Writing Architecture

While to my surprise this blog was included in Abitare’s must-read list for the beginning of 2011 – courtesy of Fabrizio Gallanti – it is also rewarding to see that  “writing architecture” is really making it to the current architectural agenda.

Yesterday, for instance, the coming director of Domus, Joseph Grima, has just hosted a debate on “Critical Futures” at The Gopher Hole, in London. The usual suspects have expectedly wrapped up the current discussion opposing traditional media to the blogosphere, and “legitimate” to “emergent” modes of criticism.

And while next month I’m also suspiciously flying to Canada to participate on yet another debate on the practice of “writing architecture” – to be held on the 10th February at the CCA, in Montreal –, from the other side of the world an academic journal just landed on my desk which addresses this very same subject.

In an unusual timely manner – for an academic publication, that is – Naomi Stead and Lee Stickells guest-edited the last installment of the Australian-based Architectural Theory Review, dedicating their special issue to “the role and medium of writing as an architectural practice, and the objects and actions of written architectural criticism.”

From the somewhat dominant feminist perspective to the less “respectable,” yet increasingly attractive, popular domain of the comic novel analysis, or from another revision of Tafuri to the now inevitable revisit of the increasingly appreciated “little magazines”, the edition covers a lot of interesting ground, while it keeps good track of many backdrop discussions in the field.

After all, it must be noted that if there is something in which academic writing is fertile it is in offering “references.” And if it is good, as is generally the case in this instance, academic writing will also at least offer some novel, personal insights into that vast, loveable yet anxious archive of what one can call influence.

Following on a conference held in Brisbane over the Summer of 2009, the papers presented in the journal are particularly revealing, at least in my view, when they are struggling with the limits and conventions of architectural criticism, both in an academic or media setting – as is the case of Karen Burn’s Benjaminian unpacking of her own library to dig out how writing may indeed play “the silent other to architecture.”

Faced with an apparent, ever-lasting crisis of architectural criticism that ultimately and hopefully may prequel this activity’s rebirth, issues of the conventions – and subsequent relevance – of what gets to be written, still seem what people should be concerned about, and what Beyond was lead to question with its “experimental” take on the fictional approach to writing architecture.

And this justly leads me onto another book that was awaiting my proper attention in between piles of relevant information debris.


In my opening editorial for Beyond I had already spoken of “a passion for concise story-telling” and Once upon a Time… Monsterpieces of the 2000 is probably the first book in recent times to bring this notion forth to its next level.

Taking as their starting point “the major works of a generation obsessed with architectural form,” as invited essayist Jonathan D. Solomon puts it, at their best young authors and recent Harvard graduates Aude-Line Duliere and Clara Wong provide wonderfully crafted micro-narratives that ironically twist your usual, expected description of a building.

As if entering the realm of archeological fiction, Duliere and Wong’s conflation of narrative illustration with profoundly mad tales directly enters the realm of my present interests: to understand how absurd narratives actually provide a more open, cultural deconstruction of architectural objects.

These alternative writing strategies may prove especially appealing when the objects we’re talking about can no longer claim for a proper meaning within the crumbling critical systems in which specialists are left talking amongst themselves… And will eventually get bored stiff doing it.

2 responses to “Writing Architecture

  1. Most appealing about this book is its title. Just as Masterpieces were created by masters , perhaps these form hungry projects were created by Monsters?

  2. Pingback: Salon des Refusés #01 | shrapnel contemporary

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