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Alphabet Soup

Archizines at the AA: a celebration of the continuing and increasing role that magazines play in contemporary architectural culture

Against the wider backstory of the digital age inevitably triumphing over old-fashioned print media, the current exhibition at the Architectural Association is a celebration of the continuing and increasing role that magazines play in contemporary architectural culture. As if to reinforce its point, the show has itself apparently grown out of its origins on the internet. Set up as a website (archizines.com) to showcase architectural fanzines, journals and magazines from the last decade, this online collection has now materialised in the AA Front Members’ Room.

Or rather, a small slice of it has. The creator of the website Elias Redstone has selected about 60 examples of architectural magazines from over 20 countries.Placed alphabetically along a series of ply trestles, exhibits range from the amateur (stapled zines produced on university photocopiers, handed out to friends) to the professional (expensive journals with international distribution and readers in the many thousands).

The titles are engaging and beautifully presented. It was pleasing to see old favourites such as Princeton University’s Pidgin Magazine, Italian collective Salottobuono’s San Rocco, and the Milanese-based ‘everyday life interiors magazine’ Apartamento. There are several more unusual publications, such as the Chinese What About It? and Scottish mat.zine − a ‘rapid publishing exercise’ by students at the University of Dundee’s MArch programme, which stands apart in the way its authors treated the zine format almost as a collaborative research studio.

Archizines at the AA

Archizines at the AA: a celebration of the continuing and increasing role that magazines play in contemporary architectural culture

However, elsewhere the selection appears somewhat uneven. For instance, Log, undeniably at the summit of architectural journals (published by Cynthia Davidson’s Anyone Corporation) is present, while the equally hard-hitting Grey Room (published by MIT Press since 2000 and edited by Reinhold Martin and Felicity D Scott, among others) is absent. Circulated worldwide, the Dutch magazines Mark and Volume appear, whereas the British Icon and German 032c do not.

Moreover, the simple alphabetisation of the exhibition display suggests a lack of critical organisation. It begs the question of how the publications were selected for the archive in the first place. Was the process passive or active? Were editors solicited, or did they volunteer their works for inclusion? Without any obvious restriction on format, content or location, the only apparent condition is the first publication date.

Yet looking around the show was a young architect who had submitted a collaborative zine, which had been rejected for appearing ‘too pornographic’. Although the cover did have a naked woman on it, the actual articles were as intellectually rigorous as you would expect from any professional academic journal − if the Italians had been so prudish, Superstudio would never have got started. There is clearly a curatorial agenda at work, but it remains opaque, or at least undeclared.

Archizines indeed features some of the finest contemporary architectural publications − although in a sense, I would have expected the definition of ‘alternative publishing’ to cut off at a rather lower level of global distribution and finance than presented in this show. By being neither comprehensive nor visibly curated, the exhibition assumes the feel of a printed-out blog: somewhat lacking in filtration and direction.

Creating an exhaustive list of architectural publications is practically impossible, but as Archizines’ collection continues to grow it will certainly become a valuable historical snapshot of architectural publishing in the early 21st century. However, its ultimate weakness may be that in neither format is it truly satisfactory: the website only displays the publications’ front covers, while the limited selection at the AA does not do justice to the impressive extent of the archive.

In this way, the actual collection is forever hidden from the viewer, neither complete online nor in the exhibition space. In its translation from actual, to virtual, to actual again, something has been lost along the way. With its creation of unfulfilled desire, perhaps Archizines’ greatest potential role would be as an online retailer, rather than a repository?

Archizines

Where: Architectural Association, London

When: Until 14 December

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