Books and Bots

Conversations on the Future of Architecture Publishing

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Illustration Evgenia Barinova

We’re afraid that neither architects nor architecture publishers are trained to respond to the dynamics of active parts and differential change which are the inherent conditions of many contemporary practices and networked communication.” Ethel Baraona Pohl, dpr barcelona

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Cropped screenshot of the monthly Archinect splash page for September 1999 designed by Test Pilot Collective
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Novel understandings and formats. Image dpr-barcelona

After 10 minutes, the content has disappeared, and in fact what seems to endure are the paper copies. There is also the strong connotation with paper in terms of its authenticity and quality.” Ricardo Devesa, Actar Publishers

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Extract from SCAPEGOAT issue 11, LIFE. Image provided by SCAPEGOAT

There remains this issue of branding, of the ego battling against the radical potential of transforming the text to create new understandings.” Ethel Barinona Pohl, dpr-barcelona

Pohl asserts that there remains a meaningful role for a publishing and editing team in a AI-hybrid publishing process, but editors must learn to respond and adapt. “At dpr-barcelona, we still see a future role for an editor, even though that role will shift significantly”, she explains. “The orthodox position is that publishers take the role of guardians and emissaries of the experts in the control of style, form, composition and even quality in architectural construction, yet today the role is now more curatorial. Instead, the focus appears to have shifted to decision-making on the outlook of the edition and importance of media content and to attract both readers and contributors to the project, to build an audience.”

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Extract from the Funambulist ‘politics of space and bodies’ print journal from September 2015
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Covers of Oppositions journal, from upper left, from 1973 to 1984. Image source © Oppositions.

The possibility of an open repository came coupled with a critical view of academic publishing and copyright mechanisms that allegedly safeguard intellectual production.” Ethel Barinona Pohl, dpr-barcelona

Their joint publishing project dpr-barcelona began in 2007, prior to the so-called ‘crisis of publishing’ and at a time when the emergence of blogs and RSS-feeds were becoming increasingly common. “At that time, things seemed to move fast and there was a freedom of movement within the industry, with new, independent voices emerging”, Pohl recounts. Both she and Nájera also brought a radical approach to copyright practice to the discussion, a reaction to the specialized databases and repositories they encountered during their PHD research. “The possibility of an open repository came coupled with a critical view of academic publishing and copyright mechanisms that allegedly safeguard intellectual production. Therefore our classifying and thinking also became a form of activism, similar to that of other repositories such as AAAARG, Monoskop or UbuWeb”, she explains. Pohl and Nájera consequently began to explore writing, reading and editing in a collective manner, “transmuting architecture publishing platforms”. “Online publishing enables a writer to conduct and publish independent research, which, like Socks Studio, offers flexibility for users or visitors to explore and construct their own narratives”, Pohl explains. “We are interested in active, rather than passive browsing.”

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A former distribution processes in the publishing industry. Newspaper stand © Getty Images

Many architectural specialties get stuck in the middle ground — if you are not a one-man-band then or a big distribution company you have to make it yourselves.” Paul Petrunia, Archinect

The challenge of publication distribution was a topic all four architecture publishers pointed to as a key issue within their own practice and which they anticipated would continue to present a challenge in the coming years. “Publishing in print is much more complicated than digital, which we have experienced first-hand while working on ‘Ed’,” says Petrunia. “A big hurdle is creating the product. For titles like Ed, our volume is too high to take a handmade approach but it’s too low to print professionally at a reasonable cost. Secondly, at this scale, we’re too small to work with large distribution companies, so we need to take this task on ourselves”. Archinect’s creative response to this challenge was to become their own distributors, both for Ed and other favorite publications, by creating their own bookshop, Archinect Outpost.

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A few of the publications sold at Archinect Outpost © Archinect

The architecture publishing industry needs to both engage with research and reach out to other publishing houses, beyond the design world and beyond text-based formats. Otherwise we may find architecture publishing confined to coffee table books.” Ethel Baraona Pohl, dpr barcelona

Novel formats and styles of content are central to the discussion of how the publishing industry will develop in the coming decades as new digital and connected technologies develop. Recent creative approaches, albeit from other disciplines, in content format creation include ‘Insta Novels’, a reinvention of Instagram Stories to bring classic novels to a new generation launched by the New York Public Library in 2018, and innovations in interactive infographics by large East Coast media platforms. While it is challenging to locate examples of new formats and mediums within the architecture publishing sector, it could be argued that architects possess the creativity and digital literacy to innovate in this field.

The architecture publishing industry needs to both engage with research and reach out to other publishing houses, beyond the design world and beyond text-based formats. Otherwise, we may find architecture publishing confined to coffee table books.” Ethel Baraona Pohl, dpr barcelona

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The New York Public Library Insta Novels © New York Public Library/Mother

Architecture publishers will need to respond swiftly to innovations, especially changes in physical distribution. Publishers need to be asking questions now such as how to create content which adapts to, or even foresees, changes to our devices, including digital wearables and VR.” Paul Petrunia, Archinect

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Architect and researcher based in Tanzania, East Africa. Follow for discussions on how global developments are shaping the built environment👇

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