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.

[What Remains of| THE “IMPROVISATORY, ANTI-SMOOTH, FUNNY-FORMAT” PERIODICALS OF THE 60S AND 70S

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[t] 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]

[TEXT FROM OUTTAKE #2 WOULD HAVE GONE HERE. HERE ARE THE FINAL LINES OF THE LAST PARAGRAPH:

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.

X

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., http://www.actar.com. 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 ReviewsWordsinspace.net (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, http://www.nytimes.com.

[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….”

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