your Experience & Interests


  • We’ll review how various figures central to communication and media studies – James Carey, Edward T. Hall, Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Joshua Meyrowitz, etc. – have addressed architecture.
  • Beatriz Colomina, “The Media House” Assemblage 27 (August 1995): 55-66.

WEEK 2: February 1
Stones, Speak: Architecture as Medium

What do various media and architectural historians and theorists have to say about the relationships between media and architecture? Does architecture have a language? Can it be regarded as a mass medium? If so, what methods of analysis—e.g., formal analysis, reception studies, semiotic or rhetorical analysis, etc—might we employ in examining architecture?


  • Umberto Eco, “Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture” Reprinted in Neil Leach, Ed., Rethinking Architecture: Reader in Cultural Theory (New York: Routledge, 1997): 181-201.

Walter Benjamin is ubiquitous in media-architecture research. We’ll think about why – and consider alternatives.

  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Illuminations (New York: Schocken Books, [1936]1968): 217-51 – also available online [You’ve probably already read this essay. Please quickly review it, looking this time for references to architecture.]
  • Stan Allen, “Dazed and Confused” Assemblage 27 Tulane Papers: The Politics of Contemporary Architectural Discourse (August 1995): 47-54.
  • Robert Venturi, Denisse Scott Brown & Steven Izenour, “A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning From Las Vegas” In Learning from Las Vegas, rev. ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, [1977]1998): 1-83. [lots of images!]

WEEK 3: February 8
Interface Space

What has happened to our conceptions of space in an era of dematerialization and decentralization? How have networked digital technologies changed the way we design our buildings and cities, and altered our experiences of those built spaces? How new are these ideas of networked and immaterial architectures?


In the following two texts, and in many others you’ll read in the upcoming weeks, you’ll probably encounter names with which you’re not familiar. You’re welcome to look up unfamiliar references on your own – but we’ll also likely read and talk more about these people and projects as the semester unfolds.

  • Mark Wigley, “The Architectural Brain” In Anthony Burke & Therese Tierney, Eds., Network Practices: New Strategies in Architecture and Design (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007): 30-53.
  • Aaron Betsky, “A Virtual Reality” Artforum 46:1 (September 2007): 440+.

The following two cover similar conceptual and theoretical territory, but they provide different, and complementary, examples: Manovich references media art and branded spaces, while Shepard focuses on technologies used in architecture and urban planning.

  • Lev Manovich, “The Poetics of Augmented Space” Visual Communication 5:2 (2006): 219-40.
  • Mark Shepard, “Toward the Sentient City” In Shepard, Ed., Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011): 16-37.
  • The Living, Living City [follow the “next” links at the top-right; there are 25 pages in total]
IAC Building

WEEK 4: February 15
Open Office: The Digital Workspace

How do media workspaces embody the forms of media production that take place inside? How might the physical space help or hinder that work? How do they reflect the values, or ideologies, of the corporations they house? How have these buildings evolved as the media landscape has evolved, as the cityscape has evolved? How do these buildings themselves function as media?

Field Trip: Google, 111 8th Ave??


  • Reinhold Martin, “The Physiognomy of the Office” and “Computer Architectures” In The Organizational Complex: Architecture, Media, and Corporate Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 80-121 (skim 105-120; read final three paragraphs on 120-1), 156-181.
  • Andrew Ross, “Jobs in Candyland: An Introduction,” “The Golden Children of Razorfish,” & “Steel Tables” In No Collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs(Basic Books, 2003): 1-20, 55-9, 109-22.
    • Check out MoMA’s “Workspheres” online exhibition to see many of the design innovations that would’ve graced the late-90s “no collar” workplace.
  • Shannon Mattern, “Edge Blending: Light, Crystalline Fluidity, and the Materiality of New Media at Gehry’s IAC Headquarters” In Staffan Ericson & Kristina Riegert, Eds., Media Houses: Architecture, Media and the Production of Centrality (New York: Peter Lang, 2010): 137-61. – or something about our field trip site?
  • Sam Jacob, “Revolving Doors: The Architecture of Corporate MediaDomus (November 2011).
  • James Bridle, “Secret ServersICON 99 (September 2011), Reprinted on

WEEK 5: February 22
Boxed In: Televisual Space

How has television altered our perception of global space and domestic space, and how has it influenced the way we design and experience our private and public spaces? What is the architecture of the screen itself?


  • Lynn Spigel, Intro through Chapter 4 In Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992): 1-135.
  • Recommended: Shannon Mattern, “Broadcasting Space: China Central Television’s New Headquarters,” International Journal of Communication 2 (2008).
  • Recommended: Beatriz Colomina, “Enclosed by Images: The Eameses’ Multimedia Architecture” Grey Room 2 (Winter 2001): 5-29.
Roxy Theater, NY

WEEK 6: February 29
Mise-en-Scène: Cinematic Spaces

Why do so many historians and theorists regard the material city as inherently cinematic, and how do particular spaces lend themselves to representation in film? How do filmmakers construct and capture filmic space? How might various architectural elements – promenades, circulation patterns, windows, etc. – promote cinematic ways of looking within and without architecture? How do we design spaces for the exhibition of film?


  • Sergei M. Eisenstein, “Montage and Architecture,” reprinted, w/ Introduction by Yve-Alain Bois, in Assemblage 10 (1989): 110-31.
  • Giuliana Bruno, “Site-seeing: Architecture and the Moving Image” Wide Angle 19:4 (1997): 8-24. [For larger images, access the essay via Project Muse. In this essay Bruno lays out a map for her Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film (New York: Verso, 2002).]
  • Siegfried Kracauer, “Cult of Distraction: On Berlin’s Picture Palaces” In The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, Trans. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995): 323-8.
  • Joan Ockman, “Architecture in a Mode of Distraction: Eight Takes on Jacques Tati’s Playtime” In Mark Lamster, Ed., Architecture and Film (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000): 170-95. [The first section, “Toward a Theory of Distraction,” should present ideas familiar to you; feel free to skim.]

WEEK 7: March 7
Radio City: Sonic Spaces

How did new audio technologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries change the way people conceived of space? How could the building itself be thought of as a resonating or aural medium? What was the architecture of the “radio age”? How can architects design in response to the sounds that people and media make?


  • Carolyn Marvin, “Protecting the Domestic Hearth” In When Old Technologies Were New (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990): 76-81.
  • Rem Koolhaas, “All the Rockefeller Centers” and “Radio City Music Hall: The Fun Never Sets” In Delirious New York (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1994): 199-200, 208-19.
  • Emily Thompson, “Electroacoustics and Modern Sound” & “Conclusion: Rockefeller Center and the End of an Era” In The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002): 229-48, 295-315.
  • Sam Jacob, “Dot Dot Dot.” Perspecta 44 (September 2011): 136-44.
  • Geoff Manaugh, “Audio ArchitectureBLDGBLOG (August 10, 2007).
  • Skim the syllabi for my undergraduate “City & Sound” and graduate “Sound & Space” courses to get a sense of the breadth of this area of study.


  • Roman Mars, 99% Invisible  podcast: listen to the following podcasts, which you can find on iTunes:
    • Episode 1: “Noise” [4:21]
    • Episode 10: “Sound and Feel” [4:52]
    • Episode 21: “BLDGBLOG: On Sound” [5:22]
    • Episode 43: “Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators” [7:21]


WEEK 8: No Class March 21 – Shannon @ SCMS Conference; Make-Up Class March 24 or 25
Flex Week: Digital, Televisual, Cinematic Spaces


  • We’ll choose topics, readings, screenings, outings, etc., for this week based on student interest.

Optional Weekend Field Trip: Eugène Atget Exhibition @ MoMA – Time TBD

Michael Wolf, Transparent City

WEEK 9: March 28
Iconic Images: Photography & Architecture

What different functions has architectural photography served, what audiences does it appeal to? How does photography render space, and what is photographic space? What is the relationship between the photographed and the “real” building?


  • James Ackerman, “On the Origins of Architectural Photography” In Kester Rattenbury, Ed., This is Not Architecture: Media Constructions (New York: Routledge, 2002): 26-35.
  • Maria Antonella Pelizzari, “From Stone to Paper: Photographs of Architecture and the Traces of History” In Pelizzari, Ed., Traces of India: Photography, Architecture, and the Politics of Representation, 1850-1900 (Montreal/New Haven: Canadian Centre for Architecture / Yale Center for British Art / Yale University Press, 2003): 22-57.
  • Pierluigi Serraino, “Framing Icons: Two Girls, Two Audiences / The Photographing of Case Study House #22” In Kester Rattenbury, Ed., This Is Not Architecture: Media Constructions (New York: Routledge, 2002): 127-135.
  • Fred A. Bernstein, “Structural Integrity and People, TooNew York Times (January 22, 2010).
  • Rob Walker, “Go FigureNew York Times (February 4, 2011).
  • Todd Reisz, “As a Matter of Fact, The Legend of Dubai” Log 13/14 (Fall 2008): 127-37.

Some of our readings for next week will address architectural photography, too.

WEEK 10: April 4
Le Corbusier: Designer as Media Maven

Beatriz Colomina argues that “modern architecture only becomes modern with its engagement with the media” – and that Le Corbusier was perhaps the first architect to recognize that media was a “new context of [architectural] production, existing in parallel with the construction site.” How did Le Corbusier choose to mediate himself and his work – and how did his media and architectural production practices inform one another? How do contemporary architects make use of new forms of media production to inform their design practice and construct their “brand”? 


  • Jean-Louis Cohen, Introduction to Toward an Architecture Trans. John Goodman (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007): 1-78 [feel free to skim over much of “The Break with Ozenfant” through “An Eye Opener for the Young,” pp. 43-57].
  • Beatriz Colomina, “Le Corbusier and Photography” Assemblage 4 (October 1987): 6-23. [This essay contains many seeds that later bloomed in Colomina’s excellent Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994).]
  • Beatriz Colomina, “Architectureproduction” In Kester Rattenbury, Ed., This Is Not Architecture: Media Constructions (New York: Routledge, 2002): 207-221.
AJ Davis Rural Residences, 1837

WEEK 11: April 11
Circulation: Newspapers, Plans Books, Critical Journals, Design Magazines

What is the relationship between the pattern book, the theoretical journal, the design magazine, and the practice, reception, and experience of architecture? How did new commercial printing forms and formats influence the design of public and private spaces? And how has architecture informed the form and content of design publications?


  • Lewis Mumford, “The Paper Dream City” in The Culture of Cities (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966): 255-8 [Recall the discussion of newspaper headquarters in my “Edge Blending,” which we read for Week 4.]
  • Gwendolyn Wright, “Populist Visions” In Moralism and the Model Home: Domestic Architecture and Cultural Conflict in Chicago, 1973-1913 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000): 9-45.
  • Brian McLaren, “Under the Sign of Reproduction” Journal of Architectural Education 45:2 (February 1992): 98-106.
  • Nancy Levinson, “Critical BeatsPlaces (March 6, 2010).
  • Shannon Mattern, “Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-PublicsDesign and Culture 3:3 (November 2011): 329-53.
  • Browse through the website for the Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition

WEEK 12: April 18
Books & Buildings: Print & Architecture

What parallels exist between the architectures of the page and codex and the architecture of physical space? Was Hugo right: Does the rise of the print medium necessarily spell the demise of earlier forms of communication and embodiments of cultural values, including architecture? How did the rise of print influence architectural education and practice? Where do we find material texts even in our contemporary, mediatized physical landscape?


  • Lewis Mumford, “Architectural Forms” in The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1966): 128-135.
  • Victor Hugo, “This Will Kill That” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) – or download as an audio book.
  • Neil Levine, “The Book and the Building: Hugo’s Theory of Architecture and Labrouste’s Bibliothéque Ste-Geneviéve” In Robin Middleton, Ed., The Beaux Arts and Nineteenth-Century French Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982): 138-173.
  • Hal Foster, “Bigness,” London Review of Books (November 29, 2001).
  • Skim through Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Yes is More!: An Archicomic on Architectural Education (Taschen 2009): If you have an iPad and $10 to spare, check out the digital version. You could also buy the printed book for $20, or you could simply leaf through here and watch the first 5 minutes or so of this video. [We’ll talk more about comics and illustration next week.]
  • Rob Walker, “Implausible Futures for Unpopular PlacesPlaces (July 25, 2011).
Ben Katchor

WEEK 13: April 25
Inscribed Space: Drawing & Architecture

How was space designed and experienced in an oral, or aural, age and in a writing culture – in a time before the printing press, as many have argued, brought fixity and linearity to the word and the world? What happens when a design is translated from word to image? How is the character of the “drawing” instrument – the pencil, paintbrush, or mouse – reflected in the buildings drawn and developed? What unique qualities of architecture can contemporary drawings practices—comics, cartoons, graphic novels, etc.—capture?


WEEK 14: May 2
Student Presentations.

WEEK 15: May 9
Student Presentations


Being There: Chicago’s Open Door

We just returned from a week in Chicago. Most of our time was dedicated to family (my husband’s family lives there), but we managed to spend a few afternoons downtown. I had never visited the Robie House, so we did that. And I finally found a Chicago pizza I like, although it’s more New Haven than Chicago style (I’m in Wicker Park so often — how come I’d never been to Piece before?!). I also tried to visit the Read/Write Library, the former Underground Library, in their new home in Humboldt Park — but unless I was confused, they seem to have gone back underground; the place looked vacant.

From the top o’ the Hancock Tower — Isn’t she a beautiful city?

I did manage to visit one of the other libraries on my list: the library at the Poetry Foundation’s new home. I’ve studied a few other poetry places — the Alvar Aalto-designed Woodberry Poetry Room among them — and I was eager to see how the Foundation would translate Harriet Monroe’s mission “to give to poetry her own place,” into architectural form.

The building, designed by local architect John Ronan, sits on the corner of West Superior and Dearborn. It’s a glass box within a box — a little Beinecke-esque, I suppose, in that the inner box displays the books — but here the interstitial space, in-between the outside and inside boxes, is still exterior. The outer black zinc screen wall surrounds a garden (which looks a little barren in these winter months, and whose pavers can get mighty icy), with a cut out on the corner to invite passage through to the building’s entrance.

In all the press coverage I’ve read of the new building (there doesn’t seem to be much), and in the Foundation’s own promotional material, Ronan is quoted as describing the garden as an “urban sanctuary, a space that could mediate between the street and the building, blurring the distinction between public and private.” Ah, the old “blurring the boundaries” schtick! I’ve heard that one before! I was hoping for a slightly more poetic, and original, articulation of the design concept. Nevertheless, the “sanctuary” description does seem apt; it is remarkably peaceful inside the garden — thanks, no doubt, to the fact that this stretch of Superior seems relatively calm.

In the lobby is a reception desk and an exhibition space, where the work of Black Sparrow, Burning Deck, and Fulcrum presses, each noted for its identifiable visual aesthetic, was on display. I admired not only the striking cover designs, but also the clever clips used to mount the books on the wall.

All the building’s public functions — in addition to the exhibition space, a performance hall and the library — are on the ground floor, off the lobby. But leading up the stairs, toward the private spaces where the Poetry magazine and foundation staff work, we see Harriet Moore’s declaration that Poetry should be an “open door” — a convenient metaphor for this new glass building that puts the poetic object on display.

The Open Door will be the policy of this magazine — may the great poet we are looking for never find it shut, or half-shut, against his ample genius! To this end the editors hope to keep free from entangling alliances with any single class or school. They desire to print the best English verse which is being written today, regardless of where, by whom, or under what theory of art it is written. (Moore, 1912)

The library itself, with its 30,000 non-circulating volumes, is clean and bright, but a bit sterile (to be expected of a building funded by pharmaceutical money?; those critical of the gift might say so). There’s a palpable tension between rarefaction and accessibility, which perhaps echoes early Poetry‘s negotiation of the values of high modernism with Moore’s “open door.”

From the mezzanine, looking north (I think!)

In my quick visit I did discover a few fantastic books I’ll look for back in New York — but aside from the books themselves, the warmest, most charming things in the room were these lovely reminders that poetry — both in an abstract sense, and concretely, as it takes form in Poetry magazine — is a sensory, dimensional thing:

We ended the day with a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I was happy to revisit the book art of Dieter Roth and learn more about Gordon Matta-Clark’s history of site-specific work at the MCA (Lawrence Weiner fell into one of M-C’s cut-outs on an upper floor and landed down on Floor 2!). I was also grateful to have discovered the work of Ron Terada (creator of the “Being there” sign at the top of this post), David Hartt, and, especially, Iain Baxter&. Baxter’s reinvention as N.E. Thing Company, which doled out aesthetic judgments, and his detourned landscape art — particularly the impressionist landscapes on TV screens — were totally brilliant.

IAIN BAXTER&: Works 1958-2011 from MCA Chicago on Vimeo.

The Ian Baxter& Show, The City at Dusk & Me

To close on a completely random note: my dogs, with whom I was able to spend some time over the holidays, and whom I now miss terribly:

Roxy & Rudy

Strings, Stones and Skeletons

Sarah Sze @ Asia Society

If I were an artist, I’d want to make work like Sarah Sze’s. Or, now that I think about it, I’d be happy to model myself after Ann Hamilton, too. As I see it, both play with techniques and structures of display, modes of communication and representation, objects’ physical properties, and dimensions and textures of the line. In short: all the stuff I nerd out on.

I’ve been following Sze’s work for the past decade or so, I guess, and last weekend I saw her lovely little show, “Infinite Line,” at the Asia Society. I say “little” not to trivialize the work, but to point out that the exhibition is significantly smaller than others I’ve seen — particularly her fantastic and sprawling show at Tanya Bonakdar gallery in Fall 2010 (see the two images below).

360 (Portable Planetarium) @ Tanya Bonakdar
The Uncountables (Encyclopedia) @ Tanya Bonakdar

“Infinite Line” focuses ostensibly on the relationship between drawing and sculpture (although the Times didn’t seem to find this theme particularly engaging), and consists of eight “closet-sized” (my term) installations (which Sze reportedly calls “Random Walk Drawings”) and, in a separate gallery, several rarely-exhibited drawings, some of which look an awful lot like Julie Mehretu’s work. Photography isn’t allowed in the museum, and there was a particularly vigilant guard in the south gallery, where the drawings were hung, so I managed to surreptitiously snap some photos of only a few of the installations in the north gallery.

Sze @ Asia Society
There’s something Smithsonesque about this piece.

Many of Sze’s sculptures involve slight movement; in some pieces, pages are designed to flutter in ambient drafts, and in others, small fans create breezes that subtly sway strings or ruffle feathers. A similarly subtle kinetics characterizes another show that I was delighted to encounter on the Asia Society’s third floor: U-Ram Choe’s In Focus project. Choe has created an animatronic seal-like creature, the mythical Custos Cavum, which guards the channels between two worlds. As Choe explains it:

Whenever a Custos Cavum felt the generation of a new hole somewhere, it fell into a deep sleep. From the body of the quietly sleeping Custos Cavum grew winged spores called “Unicuses.” These spores took flight and each flew to a new hole, where it gave rise to a new Custos Cavum.

As the skeletal creature breathes, its unicuses sway, dispersing spores, and we marvel at the intricate, polished gears that make this organo-mechanical movement possible.