The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X–197X

The opening of the successful traveling exhibition Clip, Stamp, Fold in Maastricht marks a renewed interest in various forms of engagement in the field of architecture and urbanism. The exhibition, based on research by Beatriz Colomina and her Princeton students on so-called ‘little magazines’ in the 1960s and 70s, was initially staged at Storefront in New York, November 2006. (A part of this research was published in Volume 10). It has since traveled to several cities in the US and Europe, including the lesser-known architectural hubs of Oslo, Vancouver and Murcia. What is interesting about the exhibition is not only its content, but also that it is a growing archive; with every new installation, a local or regional addition is added to the core of the exhibition. In Maastricht, the extension (called ‘Staple’ so the full title becomes Clip/Stamp/Fold/Staple) is a series of Dutch magazines that fit the profile that were published from the 80s up to the present. Volume is represented in this section that was researched by Marina van Bergen.

Image Dirk van den Heuvel

With lectures by Colomina on the exhibition and by Mark Wigley on Constant’s New Babylon project (and its appearance in little and not so little magazines), and with the presentation of the latest issue of Oase dedicated to architectural criticism, the program was loaded. And somehow, the round table discussion on the current role and possibilities of little magazines had to be fitted in as well, which besides Colomina and Wigley, also featured Axel Sowa (former editor of l’Architecture ‘d Aujourd’Hui), Véronique Patteeuw and Tom Vandeputte (from periodical Oase), Herman Verkerk (of defunct Forum magazine) and myself. The roll call of speakers prohibited an in-depth debate; while some relevant issues were touched upon (among them finance, independence and their interrelation), I’ll mention a few here that were not discussed.

1. A provisional typology. There are several motors that can propel a magazine: a) economy/trade; b) (serious) criticism; c) discontent/reaction/opposition; d) vision/pursuit. Little magazines are usually in category c) or d), but as the exhibition also indicates, trade magazines can have a period of ‘self inflicted’, chosen ‘littleness’. This is often related to a particular movement or style and usually comes with a new editorial team ‘that takes over’. There is also a position that is not ideologically informed or starts from ‘truth’, but is based on a pragmatic engagement with the present, based on analysis of the current conditions and what is needed to move forward. To name just two options, this explorative attitude can take the form of a project, like Volume, crossing conventional boundaries between academia, office and journalistic platform, or it can be taken as a format or formula: hand the magazine as instrument to a different crew every three years in order to empower different voices one after another.

2. On the battle field of thought, little magazines have been very influential; however, these days the internet seems to be the easy accessible, low cost medium to use, alternative to this laborious, hard-to-distribute form of communication. It hasn’t happened yet in the field of architecture, or at best it is just starting. Yes, individual bloggers can be influential, like certain journalists and critics in newspapers, but a dedicated publication on the web, that persistently explores certain themes and advocates a particular approach… I haven’t seen it yet, although BLDNGBLG, Action!, wemakemoneynotart, or Mammoth may prove me wrong. The collector’s item aspect, the insider’s tip, the ‘when will it arrive’ feeling, the carefully composed and designed quality; maybe it doesn’t exist in virtual space, where open access is the essence. There are these hidden corners for sharing among kindred spirits, but even there the time element (instant availability, instant reaction expected) is making a difference. On the other hand, what could a ‘little magazine’ on the web be? The financial hurdle is so much lower that the criterion of independence is almost meaningless.

3. Criticism is usually seen as a method to distinguish between good and not so good. To broaden the definition, it is one of the means to test cultural values and criteria of quality. In combination with the notion of ‘resistance’, it becomes a mechanism inside the system to ensure a degree of dynamism, and to integrate new ideas and developments into the dominant culture.

Criticism can also be understood as an element in research and knowledge production. This kind of criticism starts with the will to know and to understand. The connection between worlds of criticism and their relation with the phenomenon of the little magazine, it is the subject of Clip/Stamp/Fold/Staple. The exhibition doesn’t take sides: it is more an invitation to define or establish one’s own position as a visitor. As far as Volume is concerned, the choice between reflection, mediation and intervention was made from the outset: tweaking the system. If elevating various voices is a fifth typology (see point 1), then tweaking can be called the sixth typology.

Click here to read/download Arjen Oosterman’s essay ‘Becoming small and being great’ on Issuu.

NAiM/Bureau Europa: Clip/Stamp/Fold until 26 September 2010.

Barcelona Institute of Architecture