Print publishing just keeps on going no matter how much we proclaim its demise. A trip to my local bookshops reveals a fresh crop of smart, independent magazines; none of them raking it in, of course, but all of them indubitably there. No, it is not publishing that we should spare a thought for, but editing. Society has little patience for it and the internet little need for it. The web has reversed the publishing paradigm. Instead of content in search of space we now have infinite space in search of content: “Content is king.” The web can’t get enough of it but why whittle and winnow like those finicky editors of old? Just spray it on there, buddy.
So what to make of the claim that editors, and not architects themselves, are “the real makers of modern architectural culture”? It’s an assertion made by Brett Steele, the chairman of the Architectural Association, in his preface to 20/20: Editorial Takes on Architectural Discourse. He is thinking of those 20th-century mavericks whose ideas lived on paper before they were concrete. Often, like Le Corbusier and Gio Ponti or, later on, Peter Cook and Peter Eisenman, they were editors themselves. As if to prove Steele’s point, there is now a book dedicated to that latter generation and their editorial efforts. Clip Stamp Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X to 197X is the bumper follow-up to the travelling exhibition that showed off original copies of Archigram, Oppositions, Global Tools and ArSE, along with many other pamphlets and journals by a thriving avant-garde.
In 20/20, the editors of what the AA considers to be the most important architecture magazines today answer (or mainly don’t answer) 20 questions about what they do. With the exception of Mark, which trades in glossy architectural porn and whose editor supplies an advertorial rather an analysis (“It is okay to read … but a magazine should first seduce”), these are all academic journals with tiny circulations. Log, Harvard Design Magazine, Volume, AA Files (the only representative from the UK, while the Netherlands has five) and the rest are respectable journals of record, full of thoughtful writing, or what their editors call “critical dialogue”. How much do they reflect architectural production today? Not very much.
The elephant in the room for 20/20 is the internet. Haig Beck and Jackie Cooper of Ume 21 admit that architects mainly read architecture magazines “to find ideas for their own designs”. Today, much of their quarry is found online, yet the AA declined to include editors from online magazines such as ArchDaily or Dezeen. You can see why: they reflect the web at its most post-critical. With neither rolling news feeds nor blogs representing “editing” in the classical sense, the book falls back on academic journals, the most conservative form of print culture available.
This is a paradox seeing how we lionise the little magazines of the 1960s and 70s. Clip Stamp Fold tracks down their makers and interviews them at length about their mimeograph machines and their cheeky displays of Pop-infused, soixant-huitard attitude. It’s all so deeply, understandably, rewardingly nostalgic. These magazines weren’t even always that radical. ArSE’s editor, David Wild, describes Archigram (the magazine and the group) as “a rip off of Russian constructivism, but without the politics”. How we ache now for some of that spirit of resistance, for the idea of the pamphlet, for the sense of solidarity that came with groups and collectives producing their own magazines, whether it was Archigram in Britain, or Radical Architecture in Italy or Utopie in France.
Where are the groups today? What is the equivalent of the pamphlets? As Cynthia Davidson, the editor of Log puts it, architecture is “ideologically adrift”. Its culture – society itself – has become atomised. If in the 60s it was still a radical idea that your wildest speculations could be architecture, by the early 2000s it had become a tedious reality of digital culture. The web is a source of instant images, of renderings and superficial radicality. If the mainstream is surface-oriented, then perhaps the only counter-culture available to us is the in-depth and ponderous. Academic journals are apparently the “little magazines” we deserve.
20/20: Editorial Takes on Architectural Discourse. Edited by Kirk Wooller. Architectural Association. £10
Clip Stamp Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X to 197X. Edited by Beatriz Colomina and Craig Buckley. Actar. £40
20/20 Clip Stamp Fold