Impact 2.0, Unit Editions 2017

Impact 1.0 and 2.0
Edited by Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy, Unit Editions

For their latest 2-volume book, Impact 1.0 and 2.0, Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy interviewed James Biber about the impact that magazines and journals have had on him and his professional career.

What do you look for in an architectural magazine/journal?

A few dichotomous things:

Speed/Depth: the ability to read it in seconds, or the invitation to read it in depth. These tend to be, for me, mutually exclusive. If I am looking for a quick read it is rare for me to return to the magazine for longer articles. Are they books or are they flashcards? Both work for different reasons, at different times.

Focus/Range: either a very narrow focus on a specific topic/aspect/phenomena/designer/idea or a breadth that goes beyond architecture. Someone quoted me recently as saying “‘Being better at architecture means doing more than architecture’, which is rather clever even if I don’t remember saying it! I am interested in either near limitless depth, or a range that extends far beyond just architecture.

Pictures/Words: we live and work in a visual world, and sometimes all we want or need are images. They may not provide a full backstory but when one visits a building (corporeally or virtually) there is rarely a narration explaining the architect’s ideas. As teachers we always tell students ‘but you won’t be there to explain that’. But words matter and real text, with or without images, provide the connecting tissue that purely visual ideas don’t.

What were the first American architectural magazines that caught your attention?

Progressive Architecture was the Bible when I was in school and early practice. UK mags were more interesting: AD and Arch Review were both great (AD was at one point edited by Theo Crosby, later my partner at Pentagram, with Monica Pidgeon) as were Blueprint and Wallpaper later.

Journals like Perspecta (Yale) and similar ones from Penn and Harvard were the intellectual’s choice. And Oppositions was the smart journal from the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies. Plus Massimo Vignelli designed it!

El Croquis, A+U and similar special, mostly monographic, journals are the ‘fast books’ of the industry. And of course there was, and is, Domus and Lotus and Casabella and Ottagano and...

Which magazines/journals offer the best content for contemporary practicing architects?

Almost anything but the standards.

And there are many newspaper journalists (Michael Kimmelman, Alice Rawsthorn, Deyan Sudjic) offering thoughtful perspectives on architecture.

Plus Log, Clog, Uncube, Cultured, act more like periodical books than magazines.

And that doesn’t even crack the blog world

Finally there is Twitter and other snippets for the attention challenged and Instagram for the visually inclined.

Historically, which are the most important USA architectural magazines - and which non-USA ones do you admire?

See above

How would you categorise the state of architectural journalism today - bearing in mimd the dominance of the internet as an unregulated space for commentary and critique?

There is now a fine grained gradation of architecture journalism, online and in print, ranging from the daily reports issued by Arch Newspaper, Architizer, Arch Daily, to the weekly summaries of Fast Company, CLAD, Azure, Dezeen, to more permanent weekly, monthly and quarterly print reviews. Most publications profess medium agnosticism and will take your attention no matter how they get it.

While I was once all about paper (even going as far as memorializing my books in our glass “Book Cube”) I admit that I read the New York Times almost exclusively online (though it is delivered in paper) and the same is true for architecture pubs. Without consciously collecting them I now have screens from iPhone to iPad min to iPad pro to laptops and desktop machines. 5 different sizes each in vivid color. And aggregators like Apple News have become my shortcut to everything I want to skim.

At some point in the 1980’s architecture became fashionable and was expected to move at the speed of fashion. Publications have finally caught up.

And while it is easy to say that the short form has shortened thinking and that computers have replaced hand-eye drawing coordination, architecture is better than ever. It is more interesting than ever and more discussed than I can remember and more relevant than it has been in decades. Publications are in large part responsible for this. Most architecture is seen by most people in images, not live and in person, and publications of every medium are where we all find those images.