New City Reader and Beyond 11.08.11

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The internet means we can no longer take print for granted. Perversely, this had meant a mini-boom in small print titles meant as fetish objects or celebration of the medium itself.

The New City Reader is a project by Kazys Varnelis, director of the network architecture lab at Columbia University and Joseph Grima, incoming editor of the magazine Domus. It was published weekly to coincide with the New Museum exhibition The Last Newspaper, an elegaic look at print culture as it is sundered and transformed by the digital Rapture. As an object as well as a project, the New City Reader revels in the deviant lo-fi pleasures of printiness. The cheap ink coats the hands, an unslick black slick; the large sheets are cumbersome. It is not meant to be read conventionally, but to be pasted to a wall, the earliest and most basic form of mass-market news dissemination. This contrivance roots it firmly in the broader tradition of the newspaper (away from the corporate present) as well as in the radical tradition of the alternative music press and Hunter S Thompson's Aspen wallposters.

Each Reader is assembled by a guest editor under a simple theme, linked to a section of the newspaper: "sports", "food", "obituaries", "small ads". But rigorous editing keeps each disparate edition focused on the city and public space. Most of the pieces are delicious morsels in the manner of The Believer or the better parts of Design Observer. Cumulatively, the New City Reader has the feel of a stealth classic – a snapshot of a moment in architectural, media and urban culture that will be fiercely sought-after in years to come. Or you can read it online now. The irony.

Beyond is very different – small format, hifi production, very European, put out by Dutch architectural publisher SUN. Edited by the architect Pedro Gadanho, it is the first magazine devoted to architectural fiction – or, as the masthead puts it, "short stories for the post-contemporary". In dozens of forms – including the Thrilling Wonder Stories strand of talks, Branko Lukic's whimsical fantasy monograph Nonobject (Icon 092), and Icon's own fiction issue (080) – fiction and speculation have emerged as strands of design criticism and architectural methodology that demand attention.

As Gadanho says, "Architecture itself is a form of fiction: each design necessarily operates on the basis of speculations, presumptions and scenarios." Lending the first three issues their literary credibility are novelists Bruce Sterling and Douglas Coupland; otherwise contributions come from architects and critics including Shumon Basar, Aaron Betsky, François Roche, Mockitecture and Icon contributors Sam Jacob and Kieran Long.

The presiding literary saint of the project is, naturally, the late novelist JG Ballard. Recurring themes are the decline of Europe into corporate gangster desuetude and the bolder, hostile urbanisms of the emerging economies. Dubai, the most fictional real place in the world, looms large. The literary form is now well established; more excursions out of these dystopian comfort zones would be welcome.

But the digital is knocking. Of course this recent minor flowering of print culture has outgrowths online. The new site Archi Zines (www.archizines.com) is a catalogue and showcase for, as the name suggests, architecture zines. Its attractive and pleasing interface makes it a diverting treat, as well as a perfect expression of the flawless, touchless, weightless digiculture that beckons. AZ has plans to harness the zines and corral them into exhibitions. Watch that space.

New City Reader edited by Kazys Varnelis and Joseph Grima, $35 for a full run. www.newcityreader.net.

Beyond edited by Pedro Gadanho, SUN, €19.90. www.sunarchitecture.nl.

 

Image

New City Reader and Beyond

 

Words

William Wiles

quotes story

The cheap ink coats the hands, an unslick black slick; the large sheets are cumbersome

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