looking at architecture journals from the 1930s, i was recently struck by how important the ‘letters to the editor’ section was. getting a letter published by the journal was a way of participating in the conversation, and the only requirement was that your letter be interesting and relevant—according to the standards of each journal of course.
compare with two recent pieces of architecture news that have recently generated conversation in the blogosphere [i am annoyed by this word but i can’t explain why and can’t think of an alternative]: bruce nussbaum’s piece on design imperialism [see design observer’s digest of the conversation here] and vanity fair’s world architecture survey, countered by architect magazine’s lance hosey’s g-list survey [green, get it?], countered by christopher hawthorne’s critique of the critique.
what interests me here is not the content of these conversations, but the fact that they can take place in the first place. the most common critique of blogs is usually their immediateness—posts are unstudied, un-researched, off-the-cuff observations. well, perhaps some of them are, but it’s worth clarifying that blogs come in all shapes and sizes. while some are as ephemeral as a shallow vanity piece on a flavor-of-the-month architect, others allow conversations like the ones above to take place. furthermore, these are only two very high-profile examples of some very popular media sites—fast company and vanity fair are hardly ‘blogs.’ in this sense a much better example of cross-archi-blog dialogue is the excellent mammoth book club [confession: i haven’t participated because i haven’t read the book]. but in all cases, the advantage is the open nature of conversation. not only can i choose to comment on any of these conversations, i can also comment with a link to a longer blog post. i can, as it where, include myself into the conversation. who knows, if my post is particularly insightful someone might respond [comment moderation filters out the chatter that deters dialogue in forum discussions].
what does this mean for architecture critique? a wider net is cast for voices from different parts of the globe, for information to be shared, but most importantly, for a share in the conversation. although i’m not being naive about the great disadvantages large areas of the world still have in terms of access to bandwidth, web conversations do have a greater reach than paper journals, which ultimately are prohibitively expensive outside of a certain range, and are still limited by print schedules. it is the web’s openness to dialogue that i find ultimately the most exciting opportunity for architecture. as opposed to a themed journal, where authors do not read each others submissions until the release, blog conversations can grow and change: they can be immediate, but they can also last, fall asleep for a while, and wake up again—sometimes even years later.
finally, and regarding inclusiveness: the lamentations for the loss of print often forget the exclusionary nature of material objects [i mean, i thought we’d all read benjamin by now—given how many complain about his work of art text being over-read, i’m amazed at how many people seem to plain not get it]. the materiality of objects comes with a high price tag: i don’t care if your journal is free there, i will not be able to read it here. that is great for you, but your conversation will remain local, or regional, or limited to the global few who can afford you—it’s your loss. the nostalgia for objects ignores their exclusive nature. the digital does not have such limitations. people who can afford to, can keep lamenting the waning of objects. the rest of us will download as much information as we can.