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Welcome to the forum.
I'd like to start off where we began. In the last engagement, with Volume, we considered the Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition in relationship to the production and positioning of periodicals. From this perspective how would you best describe the role of architectural publications today? And what is Verb's mission within this continuum--from a legacy of the radical past to the yet to be defined present?
The Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition at Storefront (which to my mind is one of the best exhibitions on architectural publications to have come out in a long time) was very much about the position of "little" magazines in reaction to the context of that time. One of the interesting comments on the exhibition was that it would have been very useful to see that context--the mainstream publications, based on a modernist, commercial, "professional" model--to understand what these more radical magazines were reacting against. It is against this context that we should understand the shifts in both content and form of those magazines, both their more radical/polemical agendas and the newer, livelier, less homogeneous or professionalized graphic techniques they deployed. (According to the exhibition organizers, some of the material techniques of those magazines that look deliberately "cheap" today were in fact completely new at the time--like the clips of Clip-Kit--and so we should understand them as attempts to take advantage of new graphic and material techniques, not as trying to invent a reactionary position in favor of "cheapness," etc.)
I think it's similarly important to look at Verb as a reaction or response against the current context of architectural publications. It's interesting that you pose the question in relation to Verb, because this was precisely the question that its editors began with in starting the series in 2001. Having come largely out of editorial experience with Quaderns magazine in the early 1990s, Verb was an attempt to revisit the question of what an architectural publication should be in the 2000s, given the already very different context in which publications now have to operate. This is partly an issue of form: given the increasing crossover between books and magazines (which increasingly have the same volume, time cycles, contents, even prices), an immediate response was to create the "boogazine," the hybrid book-magazine format of the series.
Also in the graphic techniques we have developed, based on an aggressive integration of different kinds of content (text, images, graphics, etc.) that takes advantage of the full possibilities of digital techniques that have now become available to us. But more importantly, the reaction to contemporary publications is even more one of content. Against a similar context of slick, professionalized but largely neutral output, Verb is very much about generating a discussion, as architects, about what we think is important to talk about, what needs to be said, and what we think is worth valorizing (and what not). It's an attempt to stake out a positivist idea of what architecture can do and its role in contemporary culture, tracked through a series of themes that are developed in each issue--process, matter, connection, conditioning, nature.
This very quickly becomes a question of process and of audience, in that this discussion has to be developed very much in relation to the world of practice, through a direct engagement with architects and the realities of their practices, rather than the typical model of the magazine that is separate from or "comments" on architecture in a more academic or distant fashion. So I would say any radicality or progressiveness of Verb is in its agenda, its attempt to tie architecture to much more relevant discussions of practice, of the social role of architecture, and of how specifically architectural or material techniques need to be deployed in relation to those questions.
The magazines included in this wonderful exhibition operated from the critical position of the outsider, trying to influence from this perspective the "culture" of architecture: the ideas that push it, society's role in its definition, architecture's ties to other cultural expressions. Also, their radicality often lied in an immediate ability to react to their surroundings. Verb tries to operate within practice, as a form of practice in itself, highlighting and promoting the connections across different levels of architectural production. The concept of the boogazine, which aspires to a longer life span than the magazine--and which involves longer production times--detaches us from the object (what is new), and introduces us in the process (how things happen). As Michael points out, Verb was born as a redefinition of our work in Quaderns, which took place in fact within the structure of the Institute of Architects of Catalonia, as a professional journal.
I see. But how is this "valorization" targeted? Especially in terms of certain curatorial catch phrases used to define the series titles (Nature, Connection, Matters, etcetera). Could you expand on how the editorial process takes place, and how the multiple editors "curate" the agenda?
The editorial team is made up of all the editors at Actar (seven), all of us in a similar position as architects-journalists-curators-researchers... interacting with the in-house graphic designers. Verb is one of the many projects (publications and exhibitions) running in the office at the same time, but it is conceived as the generator of future projects, as the precursor of future lines of work. As publishers we react to book submissions that constantly flow into the office, to collaborations that are proposed from outside. But Verb also allows us to be autonomous, to define what we want to work on, and with whom.
It is a self-commission that stimulates us to do something, to get involved and influence what is going on around us, also through the knowledge that we acquire from other people's work. The titles of each volume are thought of as modifications or descriptions of the verb, which in itself stands for action/production linked to time and to people. They are a focus on a particular aspect of contemporary practice, generally with the positivist ambition mentioned by Michael.
The theme of each issue grows out of the previous themes, like a conversation or a constant redefinition of what architecture "is" that each issue tries to take in a different direction. So the first issue (Processing) dealt directly with the issue of process, and how any architectural intervention needs to be understood as the product of different actors, relationships, dynamics and forces that all affect what is produced; the second issue (Matter) dealt with the consequences of these processes on our understanding of architectural matter itself; this led to the question of the virtual, and of the role of architecture as a connector (in real space) of people, programs and uses in the face of this virtual context (Connection); then to the issue of "environments," and how architecture conditions more specifically the behaviors and activities of users in real space (Conditioning); finally, out of this discussion of environments, to the question of the natural (Natures), and what exactly "nature" means today given this context of real and artificial, etc. We're now working on the sixth issue, Verb Crisis, which we see as the provisional starting point of a new trajectory: in the face of crises (political, economic, social) that increasingly affect how architecture is produced and what role it plays, how do we redefine ourselves in relation to phenomena we can no longer ignore?
The different theme of each issue also means that each has to be talked about in a different way: the structure of the conversation has to become different. So we literally have to reinvent the table of contents for each issue, in a way that lets us track across the different ideas or projects we present. The first issue, based as it is on process, becomes a sort of network; the second a material catalogue, the third a map, etc.
Hi Albert and Michael. Welcome to Archinect.
I also had an initial question about the Verb Boogazine series and the positioning of publishing. This idea of merging the structure of a book with the immediacy and heterogeneity of a magazine is exciting, although I read the series as being more (ma)gazine than boo(k). It seems that some editions are more successful in capitalizing on this gap/overlap than others. I am thinking particularly of the Conditioning edition as a productive merger…and I am reminded here of OMA/AMO's Content as a nonthematic merger of book and magazine (complete with adverts!).
But I am wondering if it is even necessary to indicate a thematic at all. Since a majority of the projects documented in each issue (or edition?) are within a year or two of the publication date, why not just present it as a time capsule of that architectural moment--similar to the NAI yearbooks--and let the "discussion," as you mention, produce the thematic? I say this partly because some of the projects-to-thematic marriages seem forced, and because some of the themes come off as under-explored. The Natures one in particular appears more homogeneous in its documentation of its theme than others. The discussion embedded within Natures is mostly centered on nature as intricate geometries. However, the emerging influences of landscape architecture, ecology, and sustainability would be relevant and essential to contemporary dialogues on natures and processes within architectural practice.
The larger question here being how can a range of interpretations to a selected theme be achieved without defaulting simply to an architecture du jour?
It's interesting that you read the series as being more magazine than book. To be honest, we've recently gotten the reaction in a number of different contexts that people tend to see Verb as primarily a book series--as a serial publication--with very little magazine in it. So it's encouraging to hear that the attempt to maintain this hybrid boogazine format still has the capacity to produce a certain amount of debate about what it "is," whether it's more magazine, or more book. In terms of periodicity, we have tended more as we have gone along to the model of serial publication, partly out of a recognition that our interest in developing the themes in each issue can tend to work against the demand to be absolutely "in the moment," to maintain the very fast time cycle that's required of magazines in order to keep up with the most contemporary projects.
So (and maybe this gets at the second part of your question) I think we have shifted as we have gone along to a slightly longer production time between issues that allows us to give the themes more weight, giving up to some extent on the ultra-contemporary model in favor of a mode that allows us to talk about projects that, while contemporary, don't have to be absolutely the latest thing. It's a luxury that we have precisely through the boo(k) component of the boogazine, something that we wouldn't be able to do if we were subject solely to the requirements of a magazine.
There is indeed some tension in the thematic discourse (what we want to say) based on a grouping of recent projects (what is happening today), and probably ineffective results at times, maybe due to candid inexperience. Capturing and amplifying some essence of the architecture of the moment (a theme) is necessary if we want to mix with it and have a voice in it, beyond merely reporting on the state of current architecture. Sometimes this does lead us to include more historical material: for example Verb Matters, where the question of the virtual and the impact of digital technologies on architecture led us to begin with a history of networks in the twentieth century and how these ideas came into architecture. While these historical contextualizations are often useful, we think that the theme should be that part of (contemporary) reality that we want to get involved in.
In terms of the "marriage" between projects and themes, we think of the development each theme not as a fixed idea, but as an argument that is built out of relations between the different projects (and essays, interviews, etc.) that are introduced. So it's not always a happy marriage, as you say, but hopefully a productive one. Some projects become absolutely key to the discussion of a particular theme, while others bring something to the discussion, even if it's less clear (even to us) how precisely they fit in. I think the model is more of a constellation of projects and proposals in each issue, that together add up to create a set of relations and conversations, not always resolved, across them. (We're actually developing this idea of debate across projects, beyond pure agreement, in Verb Crisis due largely to the nature of the theme, which by definition can never be resolved into a single conclusion or model.)
I would like to interject a little on Mason's question--directly considering the issue of the object of Verb itself. Is the creation of the boogazine model a realization that in order to create a viable solution for an architecture periodical it requires a situation where it becomes a “collectible” object? As it is described on the front cover of the first issue as “a collectible book rather than a magazine.”
The creation of the boogazine format is less an attempt to consider the "marketability" of the object as a viable solution for an architectural publication, than it is a way of creating a format that allows us to treat themes and projects with a complexity that often isn't possible given the constraints (space- as well as time-wise) of a magazine. Each issue of Verb has around 300 pages, which lets us treat subjects in depth, but also gives us the space to experiment with graphics or sequence, to include aspects of projects that might be more fully developed in a following issue or one of the Verb monographs (on which will get to later). In this sense, I would look more to a series of precedents of the serial-publication that provided models for us in developing the Verb format, projects that adopted a more book-like dimension as part of the ambition to treat subjects with more complexity and depth. I'm thinking here especially of the Zone series, starting with Zone 1/2--with its combination of essays, map inserts on translucent paper, interviews, images, etc.--that tried to take on an almost urban performance within the space of the book; continuing through Incorporations (Zone 6), which by then had adopted the more regular form of a book compiling illustrated essays and texts. While the Zone series was more academically oriented than Verb, which is more directly connected with the world of practice, it definitely provided an important model in terms of format and the development of a consistent editorial project across a series of related publications.
The relationship between issues/editions/volumes is in fact key to the success of Verb as a project, to the amplification of the message, as things that are said in one Verb are somehow reframed in the following Verb. (Although from a basic business perspective, it is interesting to see how the sales of Verb Natures push the sales of its preceding companion Verb Conditioning and even those of Verb Processing, the first in the series.) Also, given that the format of the publication is relatively modest and that our orchestrated efforts to say something end up sometimes in long narratives that exclude in-depth presentations of a specific project, the existence of a constellation of publications around the boogazine--the Verb Monographs--is also a fundamental instrument to increase the potential of the work we do. The monographs are books built as visual narratives on one of the projects or issues presented in the boogazine: The Yokohama Project amplifies the discourse of Verb Processing, Sendai Mediatheque amplifies Verb Matters, etc.
It's not actually greater resolution to thematic that I would be searching for, but greater range and difference. And it's true that agreement across projects (always challenging in any curation system) would be less preferred to a more productive cacophonous argumentation. This is what is needed more in the latest edition. And this search for difference might even lead outside of the comforts of projects on architecture by architects. Though Crisis does sound like a promising direction toward diversity and discovery.
Following up on these ideas. Has Verb considered setting a theme and having an open call for submissions (like many magazines)? This way the boogazine format serves as a vehicle for discovery of less exposed thinkers, designers, and projects? And this could enhance your desire for a constellation of responses. And could be the first edition of a blogazine(!) series.
I think that is a brilliant point Mason! Because to me the Verb series is most successful in the issues where it seemed to function at the level Mason describes. For instance, in the Connection; issue that published Michael's history of RAND, which also included various subjects covered on AUDC's website--but brought these subjects out from their various locations and highlighted the topics for discussion...
(The funny thing about your blogazine comment is that when I first heard about Verb and the booagzine concept I thought the "boog," for whatever reason actually was suggesting a website portion...)
True. The Rand essay (Connection) and the information age overview (Matters) give those editions greater shelf-life and help contextualize the projects/practices profiled within. Something similar would illuminate Natures, especially given the significant influence on architecture from figures as diverse as D'Arcy Thompson, Ernst Haeckel, and Stuart Kauffman to Arthur H Church, Ian McHarg and Richard T T Forman. Somewhere in this strange dinner party resides a nature that really antagonizes the role of architects.
Ernst Haeckel, Cyrotidea from Kunstformen der Natur
I agree that the boogazines are more successful when we've been able to draw out the ideas or moments of comparison between projects (usually through the instrument of the "blurbs," the running commentary by the Verb editors that runs through each issue and contextualizes the individual projects). But, strangely enough, the two examples you suggest (my article on the RAND Corporation in Verb Connection, and the history of networks in Verb Matters, co-written with Jaime Salazar) are probably the two most extreme examples of direct authorship by the editors over the contents. Outside of the blurbs, I think these are among the only cases in the first five issues where the editors have directly produced essays or projects for Verb (certainly historical research) in order to advance a particular discussion. So you would seem to be advocating for a model that would actually involve more direct authorial control over the contents, not a more "cacophonous argumentation" from outside. I think we're actually more interested in reducing this direct model of operating as authors (as opposed to editors) as we go along: the discussion should be more across projects and contributions, not through texts that we write ourselves.
I think that what John and Mason advocate is the value of contextualizing the Verb themes within a historical perspective, and maybe that this reference to history is what gives a publication the longer shelf-life... This is in fact what most academic publications try to do, as a way to validate the message. But again, we don't think of Verb as an academic journal, but as a hands-on publication on contemporary architectural practice. I realize that practice is influenced by historical references, by lessons learned and reinterpreted from architectural history. What any of us produces is always a new step in the production of knowledge throughout history. But even if the work of D'Arcy Thompson and Ernst Haeckel is at the base of some work published in Verb Natures, we are more interested in focusing the time frame, advocating that history is also what is happening today, and that what we can maybe do is to contextualize this contemporary history by connecting and mixing a selection of it, as a way to highlight the interesting part of this history and provide some stimulus in its definition. And to do this with a bit of lightness of spirit and good humor.
On the subject of the "blogazine" (that's a great term!--can we use it?): we actually have recently been talking about starting a blog--it would be called the Verblog--to extend the network of responses and conversations that start from the boogazine into a new forum. It would be a distinct format that would run parallel to the boogazine, so that topics introduced in the boogazine can then continue as a discussion in the blog format (or vice-versa). I hope it's something we can do soon, maybe for Verb Crisis. The idea is to generate a feedback loop between Verb and its audience, as part of this project of inserting ourselves into the reality we're trying to operate within. The hope is that this sort of loop can have impacts on the course of the boogazine itself, like altering the direction of a boat through a more sophisticated reading of the waves that we're navigating in.
This is different from using this kind of forum directly to call for submissions, though it certainly could function as a means of doing that. In fact a large number of the contributions that have appeared in Verb have been proposed or submitted to us by others, including a number that have come from (at the time) less known thinkers and designers. The other project you mention, the essay on One Wilshire by Kazys Varnelis and AUDC in Verb Connection, is an example of this process. AUDC proposed the initial project to us, and we've collaborated frequently with them ever since, as key contributors to the Verb project and to our thinking in general. (See their project on Muzak in Verb Conditioning, the Quartzsite investigation in Desert America, and finally their new book, Blue Monday.) Each issue is developed out of this back and forth between our initial interests and the search for interesting subject matter, and what comes to us from external contributors, which shapes our understanding of the theme as we go.
Maybe this is why we haven't yet felt the need for a full-on call for submissions, as something that runs the risk of totally overwhelming the admittedly small editorial apparatus we have for producing each issue. But this next step, of simply placing an open call for submissions and then letting the contents set the discussion, is something I would also consider distinct from the Verb project, mostly because other mediums--blogs in particular--are much more successful at doing this than books. I think we all think of Verb as an ongoing project, sustained through a series of issues, to interrogate the book format and find out what the particular advantages (and sometimes disadvantages) of the print medium are; not as a format that is threatened by or needs to compete with new kinds of expression like the blog, but as something that should be able to exist together with it, as two forms that have different potentials.
I think this difference between print and other media is typically seen as being between "top-down" authorship (the classical book) and "bottom-up" dialog or conversation (the blog), but it doesn't have to be--that is, if the book can evolve to become smarter, more agile. I see it more as the difference between moderating, in the sense of mediating a mass of external material towards a coherent discussion, and curating, which comes in wanting to have a more active, independent voice in what is produced. As editors, I think we're more interested in this stronger editorial voice of the magazine--something visible, for example, in the impact Stefano Boeri had on Domus--which comes through curation, and is precisely one of the potentials of the print medium. Otherwise, you run the risk of generating a greater "constellation" of opinions, but also a fundamental problem of editorial consistency. In a book, diversity and lack of coherence are two different things.
I like the reference to Domus. Most Actar publications including Verb are collaborative projects, not only because of the collective nature of the editorial office, but because we stimulate the participation of the architects-authors in the editorial process. Editors in different locations rather than external contributors. As my colleagues Irene Hwang and Tomoko Sakamoto (who are sitting next to me now, in the Barcelona office) insist, each issue of Verb is a project (as in a competition project or a building commission, with many collaborators) and Verb as a series is a collection of projects, in which ideas from one project are pushed and redefined in the next, growing and learning along the way. Verb tries to push this networking and building-up process from the traditional printed medium.
These are all excellent points, though I don’t see incorporating a contextualization of the thematic as controlling. Instead it could serve as backboard/scaffold for the cross-project discussions. I am more questioning the assumption that adjacent projects inherently invite discussion. Sometimes adjacency is just adjacency not dialogue. And I think distinguishing "academic" publications over "practice-based" publications is misplaced. It is not as if those seeking academic content do not fraternize with those seeking content for practice, and vice versa. This distinction is much grayer in publishing that it was a decade ago. And It would seem that the Verb series is a testament to the possibilities of that ambiguity--a kind of publication “mullet,” business (thematic context) in the front, party (projects) in the back.
Since it is something that you both touched on earlier and is an essential component to the Verb enterprise, could you talk more about the monograph series? Moussavi and Zaera-Polo (FOA), in the first one The Yokohama Project, writes about the monograph on a single building as being something that is rarely necessary except when the project has an “epic” embedded in its making.
There are so many parallel epics in the making of a public project--from calculations, value engineering, mock-ups, and codes, to arguments, construction schedules, complex working personalities, and so on. How can all of this, which unfolds over time and through a reaction-based process, be documented in a book?
Is maybe film or real-time media not a better outlet? And how can the book be structured to emphasize the uniqueness of each project process? In short, how do you document the epic(s)?
I think there is a tendency for the "top-down" process with the production of a book to have a direction which is controlled by certain trends which make it a fixed model for stimulating a discussion, or even framing the agenda of architectural discourse.
Now I see where you've made strides, with the series titles (Processing, Matters, Connection, etcetera) to frame the issues in a new way which makes legible the various projects...but here is the rub, when they all come together as just a tapestry of ideas--a collection of ideas--I think it loses the gravity it is attempting to create. When it is done in that way it almost takes on the appearance of a blog. To me when it is focused on the direction of the title and is interlaced with these research-based projects it becomes a powerfully discursive situation that makes wonderful analogies or connects between praxis, theory, and research--something most architectural publications find impossible to deliver.
Now the Domus reference is interesting here because I too admire some of the work Boeri created during his tenure there, but it also began to have a centripetity about certain aesthetic trajectories--it lost some of it's critical bend. Are architecture publications now days just there to support the ideas without a critique? Are we all living in fear of damaging the appearances that architecture maintains about itself?
I agree that the opposition between academic and practice-based publications is not useful, and in fact I like the "mullet" definition. It fits well with our interest in hybrid formats--as the definition of the boogazine states.
(Manuel Gausa, editor-in-chief of Quaderns in the 1990s and one of the founding members of Actar, always showed this image to illustrate his interest in hybrid formats)
The Verb monographs provide the tool to increase the complexity of the hybrid by attaching other bodies to it--extensions of the base source, highlighting this epic component of the selected story.
The analogy to film as a format has always been present in the monographs, basically as a structuring device. I think that what makes the monograph more effective than the real-time media is the fact that information is finally displayed in a very different temporal space, with more clarity, adaptable reading speed, more permanence. Yokohama made it clear that we needed to produce a monograph in order to leave a permanent mark on that moment in time, on that architectural achievement.
The "epic" of any project needs to be told in terms of the particular performance and history of that project, something that can produce very different structures or rhythms in a book. I'm glad that you mention the Yokohama book in this regard, as it was very much an attempt on our part and the part of Foreign Office Architects to recount the epic of that project, in terms of exactly the parameters you describe--contractors, Japanese legal codes, construction issues, the particular cultures of the different offices involved... and how all of these complexities affected the design, almost moment-by-moment. This kind of story produced a book that is very architectural, very focused on technical issues and their resolution in the final project, and this became the driving graphic/editorial idea for the book: it's structured like an architectural drawing set, with each chapter devoted to a different "package" (structure, glass, wood deck, etc.), which was how the project was actually developed by FOA. (It also explains the horizontal format, where the book opens like a typical drawing set.)
A different epic can produce a structure that actually comes closer to the cinematic model you suggest. Another one of the monographs, on the Seattle Public Library, was in fact developed on this model. It had to be a very different book, since our interest and that of OMA was much more in the use of the building, its relation to the city and its reconfiguration of the library program, much less on technical issues than in the Yokohama book. So the book becomes more narrative, literally a kind of movie-book: we developed a set of characters that use the building in different ways--a father with his son, a graduate student, a librarian, etc.--and actually filmed them as they navigate the different library spaces, in that way showing the complexity of the building. The book became structured as a tour of these spaces, moving between photos and the video of these characters. But doing it as a book automatically produces differences from what would happen in a movie: for example, the opportunity to embed more architectural information as an extra layer as you pass through different spaces (through interviews with the architects, drawings, etc.). Or, since we were interested to show the extraordinary publicity of the process, by including an insert of articles from the Seattle press that tells the history of the project through public newspaper articles. Despite its similarities to a film, the book naturally has a different sequence, a different pacing and rhythm.
That idea almost makes me want to see the SPL monograph in a flip book format.
Or to include the DVD videos in the jacket of the SPL book...
So Desert America (see previous feature) seems to stand out in the monograph series? Does it represent a new direction? Offering a monograph on an entire territory that could, like buildings, be subjected to films, data on programming, earthly details and other epic probings?
from Desert America
In response to John's question (06/28/07 8:34 AM): Verb Crisis, the issue we're working on now (hopefully out in September), is exactly this attempt on our part to answer the question you're posing: how can a publication be critical of architecture and its current trajectory, but still advocate for a new role for practice in confronting crises that increasingly influence how, and in what conditions can we build? Is it possible to both critique and to propose, to set an agenda? Part of the typical unproductive distinction you mention between "academic" and "practice-based" publications is that one has usually been seen as the realm of critique, of distance, but without advocating counter-proposals in the way that a more embedded form of conversation can; while practice-focused publications have been concerned with defending the value of (existing) practice at all costs, often in opposition to any critique. With Verb Crisis, we're hoping to use this potential of the boogazine--as you say embedded between praxis, theory, research--to leverage a critique of architecture's current complicity into something more productive: to move beyond critique into the ability to make counter-proposals, to advocate for new forms of action. This opens the door to discussions that will hopefully happen in Verbs to come (the next, after Crisis, is tentatively titled Verb Experiment...).
The critical aspect of the work we produce lies (if we succeed) in its ability to shape ideas, not only support them.
I would like to bring up at this point the existence of yet another format in the family, which is the exhibition, as a physical space where the information becomes real in a different sort of interactive condition. This mainly takes place in our bookstore-gallery RAS (now in Barcelona and Milan).
The gallery is a refreshing addition to what the series can offer. When will NYC get a gallery space? I can imagine it's in the works. Although all this makes me go back to the other day when Albert invoked this image of the "outsider" or "critical position of the outsider," and that Verb was emerging from this position...
This is very provocative in that Actar as publisher (although small and independent) does have an agenda that, in my mind couldn't possibly be interpreted as being positioned as an outsider. If you place that in tandem with a gallery and the monograph is it possible to maintain a criticality towards the projects? How is the relationship reconciled between the interests of the publisher and the interests of Verb? Or is this paranoia unwarranted? I guess that sort of presupposes that Verb has some autonomy from that of Actar.
(To: Mason White 06/28/07 9:15 AM) In our experience, the inclusion of a DVD is not a very successful hybrid format, as the two keep existing separately.
Going back to your reference to FOA's comment on the lack of justification for building monographs, we were in fact faced with the difficulty of choosing a building that would deserve it... Desert America was a new direction in the sense that we did not produce a monograph on a building epic, but on a more vast reality that contextualized the issue of Conditioning, of manipulating the environment.
The monographs don't form a continuous series as the boogazines somehow do, but are individual publications that originate from the conditions, needs, even shortcomings of each boogazine. Verb Natures will be amplified by means of a book on parametric/algorithmic design, with a set of independent contributions by some of the architects featured in this Verb but also a few engineering offices--Adams Kara Taylor, Arup's Advanced Geometry Unit (AGU) and Sasaki. And as a companion to Verb Crisis, we are slowly starting to work with Elemental on a book that will document the whole project.
We actually have been planning an exhibition space in New York as part of the second phase of opening an editorial office here. I think you're right in clarifying this distinction between the position of the "outsider" and simply being independent, trying to have an active voice that isn't completely determined by market forces.
I would describe Actar as being independent; we would never claim this status as outsiders, given that we've been in existence as a publisher for 13 years. Within the other projects that we do, we've tried to preserve the Verb project as the site where we can take advantage of this (economic, commercial) independence, to generate conversations that interest us rather than solely relying on what comes to us as a publisher. The criticality comes as much in what we choose to focus on as in what is said.
In addition to this ability to extend the book projects into exhibitions, events, etc., we have also become increasingly involved (especially since launching our editorial office in New York) with other centers of activity that have given us a connection to different kinds of investigation, different work, and more collaborative methods of generating content for future projects. Some of these are research centers related to institutions, like the new Studio X initiative at Columbia; some are collaboratives, like AUDC (run by Kazys Varnelis and Robert Sumrell) and Kazys's new enterprise at Columbia, the NetLab; some are new programs to produce research on the city and urban practices, like the recent New York Prize Fellowship at the Van Alen that investigates new ideas of "public practice" in relation to the city. This on top of existing collaborations like our long-standing involvement with the IaaC, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona, which extended out of the Metapolis group. All of these connections enable us to operate less like a traditional publishing house and more as part of a network of research centers, laboratories for different kinds of activity and different practices that affect what we do.
(An exhibition on Actar at the Van Alen Institute in November 2006, including the Verb series.)
There is an interesting question in those relationships, but I'll save that for a little latter. I'd like to focus in on the up coming issue Crisis for one moment before we leave it behind.
I'm really excited to see it, but i think there is an interesting symmetry to your issue on Crisis and the whole experiment by archis where they enter areas of extreme circumstance or crisis as architecture envoys--not that Verb's Crisis issue will have anything to do with that, but why is there an emphasis today on these battleground territories? I am reminded by the way the word crisis is deconstructed in Chinese: the Chinese word for crisis is the combination of two characters: 危 danger and 机 opportunity.
Beautiful deconstruction! This is in fact the starting point of Verb Crisis--the simple realization that there is more building activity today than anytime before, but that architects play an increasingly marginal role in it. There are certain dangers or questions posed to the future of the profession, but also great opportunities linked to possible redefinitions of this professional role, to the continued application of new technologies, to the growing social and economic demand for sustainable practices. This perceived emphasis on battleground territories responds to the simple need to deal with and be part of reality.
The construction of "crisis" as a combination of danger and opportunity is fantastic. It actually gets at exactly the attitude we're trying to develop in Verb: rather than simply expressing pessimism about the current dynamics of the profession and the inability to evolve the architect's role in response to these challenges, we're attempting to see opportunities in it, to change both the environments we live in and architectural practice at the same time. As Albert says, It's a question of the marginality of architects in setting the terms of their involvement, but also a question of their complicity, as unwilling or oblivious agents of political processes out of their control.
Well architecture, as we all know, revolves about control, authority, and power. I guess these areas of crisis have the best potentials for creating new ideas about society, and remain the clearest possible territories to realize a utopian vision.
I think this was a factor behind Lebbeus Woods idea of "free-zones." or why a place like Detroit has been a constant place of speculation toward a new type of utopia emerging from the most apparent and clear image of a dystopia. the fertility of these potential areas for a new possibilities must be very attractive to architects and urbanists.
Do you think that these "zones" are the clearest of possible opportunities for there to be a real avant-garde moment in architecture?
We're treading in somewhat dangerous water here. Our interest as architects--and in the publications we do--is absolutely not to look for a new "avant-garde moment" in architecture. I'm not even sure what an avant-garde moment would be under the current conditions. We're interested in reality, in the real conditions in which architects have to operate. In that sense, I'm not sure I understand the idea of "zones" you are setting out. If I take the metaphor, it sounds very much like the quote from Reyner Banham with which we began the Desert book: "In a landscape where nothing officially exists... absolutely anything becomes thinkable." This was a key idea for us in exploring the space of the American desert--which I guess would constitute one of these "zones"--and therefore a concept that informed certain aspects of that book. But architects don't just build in deserts, physical or metaphorical. They build in reality. I'm interested in what we can do to evolve our thinking and our practice relative to that reality, which comes from including all of the complexities of architecture and its processes, discourses, politics, techniques--not in devolving into the realm of the fantastical or the utopian.
There was a certain strand of Modernism that was (or at claimed outwardly to be) concerned with setting a utopian vision for architecture and society, but there was also a deeper, more rooted vein that was concerned with the discipline itself, with professionalizing and embedding a whole set of techniques that would re-structure the way architecture is actually practiced, and consequently its potentials to act on society and achieve real social transformations. It's an evolutionary model, rather than a purely oppositional or revolutionary one, which is what is always at stake in the avant-garde. (Remember Le Corbusier's famous sentence: "Architecture or Revolution. Revolution can be avoided.") It's one challenge to imagine new architectures in "free" or desert zones exempt from the realities of society, but it's a much more complex, and ultimately more valuable challenge to develop new architectures that respond to that reality and can operate within it.
The zones you seem to refer to, which I read as the debris of our development as a society, are of course areas that are easily "appropriable", open to any redefinition that will instill them with new life. But I think that the successful emergence of an avant-garde, understood as a moment that will stimulate a redefinition of our practice and that will have ample repercussions in the course of history--and I do agree that such a moment is desirable and would be productive today--cannot take shape only in the periphery, in the left-over spaces, and that operating within the system is inevitable. The modernist avant-garde had the impact that it had because it grew out of the core of industrial society. Look at the transformation in environmental politics taking place today in both the traditional left and right. Why is this happening? Is there something there for us to learn? Maybe Detroit is in fact a fertile working ground, as demonstrated by all the attention that it has been receiving in the last ten or fifteen years, at least in academic circles, and which is also featured in Verb Crisis.
I guess my position above is questioning what constitutes an avant-garde position today? in today's situation where the market colonizes every corner--these crisis zones are seemingly becoming the last moments of/for potential resistance.
In relationship to modernism, I think the moderns were responding to a different set of circumstances where the old social structures of the past were outmoded for the structural relationships of an industrial future--there, capitalism was still a discussion. In the current frame capitalism is the Behemoth, and it commands the land and all the resources on it. In the information age is architecture only to support such a master?
That is a rhetorical question...But I wonder if bring this discussion back to those small magazines (clip/stamp/fold) where is the richness of an avant-garde without alternatives or utopian lost causes?
Capitalism is also in need of alternatives, of redefinitions as revealed by the long series of political crises today and is in fact characterized by this evolutive nature. It's up to us to be part of that evolution. Just as "industry" was not a fixed idea for the Modernists, I think we understand "capitalism" not as a fixed entity against we have to react, rebel, etc., but simply as a context: one that is in flux and that can be affected by how we operate within it. Any context has moments of strength but also of weakness, areas (or "zones") where we can infiltrate and affect larger changes, and ways in which smaller dynamics or disturbances have the capacity to affect the entire system. Maybe the problem lies with the typical formulation that "old social structures" were to "industry" for Modernism as "capitalism" is to "the information age" in the current condition: i.e., that capitalism is this solid, outmoded entity that current cultural shifts are threatening to destroy (the Behemoth that commands all, etc.). I would say we're not on the verge of shifting entirely out of capitalism; on the contrary, current conditions need to be understood as a set of variations and evolutions within capitalism, as shifts in this context that is always in flux. In that sense it's not about deciding to work with or against this "master," but about how to recognize moments of opportunity or spaces of turbulence within it that can be used to modify the fluid body of the whole.
To return to your question about the little magazines of the 1960s and 1970s, and to the beginning of this discussion: I think you're right to recognize that those magazines emerged in some sense at a moment of crisis/instability in which they could naturally present themselves as alternatives. But the situation they were identifying was not a crisis of old social models, but of the "industrial age" and the Modernist project itself, as it had evolved and in terms of what it had produced. So it was about identifying a crisis within the very project that formed their shared context as architects. I think we understand the role of Verb Crisis, and by extension the entire Verb series, in a similar way: not as an attempt to move beyond "old" social models, but as a recognition of certain moments of crisis and opportunity in this period when the (capitalist) context in which we operate has become increasingly unstable and new positions can be imagined.
Unfortunately, architects are typically marginalized in the reality of "real architecture" such as that required in response to crisis situations. (Architects are typically only hired to memorialize a crisis once it has passed.) I remember Alejandro Aravena offered a studio at the GSD, pre 9/11, called Emergency Architecture in which students were to develop architectural response to a social or political crisis. They were encouraged to see architecturally how little it would take to address the fallout of major global events. And I remember seeing some of the reviews where students felt the insignificance of architecture faced with such massive social and political situations. However, the exercise alone, and seeing students confront this and others like this, has done much to mobilize a generation. But those fruits have yet to fully bear.
Of course, since that time, some incredible models for architects deeply embedded in fund-raising and increased awareness outlets has generated some admirable momentum to advance this. But, for example, when it came time to prepare and deploy post-Katrina FEMA trailers (that remain mostly unused anyway, see subtopia)--something innately architectural--an architect or designer was not even invited to the table, let alone hired to assist.Unused FEMA trailers
What will it take to document this shifting role of the architect? And how will the publication set up a dialogue with others such as the Safe exhibition at MoMA, and AFH’s D.L.Y.G.A.D.?
Verb is positioned in the belief that practice affects the course of reality, of the many different realities in place today, and Verb Crisis is as much about the role of the architect as it is about the production of architecture. This boogazine looks at different scenarios directly affecting our profession, and tries to see the opportunities in them. It questions the validity of urban planning tools in Detroit and in Dubai, or how housing models are in need of redefinition in both Madrid and Iquique, Chile. The contents are structured in three sections that somehow respond to increasing levels of contextual involvement and production:
- places, where we document the great diversity of urban developments taking place now (Dubai, Mexico City, the US-Mexico border, Detroit, the construction boom in Spain, the favelas in Chile)
- actors or positions, a presentation, mainly by means of interviews, of practitioners whose work revolves around the redefinition of our operative tools (Shigeru Ban in his work for the UN, Elemental Chile, a new generation of Madrid architects who suddenly find themselves receiving big commissions, Markus Miessen discussing models of participation with Chantal Mouffe)
- and projects, specific proposals by these actors that, in our opinion, have a positive impact on the reality they are active in. This is (going back to our earlier comments) a very positivist way to end the question of Crisis.
what is your future for verb?
its interesting how our rhetoric is so predictable, practiced and deep seated. from the fetishizing of the dystopic (and why not throw in heterotopia) to the underlining of the real (read projective, material...read anti-ideal...neo-pragmatic), our language accumulates and absorps the paradoxes and contradictory politics ironing out all creases and serving up a mass of jargon strung up discursively that could be served anywhere else. i dont see what Verb's obsession is, why it differs to Volume for instance. Both express the same desire to ..well be exciting and dynamic in their explorations...and both are completely subservient to the dominant trends of de mode architectural thought. There is no eccentricity, no oddness, no jarring..the same thoughts, the same trends, the same passive subservient journalistic disposition towards all these... there will be something that just brings out recognition. This does not only typify the answers the verb editors have supplied, but the questions the archinect editors have posed. It is ironic to read this again colomina+students exhibition of reactionary magazines...or is it?
Question: Is the clip/stamp/fold exhibition just what it pretends to be...or is it more insiduously a display of reification, gathering all the little trojan horses and displaying them as now-benign toy horses on par with any other merchandise circulating exhibition halls.
and why has lebbeus woods not suffered the libeskind syndrome..and instead has silently been rendered somewhat retro and/or obsolete and can that be a position of power in times to come?
what are you defining the libeskind syndrome as? does it differ from the hadid syndrome or the morphosis syndrome?
The entirety of this thread/feature brings up an important topic I think needs more discussion on. John Jourdan and Michael Kubo briefly discussed the idea of being able to criticize something, or the ability to make counter-proposals. I think these recent features (of "Featured Discussions") that Paul/John/Mason have brought us begin to create a new form of architectural discourse. Such, discussions, forums, and blogs have always existed and created some form of discourse.. but when the threads are bringing in people like Mark Wigley in the Volume discussion, and the editors of Verb, it creates a brand new form of media and discourse-- that to which the everyday public can contribute to.
It's been recently seen, though not as structured or monitored like this thread, in Quilian Riano's thread Anti-Starchitecture Chic where he beings a post-article discussion on Philip Nobel's rant in a recent Metropolis article. This now allows the public to come back and respond to a once-forced architectural opinion. Only, however, if Nobel surfed Archinect and participated in the thread would it truly have an effect other than just another forum.
John asked two important questions, "Are architecture publications now days just there to support the ideas without a critique? Are we all living in fear of damaging the appearances that architecture maintains about itself?" I think Verb needs to create that blog (Verblog) Kubo spoke of, in order to bring the public into the private ideas of the books and magazines to create this needed critique. I think Paul and the rest of the contributors on Archinect need to create more of these great Featured Discussions, and invite/ask the original contributors to come back and engage themselves in the public discussion. Imagine if Rem or FOA posted their ideas behind a project and then received public critiques to which they responded and discussed.. this would create a completely new method of discourse. A public discourse.
Of course, however.. the reality of the situation requires constant monitoring on Paul's (or the like) part. The mdlers of the internet keep these forums to the public, and that's it. You would never see Wigley, Ferre, or Kubo posting in the "WTF!?" thread.
i have a question re "which to my mind is one of the best exhibitions on architectural publications to have come out in a long time"
i don't think there's been another exhibition on architectural publications in a long time. Seriously, name the second and third best exhibitions on architectural publications.
Same source as the Tinhat Movement.
I think that I would like more thoughts on the connection between the monographs and the boogazines. The projects chosen (Yokohama, Seattle, Sendai) have had lots of material published on them already and the epics that you describe do not seem entirely specific only to these projects. I like the case study idea to support ideas, but it seems to me that they are more successful when they tackle issues from unexpected perspectives, at a larger scale, and that can include items from popular culture (like the one you did on the American desert).
Perhaps my future "peace" will be entitled The Agonizing Demise of the Curatorial Editors.
FOA's umraniye project in istanbul.
it was laughable when moussavi presented the project and their 'deep' analysis of the major city came down to terra cotta, 'brown' roofs of the 'gecekondu' buildings in the city and the color of topkapi palace being 'green.'
bingo! a high concept was born...
do they (foa) discriminately value judge a culture, let's say their immaculate work in yokohoma and barcelona versus
color scheme-mated brilliance elsewhere.
just wondering, if verb take notice of small mishaps like this?
is there a real deep analysis in it?
i think, global project paddling is a big crisis point.
i will look for a copy verb asap i would think hennessey+ingalls carries it.
i just inserted this personal knowledge about a firm that the publishing world brags about.
let me just add and clearify, above mentioned depiction of "a" 'crisis point' via globaly sought after architects and the clientale, is not limited to FOA, of course.
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