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Archizines’ Fluttering Pages

I was invited to write a review of Storefront’s Archizines exhibition for Arquine‘s 60th-anniversary “Representation in Architecture” issue. I can’t post the entire text because, well, I’m actually getting paid for this article (imagine that!), but I will share a few bits and pieces of the unedited text:

Archizines O P E N I N G from Storefront for Art&Architecture on Vimeo.

On a glorious spring day, when New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture folded open its gallery walls onto Kenmare Street, a breeze rustled thousands of bound, clipped, and stapled pages inside. Perched on metal rods rising from the floor were 80 alternative and independent architectural publications representing a wide variety of formal and editorial formats, countries of origin, topical content, and graphic styles. Some specimens were so slight that a small gust of wind would’ve sent them airborne, so they had to be fastened to their stands. Yet all throughout the gallery, all species of periodicals – magazines, zines, journals, broadsheets – exhibited an animation and restlessness; they flapped their pages in the breeze, hinting that at any second they could take flight….

photo by me

The Archizines exhibition is only the latest in a flurry of recent exhibitions, events, and publications exploring the past, present, and future of architectural periodicals. As the materiality of architectural practice itself has shifted dramatically over the past 20+ years, we’ve witnessed a growth of interest in the materiality and politics of architectural discourse. Much design discussion has moved online, but Archizines, as the exhibition’s organizers suggest, reflects our “residual love of the printed and paper page.” Love, yes – but our interest in these objects isn’t merely about vestigial affection or nostalgia; it’s rooted in the conviction that “printed matter matters.” These objects, waving in the wind and then surrendering in readers’ hands, are vibrant matter; they have the capacity to give rise to public spheres and imagined communities. They’re vital elements of a whole ecosystem of material architectural discourse and mediated representation….

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Click, Scan, Bold, Copy, Post

Photo by Me, February 16, 2007

Over four years after first putting pen to paper — and after a pretty brutal editing session, during which I painfully extracted some key sections from my obnoxiously long first draft — I’ve finally received a final e-print of “Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-Publics,” which will be published in the forthcoming issue of Design and Culture. I had a great experience working with the journal staff, and I found the peer-review process to be fairly efficient and constructive, which is certainly not always the case.

I typically post pdfs of my publications here, but I’ve discovered that, according to the RoMEO database of “publishers’ policies regarding the self- archiving of journal articles on the web and in Open Access repositories,” Berg, Design and Culture‘s publisher, does not “formally” support archiving of D&C articles. Drat. In lieu of posting the entire article, which I hope to do eventually, I offer my abstract (which, now, months removed from its submission, seems a wee bit underwhelming; I’ve discovered that I need at least a year away from any writing project before I can fully grasp what I’ve done — and before I can write an abstract that does some justice to the piece):

The past five years have brought several exhibitions, conferences, and other events that examine the past, present, and future of architectural periodicals. Incited in large part by the transformations wrought by new digital and social media in both architecture and publishing, these events reflect a desire among their participants to shape the materiality of architectural discourse – and even to frame the creation of discursive space as a form of architectural design itself. It is often hoped that the creation of new forms of “little” or “subversive” publications will result in the production not only of a designed object or process, but also of new discursive (counter)publics.

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Click/Scan/Bold/CUT: Outtake #4: Oh, Just Take It All, Why Don’t You?

Fourth cut. I’ve come to the very sad conclusion that I’m simply going to have to cut Clip/Stamp/Fold entirely and focus on the events and exhibitions that pertain to more contemporary media. This hurts. Really bad.

[What Remains of| THE “IMPROVISATORY, ANTI-SMOOTH, FUNNY-FORMAT” PERIODICALS OF THE 60S AND 70S

In 1966 Reyner Banham predicted that a new wave of little architecture magazines was revolutionizing the form of publication and signaling the arrival of a new architecture:

Wham! Zoom! Zing! Rave!—and it’s not Ready Steady Go, even though it sometimes looks like it. The sound effects are produced by the erupting of underground architectural protest magazines. Architecture, staid queen-mother of the arts, is no longer courted by plush glossies and cool scientific journals alone, but is having her skirts blown up and her bodice unzipped by irregular newcomers which are—typically—rhetorical, with-it, moralistic, mis-spelled, improvisatory, anti-smooth, funny-format, cliquey, art-oriented but stoned out of their minds with science-fiction images of an alternative architecture that would be perfectly possible tomorrow if only the Universe (and especially the Law of Gravity) were differently organized.[1]

Just as with the nascent architectural publications and little literary magazines of the early 20th-century, about which I’ve written elsewhere, the little architectural magazines of the 60s and 70s emerged from and responded to a socioeconomic and cultural context defined by change. In the 60s, Louis Martin explains, a new generation of architecture students “was the first to learn of modern architecture in the academy”; the “entire generation,” he claims, was on a “quest…for a new architectural theory.”[3] Banham warned that “what we have hitherto understood as architecture” might be incompatible with “what we are beginning to understand of technology”; the architect just might have to “discard his whole cultural load, including the professional garments by which he is recognized as an architect.”[4] Many of the architectural collectives publishing at this time (and it is significant that authorship was often assigned to collectives, rather than individuals) were aided by the rise of new technologies, including the IBM Selectric typewriter and the wider availability of offset lithography and copy shops, which enabled people other than large publishers—namely, students, avant-garde architects, individual theorists and critics—to create their own small scale, short-run publications. In addition, the greater accessibility of air travel and the founding of underground press networks allowed for somewhat wider, through not indiscriminate, dissemination of these publications.

Benjamin Buchloh, speaking about his experience in the early 1970s as co-editor of experimental art magazine Interfunktionen, acknowledged the common perception among little or experimental magazine editors of the period that by “dismantl[ing]” the privileged discourses that typically surround the arts and architecture, and by adopting instead a more “immediate and universal communicability” in the form of text, these experimental publications made possible a “new radical access and accessibility [to] and dissemination” of art and architecture.[5] While architects were rejecting their “plush glossies,” little magazines in the visual arts, he said, were responding to Artforum—particularly to its American focus—by “creat[ing] a scene and a situation in which…[international] exchange became more tangible and more real.” We believed, Buchloh confessed that “making a magazine constructed a new space”—that through the magazine, “you can have access to a public sphere, that you can actually reach an alternative community….”[6]

Architects needed an alternative outlet because the economic stagnation of the 1970s meant that there was little work for them. “[T]he periods in which architects have less work are the periods in which the discipline pushes forward,” Colomina argues; architects have time “to think more, to write more, to reflect more.”[7] The little magazine was an ideal form and forum in which to do this thinking: “Paper could tolerate extreme ideas that were not always executable. It could integrate text and images, discourse and design, and through presentation expand architecture beyond its disciplinary limitations.”[8] Architect-publishers folded that paper into a variety of shapes and formats. While the early literary magazines played with form and content and, in the process, reflected or anticipated changes in literary culture, these second-generation little architecture magazines, the curators argue, “instigated a radical transformation in architectural culture with the architecture of the magazines acting as the site of innovation and debate,” particularly debate about “the role of politics and new technologies in architecture.”[9] “Clip/Stamp/Fold” thus serves to track “the critical function” and form of these publications, which “disseminated and catalyzed a range of experimental practices.”[10]

Yet the publications didn’t only “disseminate and catalyze” experimental practices. The publications were themselves an experimental practice; they demonstrated that “architects…conceived of publication as an architectural project in its own right.”[11] Instead of designing buildings, architects designed publications. Colomina notes that the covers of these magazines rarely featured images of architects or buildings. “It’s a period in which buildings are not the thing to do. It’s related to what Hans Hollein says on the cover of Bau: ‘Everything is architecture.’”[12] Publications borrowed generously from popular culture and commercial media and, at the same time, were likely informed by “the emerging practices of conceptual art,” which seemed to “presen[]
an option to diffuse, distribute works of art [and architecture] outside of the market.”[13]

Many of the little magazines featured in “Clip/Stamp/Fold” offered, through their formal experimentation, reinterpretations of architecture. While many experimented with graphic and textual forms, and even borrowed content “genres”—like restaurant and product reviews—from mainstream media, others experimented with the physical form of their publications. These works were, as Banham described them, “improvisatory, anti-smooth, funny-format.” Because the exhibition wall text, catalogues and websites offer formal descriptions of several publications, I will look here at just a few examples.[14] First, Archigram’s form was essential to its identity; as editor Peter Cook explained, “the ‘gram’ aspect was very important. It should not be a magazine; it should be a ‘gram’—like an aerogram or a telegram. The key thing was that it was not a mag….”[15] The gram has both a different form and a different temporality than a traditional magazine; it presents architecture as immediate, urgent, and as something communicated intimately between two parties. Second, Alison Sky, editor of On Site, formatted her publication so that “when opened up it was about the horizon, it was about the site, it was about vista; it was not about the object, the thing.”[16] The magazine constituted a landscape and created a physical architecture for reading. And third, Colomina and fellow editors of Carrer de la Ciutat created their magazine on an Olivetti typewriter: “…every time you made a mistake it was hilarious because you had to redo it…. We did not have hyphens; if it did not fit, you moved it to the next line…. In that sense we felt very much like architects.”[17] Thus the typewriter was a building tool in this publication-as-architecture enterprise.

One final example: When in 1966 he celebrated the eruption of “underground architectural protest magazines,” Banham professed a particular interest in Clip-Kit, which Peter Murray started at London’s Architectural Association.

…[T]wo more charisma-laden words just don’t exist in this context. “Kit” is the emotive collective noun for Goodies (which are usually ideas, images, forms, documents, concepts raided from other disciplines) and “clip” is how you put them together to make intellectual or physical structures. Alternatively, you can plug them into existing structures or networks. But plug-in or clip-on, it’s the same magpie world of keen artifacts, knock-out visuals and dazzling brainwaves assembled into structures whose primary aim seems to be to defy gravity, in any sense of the world.[18]

Murray remembers that Clip Kit made use of plastic bindings donated free by the manufacturer: “So that’s the ‘clip’ and this is the ‘kit.’ For your first issue, basically, you got half a dozen pages, and then each month you got another clip.’”[19] This is incremental, modular, do-it-yourself textual architecture. And its incremental construction—here at a moderate pace that might rival that of architectural construction—again reminds us of these magazines’ unique relationship to time—of their seriality, periodicity, timeliness.[20]

[TEXT FROM OUTTAKE #2 WOULD HAVE GONE HERE. HERE ARE THE FINAL LINES OF THE LAST PARAGRAPH:

It is unfortunate, Pratt says, “that the curators did not include examples of conventional architectural publications from the period. The radical outpouring of text and image… is difficult to situate without an appreciation of the modernist orthodoxy that dominated architecture in the early 60s” [12]. This is in part why Pratt, despite having an opportunity for a contextualized, embodied reading of Street Farmer, underestimates the “basic goals” of the publications on display. He fails to appreciate the little magazines’ place within, or response to, the dominant architectural context because, as many critics have noted, little of that cultural context is present in the exhibition. If it were—if Pratt could contrast Street Farmer with a cotemporaneous mainstream title, like Architectural Forum—he would see that Street Farmer did more than create “intellectual space.” It offered a street-agrarian alternative to modernism’s glass and steel corporate boxes and their analogue in the modern page’s grids and columns. Modernism did not have architectonic space “down well enough”—which is why these publications were created to remake it [13].]

Ultimately, though, many of these counterspaces, often built on irony, as Pratt notes, succumbed to un-ironic social conditions, or were co-opted by popular culture or a self-consciously serious academic culture. In the 1970s, the Vietnam War, energy crises, nuclear standoffs, and environmental concerns had “dampened enthusiasm for [the] unquestioned technological progressivism” often promoted in the little magazines.[21] Meanwhile, many of the counterculture’s “rhetorical and visual techniques…had been subsumed into the consumer-driven material culture of the 70s.” Pratt explains that many of the earlier publications, Archigram in particular, used “imagery and rhetoric lifted from science fiction and other forms of popular fantasy (advertising copy, for example),” with the assumption that “technological development would fill the credibility gap.” The science fiction content of these publications demonstrates an acceptance of the myth of “technological progressivism,” an acceptance that results from a failure to question the position of architecture within the relations of production of its time.[22] Archigram and its kind, critics charge, simply reinforced normative modes of production, and some of these little magazines even became a part of the establishment—if not commercial publishing, then the academic orthodoxy. Others, Ouroussoff writes, “spent long nights pondering whether their magazines had lost their freshness and should be shut down before they had been absorbed into the mainstream.”

“Clip/Stamp/Fold’s” exhibition timeline showed that by the late 1960s, fewer architecture publications were co-opting images from commercial culture, and more were borrowing from Continental philosophy. And as the magazine scene shifted from Europe to the United States, Simon Sadler argues, the avant-garde became professional:

No more ‘little magazines,’ chaotically produced and distributed, left exposed to critique by poor theorization and cursory acknowledgements of history: step forward Venturi’s sleekly produced Complexity and Contradiction, all its words typeset on a letterpress…. The meeting of Continental theory with American gravitas in the 1970s left zoom out of the circuit. American architectural criticism acquired a consistently severe tone.[23]

Enter Oppositions (1973-84), with its “faux-Constructivist” red-orange cover, Century Expanded typeface, “strongly maintained grid, subtly off-square trim size, [the] expansive feel of the coated-stock cover with full gatefolds (on which were listed the publication’s sponsors, which included some corporate and institutional contributors), and black and white printing on heavy glossy paper.”[24] The publication presented itself as an “attempt to ‘oppose’” other forms of architectural publication: the “’established’ architectural review (i.e., Progressive Architecture), and the noncommercial review, which appears irregularly from the architecture schools (i.e., Perspecta).”[25] While it was not a university-sponsored publication, it represented a new self-conscious academic sophistication, featuring treatises by an exclusive group of theorists and criticism of a rotating line-up of heavy-hitting designers. Texts integrated ideas from other fields, including literature, philosophy, cultural studies, and film studies, and commonly applied post-Marxist, Frankfurt school, and particularly structuralist linguistic theoretical models to the study of architecture.

In 1973, the year Oppositions launched, Massimo Scolari had defined the “healthiest architectural culture” as “the one that concretely defends architecture as an autonomous fact, as a discipline.”[26] Oppositions seemed to take the opposite approach; many charged its brand of criticism with obfuscating the specificity of the architectural object and architectural practice.[27] Despite its publisher’s, the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies’, “paroxysms of self-consciousness,” Oppositions, in Ockman’s estimation, proved itself “the most provocative, original, and consistently high-quality American architectural publication of these years, overcoming an American provincialism in intellectual discourse.”[28] What ultimately sunk the publication, though, Ockman suggests, was likely a mix of the editors’ polarization and “the Institute’s compromise of its original mandate as an antiestablishment institution[,which]…followed closely upon its bureaucratization, its cultivation as a fashionable salon and power base in New York, and its solicitation of mainstream patronage.”[29] Oppositions lost sight of its position in relation to the conditions of production and, consequently, got too big to be little.[30] Its demise marked the end of this phase of the little magazines.

X

Ouroussoff predicted that the “visceral impact” of the magazines on display at “Clip/Stamp/Fold” would remind today’s architects of what they’ve forgotten: that behind each of these publications is the “crazy notion that design…could…change the world.” In other words, the embodied experience of these material forms should carry their promise of revolution. The “intoxicating freshness” of the little magazines of the 60s and 70s “should send a shudder down the spine of those who’ve spent the last decade bathed in the glow of the computer screen.”[31] “Clip/Stamp/Fold,” Ouroussoff says, “is a “piercing critique, intended or not, of the smoothness of our contemporary design culture.” Their experimentation in form and content could inspire similar experimentation, promote a “similar intensity” of innovation, among today’s designers, who need to snap out of their CAD and Photoshop smoothness.[32] What “improvisatory, anti-smooth, funny-format” media might designers create today to reinvigorate the architectural publication, to revive that “crazy notion” of revolution?, he seems to be asking.

*     *     *     *     *

[1] Reyner Banham, “Zoom Wave Hits Architecture,” New Society 7:179 (1966): 21.

[2] Shannon Mattern, “Click/Scan/Bold/CUT: Outtake #1: Little Magazines of the Early 20th CenturyWordsinspace (January 30 2011).

[3] Louis Martin, “Against Architecture” Log 16 (2009): 162.

[4] Banham, Theory and Design, 329-30.

[5] Buchloh, “Experimental Magazines”

[6] This set of assumptions Buchloh now regards, however, as the “great delusion”: “one doesn’t know whether one should pity the moment that was naïve to believe [that experimental publications had such revolutionary potential], or one should pity the moment now that doesn’t have that naïveté anymore.”

[7] Quoted in Adele Weder, An Interview with Beatriz Colomina Canadian Architect, July 2007, 13.

[8] Eran Neuman, “Little Radicalism: Clip, Stamp Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines, 196x-197x” Journal of Architectural Education 61:3 (2008): 69-70, in EBSCOhost.

[9]Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines, 196x – 197xStorefront for Art and Architecture, n.d.; “Clip/Stamp/Fold: AboutClip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X, n.d.

[10] “Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical…”

[11] Clip/Stamp/Fold 2 Exhibition Guide (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2007), 1. In 2001 Barcelona-based Actar launched a series of “boogazines,” “hybrid, thematic publication(s) that combin(e) the heterogeneity and topicality of a magazine with the referential and comprehensive approach of a book” “Verb” Actar, n.d., http://www.actar.com. In a lengthy Archinect discussion about new architectural publication forms, editor Michael Kubo noted that most of Actar’s employees are architects, implying that they approach publishing as an architectural project. Michael Kubo, comment on Jourden, “Verb: Featured Discussion.” Other hybrid forms include OMA/AMO’s Content (Taschen 2004) and Hunch, the Berlage Institute’s report, beginning with issue #12.

[12] Colomina quoted in Weder, 14. See also Craig Buckley, “From Absolute to Everything: Taking Possession in ‘Alles ist Architektur” Grey Room 28 (2007): 108-22.

[13] Buchloh, “Experimental Magazines.”

[14] I review various critiques of the exhibition, focusing especially on how it presents the periodicals as material objects, here: Shannon Mattern, “Click/Scan/Bold/Cut: Outtake #2: Clip/Stamp/Fold Exhibition ReviewsWordsinspace.net (January 30, 2011).

[15] Quoted in Clip/Stamp/Fold Exhibition Guide (New York: Storefront for Art and Architecture, 2006-7), 1.

[16] Quoted in Clip/Stamp/Fold Exhibition Guide, 4.

[17] Quoted in Clip/Stamp/Fold Exhibition Guide, 3.

[18] Banham, “Zoom Wave.”

[19] Quoted in Clip/Stamp/Fold Exhibition Guide, 3. “Archigram goes one better,” Scott Brown boasts. “Issue 7 comes in separate unnumbered sheets, mailed in a plastic bag” Scott Brown, 228. Then Volume magazine, a joint-venture between Dutch magazine Archis, Rem Koolhaas’s firm AMO/OMA, and C-Lab, the Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting, arrived in 2005. Taking on any of a variety of modalities, it could be a magazine, an object, a space, an event, a debate, a webcast, a consultancy, a talkshow, travel, and “other surprises.” Volume, “4+5=Editorial,” Volume 1 (2005).  The first issue came in a plastic “sushi box” with embossed lettering, and the box in turn contained an installation: “There were numerous items in the box, or ‘installation space,’ including the magazine proper, CDs or DVDs, posters, cards, stickers, etc…. Like Aspen Magazine, it was an example of a nice eclectic set of materials you could compile with the help of your friends.” Jeffrey Inaba, comment on Jourden, “Featured Discussion: Volume.” Thus, not only was this an exhibition, it was a DIY, “user-created” exhibition, one that seemed to embrace the zine ethos.

[20] Italian Harck was meant to have only one or two issues; its short life made it a “little intellectual time bomb.” Nicolai Ouroussoff, “Such Cheek! Those Were the Days, Architects” New York Times, Feb 8, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com.

[21] Pratt 113.

[22] The images of Superstudio, Archizoom, 9999, and other Florentine groups, Massimo Scolari writes, “remain silent before the progress of the discipline, since they understand progress simply as change, mutation, diversity, and not as active, operative clarification.” This visual content thus does nothing to challenge the dominant modes of architectural production. “Technology, apparently exorcised in comic-book shrieks, thus reveals itself to be the crude ideological expression of the very same system one had wanted to negate.” Scolari, “The New…,” 129.

[23] Simon Sadler, Archigram: Architecture Without Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 190.

[24] Joan Ockman, “Resurrecting the Avant-Garde: The History and Program of Oppositions,” in Architectureproduction, ed. Beatriz Colomina (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988), 188-9.

[25] Mario Gandelsonas, in A.M.C.: Architecture Movement Continuité, quoted in Ockman, “Resurrecting,” 194.

[26] Scolari, “The New…,” 131.

[27] Gusevich, “The Architecture of Criticism”; Martin, “Against Architecture.”

[28] Ockman, “Resurrecting,” 198.

[29] Ockman, “Resurrecting,” 198-9. For a discussion of Assemblage’s (1985-2000) similar failure to extend its critique of architecture’s institutions to a critique of the journal itself, see Christopher Graig Crysler, Writing Spaces: Discourses of Architecture, Urbanism and the Built Environment, 1960-2000 (New York: Routledge, 2003).

[30] See also Scott Brown, “Little Magazines” and Louis Martin, “Notes on the Origins of Oppositions” in Architectural Periodicals in the 1960s and 1970s: Toward a Factual, Intellectual and Material History, eds., Alexis Sornin, Hélène Jannière & France Vanlaethem, Proceedings, International Colloquium, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, May 6-7, 2004 (Montréal: Institut de recherché en historie de l’architecture, 2008), 161-3. Perspecta, Yale’s student-edited journal founded in 1952, held a similarly liminal position, between big and little, institutional and independent. Denise Scott Brown argued that “publications such as Yale’s Perspecta and Harvard’s Connection…can by no stretch of the imagination be called little magazines. They are well produced glossies of high academic standing.” Quoted in Peter Eisenman, “The Big Little Magazine: Perspecta 12 and the Future of the Architectural Past” Architectural Forum, October 1969, 74-5, 104.

[31] Ouroussoff, “Such Cheek.”

[32] “Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical….”

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Click/Scan/Bold/CUT: Outtake #2: Clip/Stamp/Fold Exhibition Reviews

Most students in my Fall 2010 Urban Media Archaeology class found that half of what they gathered in the archives wasn’t going to make its way into their final projects. We talked a bit about the pain of “letting go” — and about the likelihood that the material that didn’t make its way into this project will likely find a home in a future project. That’s been my experience, at least.

I’m currently struggling to heed my own advice, as I try to cut 12,000 words from a 20,000-word article. This is what happens when an administrative job means you have to squeeze a year’s worth of research into July and August; when that cycle repeats for four years, during which time you amass a crazy amount of material; and when, once you finally finish said administrative job and find time to sit down and sort through everything, you feel compelled to honor your years’ worth of hard labor and ultimately decide to stuff every last bit of source material into the final report. The inevitable result is an essay that’s over-stuffed, insanely long, and in desperate need of a “cleanse.” Letting go of the superfluous bits is hard; what I can snip away in 30 seconds’ time most likely took 30 hours to put there in the first place. But it does help to know that all those trimmings can have a life elsewhere — i.e., here. And that they very well might make their way into another project in the future.

Following up on my first outtake — a section on the literal and metaphorical architectures of early-20th-century little magazines — is another section in which I review the reviews of the traveling Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition:

CSF @ Storefront; my husband to the right

*     *     *     *     *

THE “IMPROVISATORY, ANTI-SMOOTH, FUNNY-FORMAT” OF THE 60S AND 70S

…Storefront is itself a “kit” of a gallery, with its flexible façade designed by Vito Acconci and Stephen Holl. And the exhibition itself “clipped” together a “kit” of artifacts, print and audiovisual media, and live performances [1]. On the north wall was a timeline of arced panels chronicling the lives of various publications, and the south wall was wallpapered with eight hundred covers of some of these magazines. In the middle of the narrow room were Plexiglas bubbles balanced atop spindly legs (which were perhaps accidentally historically contextual in their likeness to Sputnik) holding original copies of a few publications; some were opened to reveal the magazines’ interior layout and content (in one case, an Archigram cut-out architectural model), and some were closed to display innovative cover designs [2]. At the east end of the gallery viewers could leaf through facsimiles of a few publications. Audio interviews with some of the key players in the scene were broadcast in the room, and some of those voices could be heard live on a few evenings throughout the exhibition run, as part of the Little Magazines/Small Talks series [3]. The intellectual space of the Storefront exhibition even broke out of the gallery: the timeline from the north wall was displayed and distributed in segments in a variety of international publications: PIN-UP: Magazine for Architectural Entertainment, Metropolis, 306090, Princeton’s Pidgin, Grey Room, Domus, Volume, Cabinet, Anyone Corporation’s Log, The Architect’s Newspaper, and Swedish magazine Arkitektur. And some of the exhibition content, as well as excerpted transcripts of interviews with the scene’s key players, were clipped, stamped, and folded into a tabloid gallery guide that visitors could take with them [4].

Each component of this exhibition kit played a particular rhetorical function. The timeline, for instance, outlined the evolution of the international zine scene and the transformation of the magazines’ contents, which over the exhibition timeframe shifted in focus from politics and popular culture to high theory. Some blurbs situated those publication changes within their social contexts by noting important historical events. The cover wallpaper displayed the publications’ graphic innovation (which, when presented within a quilt of loud graphics and bright colors, however, began to seem somewhat less innovative), while the archival samples showed the publications as inventive three-dimensional artifacts, and in some cases as architectural objects in their own right. A visitor can appreciate the “plasticized metallic-fleck cover” of Internationale Situationiste, and copies of other publications covered in sandpaper or fur [5]. This presentation conveyed what Nicolai Ouroussoff called the works’ “crude immediacy,” their materiality, their constructedness.

The facsimiles allowed visitors to appreciate reading in context—a nuanced appreciation that Churchill advocates for the study of little magazines. We see, for instance, that Archigram had adopted a comic book format for its fourth issue, and that, in many of these publications, “most conventions of magazine design—the grid, the column, legible typography—were either discarded altogether or bent to unfamiliar purposes” [6]. Archigram and similar publications, Scott Brown describes, “reproduce their material as is: cut-out photographic collages with home typing in the interstices; Xerox copies of magazine print; mimeo sheets, computer type face”; the literal cut-and-paste, rather than the digital version of this analog function, is most likely better appreciated in original hard copies of these publications, where the “seams” are more evident [7].

Architect Kevin Pratt’s reaction to a close examination of an issue of Street Farmer reveals the richness of a contextualized reading:

Even after one turned its pages, which are covered with stylized monochrome illustrations of British hippies leaning against roadside trees, what this object actually was remained indistinct: Was it art? Was it even about architecture? Was it an artifact intended to produce pure affect without recourse to decodable representation at all…? Oddly beautiful, all green ink, youthful anomie, and amateur draftsmanship, the publication exemplifies, I think, the basic goal of these little magazines, which was, paradoxically enough, fundamentally architectural: the creation of space. Not architectonic space—modernism had that down well enough—but intellectual space, an opportunity for misreading, a caesura in a discourse that had become trapped in a closed loop of self-examination and doctrinaire infighting [8].

Like many of their early 20th-century literary counterparts, Street Farmer and its contemporaries created a textual architecture that required spatial reading strategies bridging montaged and collaged images, texts, and registers of discourse. Pratt would not have had an opportunity to practice such an embodied reading if these texts were not presented in whole, material form.

The curators had promised to “tak[e] stock of different magazine forms and how they were put together,” yet some critics found that the show, like many publication exhibitions that came before it, focused heavily on the iconic surface image [9]. Architecture critic Kester Rattenbury calls the show, “frankly, coverist. It’s 99% covers” [10]. Architect Sam Jacob also seems perplexed that at the Architectural Association exhibition “you can’t read any of the content”:

It’s as though you’re in a particularly officious newsagent’s (it’s not a library, you know!) where you can only stare at the covers. Or perhaps it’s as tantalizing and frustrating as a display of menus describing the most delicious and appetizing dishes you’ll never taste [11].

In this newsagent’s, furthermore, we can’t choose between a mainstream and an alternative title—because everything here is supposedly alternative. We don’t see the dominant publication forms against which these little magazines were defining themselves. Through the cover wallpaper and wall texts we can retrace the evolution of publications as they responded to one another, but we are left with the impression that the discourse circulates chiefly within a small circle of students, avant-garde architects, and theoreticians. It is unfortunate, Pratt says, “that the curators did not include examples of conventional architectural publications from the period. The radical outpouring of text and image… is difficult to situate without an appreciation of the modernist orthodoxy that dominated architecture in the early 60s” [12]. This is in part why Pratt, despite having an opportunity for a contextualized, embodied reading of Street Farmer, underestimates the “basic goals” of the publications on display. He fails to appreciate the little magazines’ place within, or response to, the dominant architectural context because, as many critics have noted, little of that cultural context is present in the exhibition. If it were—if Pratt could contrast Street Farmer with a cotemporaneous mainstream title, like Architectural Forum—he would see that Street Farmer did more than create “intellectual space.” It offered a street-agrarian alternative to modernism’s glass and steel corporate boxes and their analogue in the modern page’s grids and columns. Modernism did not have architectonic space “down well enough”—which is why these publications were created to remake it [13].

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[1] Other institutions and publications, translating the page into architecture, transformed single magazines into concrete exhibitions or installations. The New Museum’s 2009 “Urban China” exhibit, for instance, extended the “visionary language of display from the pages of the magazines into the three-dimensional space of the gallery” New Museum, “Urban China: Informal Cities” New Museum, n.d. The exhibition included a retrospective of past issues, wall graphics, visitor-accessible computers featuring image databases, objects, and a series of related events. In fall 2008, Megawords, a non-commercial Philadelphia-based arts magazine, “[lep]
off the page and into a month-long storefront exhibition” on the corner of Cherry and 11th Streets in Philadelphia. Megawords Magazine, Megawords Extends Beyond Its Pages With Month-long Storefront Project and Exhibition, press release, July 25, 2008.

[2] Clip/Stamp/Fold 2, in Montreal, took advantage of the CCA’s archives to add page mock-ups, including the original maquette for the first (1973) Volume of Oppositions, correspondence, prototypes, publication inserts, etc., “that reveal the processes used in constructing these publications” Clip/Stamp/Fold 2. For further discussion on how the exhibition made use of each exhibition site’s unique collections, see Kester Rattenbury, “A Great Little Cover-up” Building Design (November 30, 2007): 22.

[3] Several earlier publications created live, event-based extensions of the debates taking place on the printed page. Consider Art Net, a “workshop/chatshop,” or gallery and event venue, founded in Covent Garden in London in 1973 by Archigram’s Peter Cook to extend the publication’s function into physical space and live conversation. The 90s brought the Anyone Corporation, with their tabloid-format magazines, book series, and conferences. And with Volume came RSVP Events, which are often advertised in the magazine. The live, face-to-face discussions, which NY Arts’ James Westcott describes as “roving architectural mystery tours,” take place in cities around the world, where participants discuss topics ranging from the politics of shrinking development to illegal settlement in Kosovo. James Westcott, “Volume: Architecture Is Dying! So It Must Take Over the World (In Disguise!)” NY Arts, n.d.

[4] “Next up is a book and a film. This isn’t just a research project, it’s a research-dissemination phenomenon.” Rattenbury, 22.

[5] Kevin Pratt, “Space Exploration” Artforum, May 2007, 113.

[6] Pratt, 113. We can appreciate Archigram’s influence in the presentational strategies of BIG—Bjarke Ingels Group, on display in “Yes is More” at the Danish Architecture Center between February and May 2009.

[7] Denise Scott Brown, “Little Magazines in Architecture and Urbanism” Journal of the American Planning Association 34:4 (1968): 228.’

[8] Pratt, 113. Humor and irony, notably absent from most modernist publications, created in these little magazines many opportunities for reading across the grain and between discourses: “By creating a space between apprehension and contextualization, irony allows one to derive multiple meanings from binary ontologies; in this context, freedom becomes the opportunity to operate in the gaps of signification, in the place between the received and the potentially implied that allows for creative misinterpretation.”

[9] “Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical…”

[10] Rattenbury 22.

[11] Sam Jacob, post on “Architectural Magazines: Paraonoid Beliefs, Public Autotherapy – More on Clip/Stamp/Fold” StrangeHarvest, December 4, 2007, http://www.strangeharvest.com

[12] Kubo acknowledges that the little magazines of the 60s and 70s “emerged in some sense at a moment of crisis/instability in which they could naturally present themselves as alternatives.” Kubo, “Verb: Featured DiscussionArchinect (June 27, 2007-July 28, 2007). It was a crisis of  “the Modernist project itself…. So it was about identifying a crisis within the very project that formed their shared context as architects.”

[13] The Billiard Encounters, a group of architects from Milan who in the mid- to late 1960s revolved around Casabella-Continuità, were, according to editor-in-chief Francesco Tentori, united in their desire to call into question “the entire ‘doctrine’ of the modern movement.” In so doing, they used “the written page not as occasional, detached activity, but as an expression fully consistent and commensurable with the planned work, almost the extension of a single cognitive process.” Quoted in Massimo Scolari, “The New Architecture and the Avant-Garde” Architettura Razionale, XV Triennale, International Session of Architecture (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1973); trans. Stephen Sartarelli and reprinted in K. Michael Hays, Ed., Architecture Theory Since 1968 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 137.

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Click/Scan/Bold/CUT: Outtake #1: Little Magazines of the Early 20th Century

Several years ago I started to wonder why architects, who seemed to me so enamored with the digital future, had suddenly become interested in print — particularly in publication formats that were supposedly on their last legs. I watched the Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition, which I first saw in New York in 2006 and then revisited the following year in Montreal, set off on a multi-year world tour, which recently culminated in the publication of a massive dossier.

In that same span of time we’ve also seen Urban China and New City Reader at The New Museum; Mimi Zeiger’s “A Few Zines,” “Newsstand,” and LGNLGN; Michael Kubo’s “Publishing Practices” project; the “Postopolis!” gatherings; and a bunch of other exhibitions and events. The online discussion emerging from, and often inspiring, these events has been just as vibrant. The recent blog-based “Criticism Kerfuffle,” in which I made a cameo appearance as a character from a classic of children’s literature, and which inspired the “Critical Futures” debate in London, focused ostensibly on the rightful place of architecture criticism. If magazines and newspapers are no longer dedicating staff and space to architectural criticism, does the responsibility fall to the blogs? In the end, though, I think the conversation in London ended up where I started, with my post from September: not with criticism, but with critical theory. One can’t ask who’s responsible for carrying the criticism baton without also critically examining the “formal ideologies” of the potential critics. As I wrote in that earlier post:

[W]e should at least attempt to make some sense of [the magazines’, zines’, blogs’, etc.] intellectual architectures and institutional infrastructures, their politics, their publics, their openness and accessibility, their modes of dissemination, their rhetorics, their techniques of self-presentation, their funding, etc.

In short, rather than faulting particular venues for not engaging in rigorous architectural criticism, especially if that’s not their raison dêtre, we might take a page from Adorno or Habermas and focus on evaluating and historicizing the “relations of production” (and distribution and consumption) and forms of authority in architectural discourse.

Speaking of Adorno: It was a bit disheartening to me to see how much the terms of this debate overlapped with and built upon long-standing research traditions in media studies (and the fields from which it draws — sociology, literary studies, the history of the book, etc.), yet didn’t seem to acknowledge that this debate had been ensuing elsewhere for nearly a century. Then again, I realize that popular debate doesn’t have the same obligations to “review the literature” as we do in academia.

I’ve been trying to keep up with these recent debates on architectural discourse, and at the same time I’ve been thinking about theoretical frameworks that might help us to think through what’s happening, and why. My research resulted in an obnoxiously long essay that now has to be hacked up for publication. I’m going to post some of the prunings here:

In one section, I responded to the fact that

many of these recent exhibitions and discussions of architectural publication explore progressive precedents in order to find architectural publishing’s new “edge.” Those exhibitions that present work from the late 20th and early 21st centuries have recognized their indebtedness to publications of the 1960s and 70s, and nearly all exhibitors and discussants have acknowledged the foundational influence of the little magazines of the early 20th century. Because no exhibitions have addressed in detail the legacy of those early little magazines, though, we will begin by examining what formal and ideological cues more recent publications might have taken from their predecessors.

*     *     *     *     *

LITTLE MAGAZINES OF THE EARLY 20th CENTURY

In The Culture of Time & Space, 1880-1918, Stephen Kern examines how cultural and technological changes and developments during this time period—time zones, film, x-rays, new theories of geometry—paralleled changes in the way people conceived of time and space.[i] Architectural historian Hyungmin Pai also describes how, concurrently, new building types (e.g., department stores, arcades, museums); “new modes of spatial, visual, and social experiences peculiar to a developed capitalist society”; the rise of the railroad network; the legislation of postal rates; advances in printing technologies (like mimeography and, later, xerography), together incited “radical change in the way printed discourse was produced and distributed.”[ii] Changes in spatial perception and production manifested themselves on the printed page and in the publication’s external form.[iii] Appropriately, many recent studies of late 19th– and early 20th-century “little magazines” employ formal analyses that attend to both the form of the publication and the form of its contents.[iv]

The rise of “big” commercial magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and McClure’s in the 1910s, Churchill says, can in part explain the emergence of many little literary magazines at this time.[v] Within the architecture community, we can assume, little magazines arose partly in response to new professional and commercial publications. As early as 1867, the American Institute of Architects acknowledged that “drawings and books, exhibitions and lectures were indispensable to the institutional settings and practices that composed what society and the AIA deemed to be ‘architecture.’”[vi] New turn-of-the-century professional publications helped to found conventions and promote professionalization, continuing a tradition begun with the establishment of the École des Beaux-Arts and continuing through the institution of new licensing laws that formalized the distinction between architects and builders, contractors, and engineers, thus “distancing…the architect from the material process of building.”[vii] Yet in the late 1920s, when some architecture journals were acquired by major media corporations, they underwent changes in format and form that seemed to reposition architecture within the larger cultural and economic landscape. Architectural Forum, for instance, reorganized its issues into three divisions: Design, Engineering, and Business; while American Architect, which joined the Hearst empire, came to focus on “architecture as business,” and began to include features on real estate, renting, remodeling, human relations within the architecture office, etc., and, as one might expect, increased advertising.[viii] Through their forms and contents, these publications, by the early 30s a part of the commercial publishing machine, traced or anticipated architecture’s becoming a business, rather than an art.

Avant-garde art and architectural magazines—L’Esprit Nouveau, ABC, Das Neue Frankfurt, G, De Stijl, Punct, Contimporanul, La Città Nova, ReD—along with some progressive cultural magazines of the time, provided space for architects to experiment with new designs and design practices. Several architectural historians have examined the forms of presentation employed in early twentieth-century architectural publications—in particular, their use of new graphic techniques and typefaces and the integration of photography—and how these publications shaped designers’ critical values and helped them determine their place in society, especially in relation to the dominant conditions of production.[ix] Architectural historian Brian McLaren acknowledges the potential impact of these periodicals on architectural practice: “[T]he conception and content of architectural production was itself being changed by the techniques and means of publication” of the 20s and 30s.[x]

The same claim could be made for literary production. Churchill notes that many little literary magazines, “to emphasize their spatial and social functions,” referred to themselves as “houses,” “palaces,” or other architectural forms designed specifically to house new forms of writing.[xi] Architecture served as a convenient metaphor to describe these transformations of poetic and literary form, of publication format, and of social boundaries. But it was also more than a metaphor. The architecture of the page and the periodical were undergoing renovation. Churchill argues that many modernist texts, including Joyce’s Ulysses and Pound’s Cantos, were originally published as fragments or “revisionist installments” in little literary magazines, “render[ing] the boundaries of the [tex]
indeterminate, amplifying the poetics of indeterminacy and dislocation developed within each version” of a narrative or poem.[xii] The form of many modernist texts thus “correspond[ed] to the magazine format”—its seriality, its brevity relative to the book, etc.—“in which [they were] first published.”[xiii] That format, Churchill notes, was “utterly new. Mass-market periodicals ‘ad-stripped’ the page, dividing it into columns to make room for advertisements and inserting poems as filler.”[xiv] Many early little magazines introduced more flexible layouts; Others, for instance, gave each poet his or her own page, thus “fram[ing] poetic identity as an autonomous, self-bounded unit.”[xv] While modern architects were promoting the “free plan,” Churchill argues, poets adopted more free forms and flexible divisions between lines and stanzas; both were turning the inside out, blurring traditional boundaries.

Further demonstrating that the “architecture” of the periodical was more than just a metaphor, literary scholars have explained how poetic communities were often defined in part by their geographical and architectural place. Others was founded in Ridgefield, New Jersey, but eventually moved to Greenwich Village, where “poetic and gender conventions were revolutionized”; these social changes were embodied at the turn of the century in the rise of apartment living that afforded female artists new autonomy.[xvi] “For free verse poets, the emancipation of the poetic line was a corollary dimension of this architectural revolution.”[xvii] Thus “the modernist drive to renovate poetic form”—through free verse, through the poem’s placement within the context of a little magazine—“was part of a cultural movement to re-form the boundaries of selfhood, gender, and sexuality.”[xviii]

Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, envisioned her magazine “as a public space for literature capable of transforming both poetry and the public” (italics mine).[xix] Little magazines “set the stage for surprising collaborative efforts, wove webs of interaction and influence, set trends, established and ruined reputations, and shaped the course of modernism.”[xx] This stage, Mark Morrison suggests, may have in many cases been better conceived of as a counterpublic space, as an alternative or oppositional site where authors and editors—and architects—“attempt[ed] to ally literary [or design] experimentation with radical social and political counterpublic spheres….”[xxi]

These periodicals shaped not only modernist cultural production; they also cultivated new reading and looking practices. David Bennett, in his study of the serial form of the literary little magazine, examines the relationship of periodicals’ form to both modernist production and consumption:

The antithesis of the cultural monument, the magazine (its successive issues always conspicuously “dated”) affirms both its modernity and its ephemerality, offering its fragmentary materials for selective insertion into the everyday life-contexts of its readers. Both as phenomenal form and as mode of literary production, then, the magazine (a discontinuous, open-ended production of heterogeneous materials in provisional relations) would seem to lend itself to the [early 20th-century] avant-gardist project.[xxii]

Little magazines thus promoted a form of discontinuous reading that paralleled the fractured looking practices engendered by visual artists’ collages and filmmakers’ montages. The “open” text of a periodical, Margaret Beetham notes, “offers readers the chance to construct their own texts”; readers, we might say, reorganize the modular components of a periodical into a textual architecture.[xxiii]

The publications did indeed have a profound impact on literary, artistic, and architectural creation of their time, but, eventually, many of these counterpublic spaces were absorbed by the academy or co-opted by the market, their form reduced to a “style.” Time magazine ran an article in 1958 explaining how the little magazines of the early 20th-century had gotten “big”; the very presence of the article in Time attests to how mainstream the little publishing phenomenon had become:

…[T]he experimenters ran out of experiments; the four-letter words migrated to clothback books and the little magazines were left without shock value. The surviving quarterlies, usually backed by rich men or foundations and run by professors, have taken on the ivy-clad tone of a graduate faculty tea. Critics quarrel with critics in thin, querulous prose, and authors are made to feel unwelcome.[xxiv]

We will find that the formal experimentation and political missions—and, in many cases, the eventual co-optation and downfall—of the modernist little magazines also characterize later publications, including those on display in “Clip/Stamp/Fold” and perhaps even those immaterial publications at “Postopolis!”

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[i] Stephen Kern, The Culture of Space & Time, 1880-1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983/2003).

[ii] Hyungmin Pai, The Portfolio and the Diagram: Architecture, Discourse, and Modernity in America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 13-14.

[iii] See Kern 72-5, 172-6.

[iv] Edward Bishop, “Re-covering Modernism – Form and Function in the Little Magazines,” in Modernist Writers and the Marketplace, eds., Ian Willison, Warwick Gould and Warren Chernaik (New York: St. Martins, 1996), 287-319; George Bornstein, Material Modernism: The Politics of the Page (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Bartholomew Brinkman, “Making Modern Poetry: Format, Genre and the Invention of Imagism(e)” Journal of Modern Literature 32:2 (2009): 20-40; Suzanne Churchill, The Little Magazine Others and the Renovation of Modern American Poetry (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006); Jerome McGann, Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

[v] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 9.

[vi] Pai 13.

[vii] Pai 20.

[viii] Pai 143-4.

[ix] Colomina’s many publications on L’Esprit Nouveau address the journal’s adoption of the rhetorical and visual forms of mass media, particularly advertising. S. A. Mansbach also examines the editorial policies and visual and material forms of Romanian avant-garde publications, and the role they played in cultivating a creative identity for “outsider” avant-garde groups. S. A. Mansbach, “The ‘Foreignness’ of Classical Modern Art in Romania” The Art Bulletin 80:3 (1998): 534-54. And Andrew Herscher discusses Karel Teige’s graphic design in several early 20th-century Czech avant-garde publications, and the relationship between their radical graphic design and architecture. Andrew Herscher, “The Media(tion) of Building: Manifesto Architecture in the Czech Avant-Garde” Oxford Art Journal 27:2 (2004): 193-217.

[x] McLaren 103.

[xi] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 11. The word “magazine” derives from the Arabian word “makhzan,” meaning storehouse.

[xii] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 10.

[xiii] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 10. “A little magazine is not merely a passive background or blank page for a modernist text; its contents, covers, paper quality, illustration and prints, advertisements, manifestos, and editorials shape meaning and reception of a text” Churchill The Little Magazine, 9.

[xiv] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 11.

[xv] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 12.

[xvi] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 17. See also Sara Blair, “Gertrude Stein, 27 Rue de Fleurs, and the Place of the Avant-Garde” American Literary History 12:3 History in the Making (2000): 417-37.

[xvii] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 18.

[xviii] Churchill, The Little Magazine, 4.

[xix] Quoted in Suzanne W. Churchill, Review of The Public Face of Modernism: Little Magazines, Audiences, and Reception [Review] Modernism/modernity (2001): 533.

[xx] Churchill and McKible, “Little Magazines,” 2.

[xxi] Mark S. Morrison, The Public Face of Modernism: Little Magazines, Audiences, and Reception, 1905-1920 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), 12. Morrison acknowledges his indebtedness to Oskar Negt, Alexander Kluge, Rita Felski, Nancy Fraser, Geoff Eley, and Mary Ryan for their reconceptualizations of Habermas’s public sphere. Of course Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics (Zone 2005) was published after Morrison’s article appeared.

[xxii] David Bennett, “Periodical Fragments and Organic Culture: Modernism, the Avant-Garde, and the Little Magazine” Contemporary Literature 30:4 (1989): 485.

[xxiii] Margaret Beetham, “Open and Closed: The Periodical as a Publishing Genre” Victorian Periodicals Review 22:3 (1989): 98.

[xxiv] “The Press: Big Little Magazine” TIME, August 11, 1958.