Publishing to the power of two

The digital revolution has spawned a new generation of small, agile and hyperactive publishers who, over the last decade, have profoundly transformed how architecture and design are broadcast, both in print and online.

This article was originally published in Domus 961 / September 2012

In Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame , Claude Frollo looks from a printed book to the cathedral building and utters his famous phrase, "Ceci tuera cela " ("This will kill that"). Where once predictions ranged from the utopian to the apocalyptic, we now see an online world that sits alongside the physical world, and similarly fateful proclamations concerning the effect of online architectural publishing on print media have long since passed. In lieu of predictions of one supplanting the other, we see a reality in which distinctions between the two are increasingly blurred. The cacophony of viewpoints, ideas and juxtapositions may still exist, but from this are emerging increasingly hybrid voices and groups, and new forms of publishing conceived as media for conveying architectural and political ideas, rather than as endpoints in themselves.

Driving this new, complex definition of publishing is the widespread access to new technologies— something that has opened the door to a new understanding of what the word "readership" actually means. Contemporary audiences are well versed in receiving information via a variety of media, but reading is not enough: as well as navigating and selecting content, they expect to be able to contribute their own thoughts, ideas, variations and objections. But the impact of new technologies goes well beyond the ubiquitous reach and accessibility of blogs: it extends to short print- run books, global distribution networks, e-publishing, and so on. The thrill of the new isn't enough to hold our interest; increasingly we expect online platforms to be just one of the many tentacled operations of creative practitioners, with overspills between the physical and virtual worlds. Such is the case with Designboom , the first online architecture magazine by foundation date and number of readers, which organises architecture conferences and young talent exhibitions worldwide. Even Dezeen , once considered the epitome of rapid response online design publishing, has evolved into something much more complex, developing into a lifestyle brand that extends into the physical world with pop-up stores and exhibitions.
Top: Having worked for a long time as designers and product managers for companies and architectural practices, 
Birgit Lohmann and Massimo Mini created <a href="http://www.designboom.com/eng/" target="_blank">Designboom</a> in 1999. Their head office is in Milan, and during the 
summer months they relocate Designboom to a temporary office in an undisclosed seaside location in Sardinia. 
Designboom has a permanent work team, made up of architects and designers from around the world who select 
and publish information and articles on art, architecture and design. 
Above: Designboom publishes the latest press releases and topical readers’ proposals, as well as journalistic reports 
conducted by its own staff. Every year Designboom co-organises four to six design competitions with large international 
corporations. Alongside the English edition, over the years four Asian versions of Designboom have also been 
established in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.
Top: Having worked for a long time as designers and product managers for companies and architectural practices, Birgit Lohmann and Massimo Mini created Designboom in 1999. Their head office is in Milan, and during the summer months they relocate Designboom to a temporary office in an undisclosed seaside location in Sardinia. Designboom has a permanent work team, made up of architects and designers from around the world who select and publish information and articles on art, architecture and design. Above: Designboom publishes the latest press releases and topical readers’ proposals, as well as journalistic reports conducted by its own staff. Every year Designboom co-organises four to six design competitions with large international corporations. Alongside the English edition, over the years four Asian versions of Designboom have also been established in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.
The ease of exchanging information on the Internet allows individuals to engage in collective intellectual works of unprecedented scale. At the same time, seemingly collaborative modes of publishing are also a means for individual, previously hidden voices to gain voice and exposure, as in the case of Ethel Baraona Pohl and her partner César Reyes Nájera, who describe their endeavours at dpr-barcelona as the happy by-product of frustration. Perennially interested in the layers that technology adds to discursive and physical space, their occasional contributions to journals were the only outlet for critical thinking outside the studio; larger bodies of research encountered rejection and huge delays within slow-moving institutionalised channels.
Future Plural is an
independent curatorial unit,
research lab and umbrella for
creative collaboration founded
in 2009 by husband-and-wife
team Geoff Manaugh and
Nicola Twilley, together with
Alexander Trevi. Its activities
include the production of
seminars, studios, events,
publications, installations and
exhibitions that investigate
spatial questions
Future Plural is an independent curatorial unit, research lab and umbrella for creative collaboration founded in 2009 by husband-and-wife team Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley, together with Alexander Trevi. Its activities include the production of seminars, studios, events, publications, installations and exhibitions that investigate spatial questions
Their experimental (and at the time innovative) digital publications pioneered new models of self- and collaborative publishing, experimenting with platforms that allow texts to be collectively manipulated by an online community. But the most rapidly-expanding branch of their company, dpr-barcelona, is short-print-run architecture books: no mean feat if one considers the crisis in book publishing (just five months ago, the famed Swiss design publisher Birkhäuser was placed in administration).
Many small-scale emerging ventures deal with the communal, hyperlocal or niche terrains, and are often run by couples
Geoff Manaugh is the sole author
of the widely-read blog
BLDGBLOG, a platform that
gives voice to his reflections,
interviews and essays on
architecture, landscape and
all things concerning the
built environment: from
airports and shopping
centres to action movies,
videogames like Bioshock,
prison camps and shelters
for giant sequoias. <em>Edible

Geography</em>, authored by
Nicola Twilley, adopts a
geographer’s approach to
the science of food. Venue, a
travelling project launched by
Future Plural in early June,
will explore remote locations
and visit people of interest
scattered across North
America, and report on
them on and offline
Geoff Manaugh is the sole author of the widely-read blog BLDGBLOG, a platform that gives voice to his reflections, interviews and essays on architecture, landscape and all things concerning the built environment: from airports and shopping centres to action movies, videogames like Bioshock, prison camps and shelters for giant sequoias. Edible Geography , authored by Nicola Twilley, adopts a geographer’s approach to the science of food. Venue, a travelling project launched by Future Plural in early June, will explore remote locations and visit people of interest scattered across North America, and report on them on and offline
Such a free exchange of ideas is not without its problems, however. At present, the virtual environment is a Wild West of sorts, in which the value of labour and production remains an arbitrarily defined quantity , and universal paradigms regulating attribution, control and agency are as yet absent. Many of the most successful emerging ventures in architectural discourse borrow on traditional modes of production: they are often concerned with hyper-specific or niche terrains. They are small, agile and, in keeping with the cottage-industry low-overhead model, a disproportionate number are run by couples.
Specialising in architecture
and design, dprbarcelona was set up in Barcelona
by architects Ethel Baraona
Pohl and César Reyes
Nájera. Under the motto
“Beyond books. Between art,
science and architecture”,
their catalogue includes
monographs, documentation
of buildings, historical
studies, collections of essays
and degree theses. All dprbarcelona’s
books spring from
a creative exchange between
publisher, author or architect,
and feature contributions
by academic experts who
complete the overview of
each project
Specialising in architecture and design, dprbarcelona was set up in Barcelona by architects Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera. Under the motto “Beyond books. Between art, science and architecture”, their catalogue includes monographs, documentation of buildings, historical studies, collections of essays and degree theses. All dprbarcelona’s books spring from a creative exchange between publisher, author or architect, and feature contributions by academic experts who complete the overview of each project
Writing in a recent issue of MAS Context —a scholarly Chicago-based journal produced by "the [invited] crowd", available both in print and for free low-resolution download — Javier Arbona aims to conceptualise knowledge-sharing and the rebroadcasting of content. He does this not in the context of privacy, authority and intellectual rights, but rather more interestingly in post-Fordist notions of labour. "Through a series of virtual devices common to most blogs (like 'apps' for quick reposting, emailing, retweeting, bookmarking on other sites, or, say, 'sharing' on Facebook, etc.), the work chores of circulating content are hidden by what seem like benign, abstract socio-communal acts."
Dpr-barcelona’s
wide-ranging activity covers
a multitude of formats and
platforms, convinced of print
media’s great value but aware
of their readers’ new
necessities and uses.
They therefore accommodate
e-books, tablet apps and
hybridisations of various
media with interactions
through Augmented Reality.
Reyes Nájera deals mainly
with publications related
to bioclimatic architectural
projects, while Baraona
Pohl collaborates with
architectural magazines
and sites as well as curating
exhibitions and events (she
is associate curator of the
Istanbul Design Biennial
due to open in October)
Dpr-barcelona’s wide-ranging activity covers a multitude of formats and platforms, convinced of print media’s great value but aware of their readers’ new necessities and uses. They therefore accommodate e-books, tablet apps and hybridisations of various media with interactions through Augmented Reality. Reyes Nájera deals mainly with publications related to bioclimatic architectural projects, while Baraona Pohl collaborates with architectural magazines and sites as well as curating exhibitions and events (she is associate curator of the Istanbul Design Biennial due to open in October)
Arguably, the simultaneous growth of DIY publishing and ground-up activism have resulted in the conflation of civic and political rights with the spatial, civic and architectural locale. In the online output of architects and architectural writers, such as This Is Not A Gateway , or in new event formats such as Venue (the "live" and peripatetic collaboration between Geoff Manaugh and his partner Nicola Twilley, from BLDGBLOG and Edible Geography respectively), one can see a direct opposition to existing capitalised forms of production, and a more grass-roots activist stance in terms of engaging with urban and landscape problems through publications, events, artistic platforms and more. Perhaps in this light, some argue that even the most prolific "news" sites have critical, even political impact by virtue of their mere existence and reach.
Based in Berlin, Ruby Press
is a small independent publisher
specialised in architecture
and urban planning. It was
founded in 2008 by Ilka and
Andreas Ruby (an architect
and an art and architecture
historian, respectively) with
the aim of pursuing their
own editorial line after eight
years working as authors and
publishers with their company
textbild (www.textbild.
com)
Based in Berlin, Ruby Press is a small independent publisher specialised in architecture and urban planning. It was founded in 2008 by Ilka and Andreas Ruby (an architect and an art and architecture historian, respectively) with the aim of pursuing their own editorial line after eight years working as authors and publishers with their company textbild (www.textbild. com)
By disseminating architectural news to a wider audience than ever before, they shift access to knowledge from the hands of geographically marginal elites into the realm of the "real world". David Basulto — a qualified architect, teacher and co-founder of ArchDaily (the self-proclaimed "most popular architecture website today") based in Santiago, Chile — maintains, for example, that reaching a "housewife" demographic is intrinsic to his cause.
The book that marked
the start of their business,
and which exemplifies their
editorial approach, is <em>Urban
Transformation</em>, a kaleidoscopic
study of emerging urban
conditions worldwide. It
counts over 50 international
contributors including
architects, urban planners,
politicians and artists. Aiming
to relaunch the architectural
monograph, the Rubys
concentrate on quality books
with critical explorations and
technical apparatus. The
graphic design of all their
publications is done in close
collaboration with Leonard
Streich (a graphic designer
and architect), Elena Schütz
and Julian Schubert (both
architects)
The book that marked the start of their business, and which exemplifies their editorial approach, is Urban Transformation , a kaleidoscopic study of emerging urban conditions worldwide. It counts over 50 international contributors including architects, urban planners, politicians and artists. Aiming to relaunch the architectural monograph, the Rubys concentrate on quality books with critical explorations and technical apparatus. The graphic design of all their publications is done in close collaboration with Leonard Streich (a graphic designer and architect), Elena Schütz and Julian Schubert (both architects)
As every forward-looking action has its retrograde reaction, the rapid growth and proliferation of blogs, networks and websites has been paralleled by a more intense fascination with the physicality of print media. While much design discussion has moved online, the recent, globally roving Archizines exhibition, curated by Elias Redstone, showcased contemporary architectural fanzines and journals.
Marcus Fairs has been the
soul of Dezeen since 2006,
when he created what was
then only a design blog.
Previously he had worked
as a journalist for <em>Blueprint</em>,
<em>The Guardian</em>, <em>The Independent
on Sunday</em> and <em>Condé Nast
Traveller</em>, and had also been
editor of <em>Icon</em> since 2003.
In 2007 Rupinder Bhogal
joined him as co-editor
Marcus Fairs has been the soul of Dezeen since 2006, when he created what was then only a design blog. Previously he had worked as a journalist for Blueprint , The Guardian , The Independent on Sunday and Condé Nast Traveller , and had also been editor of Icon since 2003. In 2007 Rupinder Bhogal joined him as co-editor
This followed Beatriz Colomina's archival Clip Stamp Fold , and preceded an installation dedicated to the 20th century's great magazines at this year's Venice Biennale of Architecture. The volumes on display in all three exhibitions are vibrant matter; they have the capacity to give rise to public spheres and imagined communities. Through the act of being printed, made permanent, books and journals provide punctuation points in the apparently endless production, discussion and evolution of ideas, thus reinforcing the truism that "printed matter matters".
Fairs and Bhogal created Dezeen
Limited and expanded the
site in terms of numbers
and contributions, while
gradually adding initiatives
like the Dezeenjobs search
site in 2008, and a site in
2012 specialised in design
watches: Dezeenwatchstore.
Their latest enterprise is
Dezeenscreen, a site devoted
to videos of architecture,
design and art, launched at
this year’s Milan Furniture
Fair. Dezeen aims at the
quick-fire select publication
of the best architecture,
design and interior design
projects worldwide, thanks
to a dense network of
international collaborators
and voluntary contributions
received from professional
and other sources
Fairs and Bhogal created Dezeen Limited and expanded the site in terms of numbers and contributions, while gradually adding initiatives like the Dezeenjobs search site in 2008, and a site in 2012 specialised in design watches: Dezeenwatchstore. Their latest enterprise is Dezeenscreen, a site devoted to videos of architecture, design and art, launched at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair. Dezeen aims at the quick-fire select publication of the best architecture, design and interior design projects worldwide, thanks to a dense network of international collaborators and voluntary contributions received from professional and other sources
But the nature of architectural books is also changing. Organisational structures and layouts have become more flexible, more determined by the visual, more accommodating of non-architectural content, and increasingly employing some of the tools of online paradigms. Julien De Smedt's 2010 monograph Agenda features images of Kanye West's blog, facsimile emails and diagrams tracking office workflow, echoing the tools of Web analytics familiar to any online publisher. The publication of books from blogs — such as The BLDGBLOG Book — has also reflected the growing recognition of online discourse within traditional print media.
In 2007, Trenton Oldfield
teamed up with Deepa Naik
to establish this non-profit
organisation in London
with the aim of providing a
link between the street and
academic circles. Together
they seek to create platforms
for critical research on the
urban fabric. This Is Not A
Gateway brings to bear the
experiences and interests of its
two founders: Oldfield worked
for more than ten years in
NGOs specialising in urban
planning and cultural and
environmental programmes;
Naik collaborated with museum
organisations in the field of
art while concerning herself
with social, educational and
structural themes
In 2007, Trenton Oldfield teamed up with Deepa Naik to establish this non-profit organisation in London with the aim of providing a link between the street and academic circles. Together they seek to create platforms for critical research on the urban fabric. This Is Not A Gateway brings to bear the experiences and interests of its two founders: Oldfield worked for more than ten years in NGOs specialising in urban planning and cultural and environmental programmes; Naik collaborated with museum organisations in the field of art while concerning herself with social, educational and structural themes
Andreas Ruby, co-founder of Berlin-based offices textbild and Ruby Press , is cynical about the simple transposition between screen and page, confessing, "It's like with early cars: they all looked like horse carriages, until they found their own way." Instead, he speaks with passion and conviction about books as an enduring art form, with their own intrinsic possibilities, physically encoded in subtly corporeal nuances. Ruby Press books could be described as a reaction to the logic of the large-printrun media machine that has in recent years grown dramatically in influence within the realms of design and architecture publishing. They are characterised by attention to detail, carefully considering page size, paper weight and porosity, and exquisite graphic design—but also short print runs. Low overheads allow for agility and small scale, and small-scale publishing, in turn, legitimates not only a more finely tuned specificity and quicker production, but also a more artisanal approach and the ability to operate on lower margins.
In 2009 Oldfield and Naik set up Myrdle Court
Press as a means to support
and give visibility to their
work with the realisation of
graphically advanced books
designed for maximum
legibility, utilising high-quality
materials entrusted to local
printers and an independent
distributor. Oldfield and Naik’s
main ambition is to provide a
remedy for the chronic lack
of critical discussion, and
compensate for the reduced
credibility in the democratic
system of today’s rapidly and
chaotically expanding urban
fabrics
In 2009 Oldfield and Naik set up Myrdle Court Press as a means to support and give visibility to their work with the realisation of graphically advanced books designed for maximum legibility, utilising high-quality materials entrusted to local printers and an independent distributor. Oldfield and Naik’s main ambition is to provide a remedy for the chronic lack of critical discussion, and compensate for the reduced credibility in the democratic system of today’s rapidly and chaotically expanding urban fabrics
What one finds today, therefore, is not that online formats seek to replace or supersede printed formats. Instead, the poly-vocal, movable and interactive capacity that is most amplified in online production is actually part of a wider change affecting both print publishing and architectural production itself. Pop-cultural, even ahistorical post-modern juxtapositions, achieved in print by Banham, the Venturis, Archigram and many others before and after, have not only continued online, but also extrapolated into an ever-expanding kaleidoscope of perspectives and media. Rather than being drowned in sound, as readers we are increasingly savvy in terms of what to see and how, at what speed, in what context and on which device. Shumi Bose (@tontita00), curator and writer of architectural history and theory

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