Monday, March 31, 2008

Walter Mitty: Architect & Blogger

The demands of everyday professional practice all but preclude engaging in critical architectural discourse. As architects we are trained to look at the big picture, but too often find ourselves immersed in the banality of details, so much so that we lose sight of why we became architects in the first place. My own efforts to craft the next great manifesto on architecture are stillborn, having succumbed repeatedly to the need to work out another handrail detail, certify that application for payment, or prepare a consultant’s agreement. I know what I do is important, but it’s hard to picture that Le Corbusier was similarly distracted by concerns about a project’s front-yard setback requirement when he was writing Vers une Architecture. I like to think I could channel the spirit of the hero architects and find a similar, pompous voice that could provocatively declare “Architecture or Revolution” and pull it off. But of course, my career has been more Walter Mitty than Walter Gropius, more ordinary than fantastic.

Just as the Internet has leveled the playing field between large multinational corporations with offices worldwide and small business that are run out of a basement, blogs have provided equal access for everyone to the bully pulpit. A blog is a terrific platform from which to persuasively advocate an agenda. When I originally decided to write my blog, it was primarily to report news of interest to the AIA-SWO membership. I regarded it somewhat like an obligation, a duty I could perform as a member of the chapter’s board of directors. After one short month of blogging, I’ve already discovered that there are side benefits:

  • Blogging is good exercise: If you don’t take the ole gray matter out for a healthy stroll every now and then, it has a tendency to get soft and flabby.
  • Blogging has rekindled my interest in architectural theory and commentary.
  • Blogging introduces you to a larger community of shared interests.

Blogs on architecture, as reported in the November 2007 issue of ARCHITECT magazine, have largely supplanted the small, erudite print journals that found much of their material and audience amongst architectural scholars during the mid to latter part of the last century. As a student, I remember reading publications such as Perspecta and Oppositions, which struck me at the time as entirely too esoteric and academic but nonetheless impressive because of the way they elevated architectural discussion. Blogs aren’t as a rule subject to peer review, and thus they’re nowhere near as rigorous or discriminating as these publications were. Nevertheless, they have become the forum of choice for many serious (and not-so-serious) observers of architecture, who are attracted to the immediacy and accessibility of the medium.

I was surprised to find so many blogs about architecture—there must be hundreds of them, originating from all over the world. Many are written by architects. Many others are authored by non-architects, online pundits who are simply architectural enthusiasts bringing their unique perspectives to the topic of environmental design and building. Still others are the work of professional journalists for whom writing about architecture is a paying job. I’ve perused only a few of these many blogs, but those I’ve found particularly interesting are ones that I have listed in my “Sites of Interest” (located in the sidebar at right). These include A Daily Dose of Architecture, which also serves as a useful portal to dozens of other blogs about architecture. Portland Architecture is the work of Brian Libby, a freelance journalist who often writes about architecture for The Oregonian. My current favorite is Notes on Becoming a Famous Architect. I’m not quite sure if the authors of this blog are fond of architects or if they find us unbearably vain and pretentious. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter; regardless, the site’s sardonic humor is worth a look and chuckle. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Architecture Week, which is a widely-read online magazine (and thus not exactly blog-like) with its roots in Eugene: Kevin Matthews is editor-in-chief, and our own Dave Guadagni, AIA, is responsible for the Architecture Puzzler feature in each week’s edition.

I sense that the proliferation of blogs is about to reach critical mass and that we’re on the verge of a renaissance in architectural thinking spurred by the writings of an ardent group of bloggers. Widespread access to the Internet has created a new incentive to publish manifestos about architecture and the built environment, with the knowledge that there is an instant potential worldwide audience. And so it is that SW Oregon Architect has serendipitously armed me with a voice for my arrogant hero-architect alter ego. That great manifesto might yet be heard. Then again, my blog may amount to no more than the not-so-secret ramblings of an ineffectual dreamer.

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