The Space We Have
I had the pleasure of listening to the founder of SUPERFRONT, Mitch McEwen, give a talk on Feb 16th at Van Alen Books about her fledgling organization and their growing series of publications. She was making a case for "paper architecture" as a valid discourse - true, if architecture is always an act of translation from representation to built form (we are not the ones swinging the hammer), then a publication of text/drawings/ideas should garner as much weight as the drawing set from which a building is constructed. Those architects who have used publications as a polemical tool to control their legacy (Palladio, Corbusier, Superstudio, Eisenman, et al) would certainly agree. But I thought differently as a first-year graduate school student. I remember having an argument with a classmate, where I was advocating for a very "compass down" definition of an architect: as someone who builds with "real" material to form real, habitable things. Since then, informed by the implosion of the housing bubble and, even before that, the sinking feeling that most of the projects I worked on were never getting built, I have reversed this position. For architects of my generation and technological moment, the publication might be all we have. In order to put forward ideas unfettered by capital and physics, Lulu, Blurb, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook are our greenfield sites for building dreams.
So what are the natures of these documents? Mitch noted that her publications are intentionally messy, revealing the process of their realization. It is work that is tenuous, risky, and unsafe in the sense that it crushes the carefully crafted space of the academy and sullies the star-studded red carpet of glossy trade magazines. It is multifarious and unbound. As the events at the Architectural Association & Victoria & Albert Museum, and can attest, the Archizine is a real force that doesn't simply describe our reality, but create it.
David Turnbull (professor at Cooper Union and former SUPERFRONT collaborator) astutely noted that the success of these endeavors is perhaps safeguarded by their position off the exposed path. Although it devolved into a semantic argument about the word "secret," I think he used the term to mean that the internet and print-on-demand media creates a cloak under which SUPERFRONT can operate free from scrutiny, fear of mistakes, and the tyranny of failure. This is a key aspect of contemporary intellectual exploration - the web gives you the space to put it out there, hidden in plain sight (or at least within a Google-search reach). This describes the freedom I (and others) have found in keeping a blog - I am accountable to no one and everyone at the same time.
So Thank You, Dear Reader for finding yourself here, reading the words on this page, climbing the contours of my inner mind. I hope the view is fine from up there.