Little Libraries Article Published on Places

via Places

My article on “little libraries” (aka DIY/guerilla/ad-hoc/micro libraries) is now available on Places. “Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins” examines DIY libraries as sites of tactical urbanism, DIY place-making, information-sharing, guerilla librarianship, and, in some cases, art practice. I talk about (or link to) the OWS People’s Library; Proteus Gowanus’s library-themed work; Cabinet magazine’s filing cabinet library; the AAAARG library; the Bidoun reading rooms, the Ooga Booga Library at the Swiss Institute; Dexter Sinister’s Serving Library; the Reanimation Library; the Corner Libraries; the Little Library Project; the Hundred Story House in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; British Columbia’s Neighborhood Bookshelf; the Brooklyn Art Library; San Francisco-based Ourshelves; the Biblioburro in Colombia; the Weapon of Mass Instruction in Argentina; the Village Learning Place in Baltimore; San Jose’s Seven Trees volunteer-run library; open-air libraries in Magdeburg (Germany) and Gulbarga (India); phone booth libraries in Somerset (UK), Clinton (NY), and sprinkled throughout New York City; the Brooklyn BRANCH library; Chicago’s Read/Write Library; the Brooklyn Underground Library; BookCrossing and the International Public Space Library; the Chinatown (Boston) Storefront Library; and the Uni Project. I’m sure there are others I’m missing.

This was an incredibly fun article to write. It enabled me to tour dozens of inspiring spaces, speak with lots of passionate librarians and designers and civic officials, and work with Nancy Levinson, a fantastically talented editor who showed me how writing can (and should perhaps more often be) a pleasant and productive collaborative process. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the effort!


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….



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…


Sentience and Sedulousness

My review of Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space (ed. Mark Shepard, MIT Press 2011) is up on Domus.

Meanwhile, my own sapience is diminishing rapidly. Between 15 hours of committee meetings, six or seven hours of grading, another six or seven hours of thesis review, several hours of course prep, and all the regular teaching-advising-responding-to-email stuff that happens every week, I’m pretty sure I’ve dropped a couple dozen IQ points this week.



via Shaun Wood on Flickr:

I just received word that the website for Learning Through Digital Media: Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy is live! My essay, “Delicious: Renovating the Mnemonic Architectures of Bookmarking,” comes first, right after Trebor Scholz’s wonderful introduction. Thanks to Trebor and his team for making this exciting collection (which is also available in print and e-book formats) possible!


A Place for the “Enduring Delight and Significance of Poetry”

via NYTimes:

Last week Sage, publishers of Space and Culture, sent me a form email with tips for spreading the word about my recently published article. I’ve never been keen on self-promotion — the most I ever do to self-promote is post my work here — but I figured I could at least post my article abstract, in hopes of making it accessible to the handful of people who are interested in poetry, architecture, pedagogy, libraries, reading, materiality, Alvar Aalto, George E.. Woodberry, and Roland Barthes — and what they’ve got to do with one another. Here ’tis:

The 2006 renovation of Harvard University’s Woodberry Poetry Room, one of few American designs by the noted Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, sparked an international controversy over the means and ends of architectural preservation. Arching over these debates about architectural heritage, the responsibility of the Harvard administration, the quality of Fixler’s renovation, and so on, were larger, often unarticulated, questions about what constitutes a poetic text or an architectural work, whether they have definitive forms, and what their responsibilities are to the people who use them. I explain how the different constituents invested in this specific project bring to the table different understandings of the purpose of the room and its preservation, and the distinction between the physical design and the “institution” and collection it houses. I argue that the controversy over the recent renovation reflects disagreement regarding the fluidity or fixity of the architectural “object” and the poetic text—disagreements informed by theoretical and pragmatic debates in librarianship, pedagogy, media and literary studies, and architectural preservation.



Many, many moons ago I finished an article on the renovation of Alvar Aalto’s Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard. Today I received the reward for my patience: a gold copy of Space & Culture, with an Aalto rendering, drawn from my article, on the cover. Aside from a vexing typo on page 2, which neither the copyeditor nor I caught, it looks loverly.


Clip/Stamp Note-Trimming

I’ve resorted to cutting my beloved endnotes in order to meet my word limit:

“After circulating through the virtual space of the internet,” admitted e-flux, a New York-based contemporary art online journal and email list, “it is nice for content to come back down to the ground and take a physical form in real space.” e-flux, “the buildinge-flux, February 6, 2009. The organization commissioned a “modular system for a free, do-it-yourself/print-on-demand publication,” which would allow individual readers to determine e-flux’s form—broadsheet, poster, bound book, loose sheets—materiality, distribution, and use. From February to August 2009, e-flux presented their prototype system in “journal as exhibition” at The Building, a small art space in Berlin.”

“When Manaugh led a group a group of students as part of the 2009 Urban Islands design masterclass on Cockatoo Island near Sydney, students presented their work in the form of trading cards, comic books, and other alternative media formats. Manaugh (2009b) says on his blog, ‘…if you can open up the range of media…through which we discuss, argue about, and analyze architecture, then surely the range of participants in architectural conversations will simultaneously expand as well.'”

Several online publications have opted to exist in both virtual and physical forms, or to try on a new materiality. Archfarm ( produces “non-periodical fascicles on architecture” that one can read on-screen in pdf form or print out, preferably on the back-side of already-used paper, then cut to size and either staple or “punch and file…in a standard ring binder together with other issues” (à la Clip Kit).”

“Through the related documenta 12 magazines project, 90 small-budget, small-circulation international art, architecture, theory, and culture magazines “with different formats, different orientations and focuses” were brought together to demonstrate how publications might constitute alternative creative “production formats and formalizations” that allow the large-scale exhibition to expand beyond “traveling curators and the globalized art market” (Bishop 2007; Documenta n.d.). The project generated a flurry of criticism from invited and participating publications; see Radical Philosophy 146 (November/December 2007).”


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.


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]


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.


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., 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 (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,

[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….”


Click/Scan/Bold/CUT: Outtake #3: The New Materialism

I’ve been posting outtakes from my article on the materiality of architectural publication. Outtake #1 addresses the literal and metaphorical architectures of the little magazines of the early 20th century, and #2 focuses on reviews of the reviews of the Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition.

In this section I consider the the contemporary context for all the recent exhibitions and discussions of architectural periodicals. Why is there such tremendous interest now in historical periodicals and contemporary publishing form?

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Architectural representation and publication are certainly not new concerns for architecture. There has long been interest in the history of the architectural book—but, Hélène Jannière & France Vanlaethem say, scholarly interest in architectural magazines did not begin in earnest until the 1960s, when architecture was emerging from under “militant” Modernism, when many scholars were theorizing the avant-garde, and when media studies was emerging as a field of study.[1] While much early research on the architecture magazine focused on its textual (and occasionally photographic) content, scholars are more frequently turning their attention to periodicals’ textual structure, bibliographic codes, physical forms, and the processes and politics of their production and consumption.[2] The magazine’s architectonics, its materiality, its mode of production are qualities best appreciated through direct, immediate reception of the printed object. The fact that over the past few years these historical media have been exhibited widely, rather than simply talked about in scholarly publications and conferences—where, at most, the periodicals might appear as disjointed, decontextualized pages or spreads—indicates an increasing awareness that the concrete form and material properties of these publications matter.[3] Meanwhile, the increasing number of worldwide architectural exhibitions, the development of architectural curation, and the proliferation of architectural museums provide a context for these exhibitions of architectural periodicals.[4]

Log 20: Curating Architecture Issue

We can also consider this increased attention to the materiality of media in relation to a widespread theoretical shift toward what has been called the “new materialism.”[5] “[A]fter the linguistic turn has yielded so many important insights,” literary and media theorist N. Katherine Hayles suggests, “it is time to turn again to a careful consideration of what difference a medium makes.”[6]Scholars dealing with media materiality include, aside from Hayles, David Bolter, Lisa Gitelman, Richard Grusin, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Friedrich Kittler, and Lev Manovich, among others. It is important to remember, Hayles cautions, that a focus on materiality requires more than a focus on the medium’s “apparatus”; materiality is “the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies”—both of which have been attended to in several recent exhibitions, through their display of the publications’ contents and presentation of magazines in their complete physical form.[7] I would add Fredric Jameson’s voice to Hayles’s in acknowledging that materiality is also an embodiment of social relations—an element that has again been attended to with some success in the exhibitions.

Undoubtedly behind this renewed materialism is the rise of the digital. Digital media have been credited with revolutionizing architecture and media production and consumption, in the process challenging conventional media hierarchies and taxonomies and calling into question basic premises of each of the fields it touches.[8] The digital seems to subsume all other media formats, and, at the same time, obliterate them. It is a “medium without materiality,” seemingly without properties.[9] “The challenge of digital media,” Mary Anne Doane says, “is that of resisting not only pervasive commodification of the virtual but also the virtual’s subsumption within the dream of dematerialization and the timelessness of information.”[10]

Architecture, too, confronts these threats of “pervasive commodification” and, in many design schools and studios, has already given in to the “dream of dematerialization.” Many who practice or theorize architecture, which we might think of as among the most massively material of all media, are particularly intrigued or concerned by the prospect of a “medium without materiality,” as evidenced by debates over software-driven design or data-driven “research architecture,” for instance.[11] It seems likely that the presumed “immateriality” of digital architectural media, and the abstraction of digital representations from the materiality of the architectural object, have sparked this recent interest in the mode or medium of architectural discourse.

Interest in the materiality of architectural discourse, the specificity of its forms, reveals parallel concerns with the specificity and materiality of architecture itself. As architecture has supposedly moved “beyond building,” and as architects have expanded into urban planning, cultural criticism, amateur sociology, filmmaking, data analysis, etc., we have to wonder what architects are uniquely qualified to do, what distinguishes architecture from other professions—or whether such distinctions are still relevant and worth maintaining. Architecture’s existential crisis isn’t new. Questions of professional identity have arisen for centuries, if not millennia. They played out through the development of professional organizations and educational institutions in the 19th century. More recently, K. Michael Hays argues, the “ideology of autonomy,” part of the “legacy of modernism,” was renewed in architectural theory after 1968.[12] Architecture adopted various strategies to “resis[]
a collapse into some other discourse, to be a medium related to yet different from all others.”[13] Conversely, much contemporary theory, Mark Wigley argues, takes for granted architecture’s “uncontrollable excesses” and functions not to rein architecture in, to “resist collapse,” but to “focus on the ways in which architecture exceeds the role that has been assigned to it.”[14] The varied models that architectural theory draws upon—and perhaps the varied publication forms in which architecture experiments with those theories—embody a “slippage from questioning the uncontrollable excesses of architecture to questioning the very category of architecture and its position in our culture.” Today, some architects are even advocating that architecture expedite this slippage by aggressively intervening in or co-opting these other discourses in order to reclaim architecture’s professional stature. Ole Bouman, director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute and former editor of Volume, called in an issue of the magazine for architects to perform “unsolicited architecture”; rather than waiting for assignments, they should “pro-actively see[k] out new territories for intervention, addres[s] pressing social needs and tak[e] advantage of emerging opportunities for architecture.”[15] Architectural periodicals offer a forum through which to probe these other opportunities—or, alternatively, to form architecture “back into its own discipline.”[16] In their specific material form or their slippage between forms, magazines, zines, and blogs offer a means of shaping architecture’s discourse, and thus exploring the specificity or openness of architecture itself.

Similar questions—about the materiality of discourse, about professional identity, etc.—are posed daily in publishing industry boardrooms. The rise of the digital has raised concern among publishers, architectural and otherwise, about the future of their industry. Architecture criticism and reportage, analysts say, have been threatened for years by the increasing divide between professional magazines and academic journals; by journalists’ dependence on the glamorized image, on the celebrity architect, on architecture “as event”; and by the increased speed of publication made possible by faster printing technologies and easier global distribution, which is often at odds with architecture’s relatively slow pace.[17] Beatriz Colomina argues that the entire institution of commercial publishing has threatened to rob architecture of its own material specificity:

Publishing, like ornament, by absorbing architecture into the universe of merchandise, by fetishizing it, destroys its possibility of transcendence. Architectural magazines, with their graphic and photographic artillery, transform architecture into an article of consumption, making it circulate around the world as if it had suddenly lost mass and volume, and in this way they also consume it.[18]

This was actually a good magazine.

But not only have mainstream publishing models failed to do justice to the architectural subject; they have also failed to sustain magazine publishing in general. Today, extremely volatile media economies and new media technologies promise to wreak havoc. Among the many publications that have folded in the past few years are several architecture and “shelter” titles, including Architecture, Blueprint, Domino, and House & Garden. Developing alternatives to ailing media systems, finding new ways to mediate architecture, seems to require a transformation not merely of media content, but of the medium itself and its production technique. Many of these recent exhibitions and discussions of architectural publication explore progressive precedents in order to find architectural publishing’s new “edge.”


[1] Hélène Jannière & France Vanlaethem, “Architectural Magazines as Historical Source or Object? A Methodological Essay” in Architectural Periodicals in the 1960s and 1970s: Toward a Factual, Intellectual and Material History, ed. 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), 41-61.

[2] See Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1960); Beatriz Colomina, “L’Esprit Nouveau: Architecture and Publicité” in Architectureproduction (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988), 57-99; Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity: Architecture As Mass Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994); Hélène Lipstadt, “Architectural Publications, Competitions, and Exhibitions,” Architecture and Its Image: Four Centuries of Architectural Representation; Works from the Collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, ed. Eve Blau and Edward Kaufman (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1989), 109-137; Brian McLaren, “Under the Sign of Reproduction” Journal of Architectural Education 45:2 (1992), 98-106.

[3] Parallel advances have been made in library science and curation. In the past, periodicals were stored in libraries as bound volumes, which blurred the boundaries of the periodical as a specific genre of publication. We lost the ability to acknowledge the texture and size of its pages, its weight, etc., as integral parts of “what a periodical means” (Beetham 1989). Acknowledging this loss has inspired recent attempts at reclamation. Similarly, past exhibitions of the early 20th-century avant-gardes, although they acknowledged the illustrated book and other forms of print media as “alternative space[s] of artistic production, exhibition and reception,” tended to lock printed material away in vitrines—the result being that these media became “best known for [their] front covers.” Maria Gough, “Sound Design” Artforum, Summer 2009, 142. Recently acknowledging the significance of the paper quality and printing techniques of the avant-gardes’ printed media, curators have adopted new exhibition techniques. We will see the influence of these methodological and curatorial developments in the exhibitions under consideration here.

[4] Jean-Louis Cohen, “The Museum of Architecture—Illusion or Reality?” Hunch 1. The Berlage Institute Report (Summer 2006): 98-105. See also Log 20 “Curating Architecture (Fall 2010).

[5] N. Katherine Hayles, “Print is Flat, Code is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis” Poetics Today 25:1 (2004): 67-90; Hayles notes that much of this work marks a return to the agenda set by Marshall McLuhan. “Thing theory” also reflects an increasing interest in the materiality of the object; see Bill Brown, “Thing Theory” Critical Inquiry 28:1 (2001): 1-22; James A. Knapp & Jeffrey Pence, “Between Thing and Theory” Poetics Today 24:4 (2003): 641-71.

[6] Hayles 68.

[7] Hayles 72.

[8] See W. J. T. Mitchell, “Addressing Media” MediaTropes eJournal 1 (2008): 4.

[9] Mary Ann Doane, “The Indexical and the Concept of Medium Specificity” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 18:1 (2007): 142.

[10] Doane 148.

[11] See Mark Foster Gage “In Defense of Design” Log 16 (2009): 39-45.

[12] K. Michael Hays, “Prolegomenon for a Study Linking the Advanced Architecture of the Present to That of the 1970s Through Ideologies of Media, the Experience of Cities in Transition, and the Ongoing Effects of Reification” Perspecta 32, Resurfacing Modernism (2001): 101.

[13] Archigram’s Peter Cook notes a similar trend: as communications and showbiz and industrial design have merged with architecture, some architects are fascinated by the convergence, while others now “want to be more solid brick than ever before. It’s as if the prospect of everything being architecture…well, that has now been realized. I think a lot of architects are scared by that.” Geoff Manaugh, “Equipment for Living: An Interview with Peter Cook” BLDGBLOG Book (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2009), 29.

[14] Mark Wigley, “Story-Time” Assemblage 27, Tulane Papers: The Politics of Contemporary Architectural Discourse (1995): 85.

[15] Volume 14.

[16] Hays 101.

[17] See Marisa Bartolucci, “Current Criticism” Architect’s Newspaper, November 16, 2005; Miriam Gusevich, “The Architecture of Criticism: A Question of Autonomy” in Drawing Building Text, ed., Andrea Kahn (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991), 8-24; Alexandra Lange, “Criticism Kerfuffle 2010Design Observer (November 24, 2010); Nancy Levinson, “Criticism Today: Chasing Celebrities, Globalization, and the Web” Architectural Record, March 2006, 63-5; Diana Lind, “On Criticism 7: Authority and ResponsibilityUrban Omnibus (November 23, 2010); Joan Ockman, “Current Criticism” Architect’s Newspaper, November 16 2005; “On Criticism” Architect’s Newspaper, November 16, 2005; Witold Rybczynski, “The GlossiesSlate (November 15, 2006); Mitchell Schwartzer, “History and Theory in Architectural Periodicals: Assessing Oppositions” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58:3 (1999): 342-348; Suzanne Stephens, “Assessing the State of Architectural Criticism in Today’s Press” Architectural Record, March 1998, 64.

[18] Beatriz Colomina, Privacy, 43.