Upcoming feature: Conversations on the Future of Architecture Publishing

I reflect on the architecture publishing industry with critic, writer and curator Ethel Baraona Pohl from dpr-barcelona.

Hannah Sloan Wood
4 min readSep 2, 2018
Image: dpr-barcelona

How did you first become interested in architecture publishing?
Architecture publishing was a mix between my personal and professional interests. Literature and poetry were, and are, my great passions, even though I studied architecture. There was an organic development from my PHD into research then into publishing—there appeared to be something more critical at stake. I arrived in Barcelona from El Salvador in the boom years before the 2008 financial crisis, at a time when built production was expanding exponentially. While the political agenda behind it was evident, it was not explicit. I felt it needed to be discussed. For me, writing offered another perspective on the changes which were happening all around.

Which main trends and developments have you noticed during your time working with dpr-barcelona?
dpr-barcelona began in 2007, before the so-called ‘crisis of publishing’ and at a time when the emergence of blogs and rss-feeds were becoming more mainstream. Things seemed to move fast and there was a freedom of movement within the industry, with new, independent voices emerging. In the past few years we have noticed a growing number of new politically-aware print publications and student-driven initiatives coming out of the institutions, including Bartlett LOBBY and the AA’s Fulcrum, to name a few.

In your Archinect Sessions episode ‘Printing Architecture’, you underline the unique, tactile and enduring nature of print in a media landscape saturated by connected devices. Can digital and physical mediums coexist within architecture publishing? Will printed volumes become a luxury counterpart, echoing the reemergence of vinyl in the music industry?
There is a renewed interest in printing and at dpr-barcelona we see this as coexisting with the digital content produced. In our Archifutures project, (edited by &beyond and published by dpr-barcelona), we are developing tools with the ambition to offer readers the agency to curate their own publications, and in doing so transform digital content into printed books. We think the future of architecture publishing will emerge from this digital-print hybrid.

As self-publishing through social media channels and online platforms becomes increasingly common, what are your thoughts on the future roles and opportunities of ‘publication’ and ‘editor’ in architecture publishing?
At dpr-barcelona, we still think there is a role for an editor in a future architecture publishing scenario, even though we feel the role has shifted significantly. Whereas traditionally an editor would select the content of a publication, we see the role morphing instead into deciding upon the outlook and content of the publication. A parallel role for a future editor, which is just as important, is to attract both readers and contributors to the project, to build an audience.

In your recent Archifutures interview, when speaking about the role of AI in a future architecture publishing industry, you suggest that “other disciplines like computer science, medicine, biology, mathematics and music have been more effective in embracing complexity as part of their language”. Why is architecture publishing lagging behind?
AI has the potential to develop more precise and interesting ways of sorting and filtering content, yet still today many architecture and design publishers are hesitant to engage with these tools. I think part of this is the fear of losing ownership over content. In fact, this is a problem with the architecture publishing industry specifically. There remains this issue of branding, of the ego battling against the radical potential of transforming the text to create new understandings. Instead, as an industry we need to remind ourselves that it is productive to fail, to make mistakes. Otherwise, how can it be possible to improve your practice? I am not saying disregard the structure and potentials of academic creations, but to move forward, the architecture publishing industry needs to swallow its pride. That will push it forward.

Interesting how authorship may cause an inertia to the uptake of new concepts and technologies within the sector. Could emerging multimedia formats enhance both architecture publishing and push the built practice of architecture in new directions?
We are also very interested in the potentialities of new content, and that which it is not yet possible to print, yet. I look forward when we can flip a page and see a moving .GIF. I don’t think it’s that far away. This is why 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.

Can you consider an alternative future where architects play a more active role in shaping the future of publishing?
To move forward we need to be collaborating with other industries in terms of developing cutting-edge research and development. Architecture publishers need to adapt as the industry is changing so fast, and at dpr-barcelona we think technology is an integral part of this conversation. It is only by adapting to this new climate that architecture publishing houses will survive. Until now, we have been very conservative and resistant to change, very self-referential, and we are concerned that without collaboration we will make the same mistakes again and again. We need more research and development in image-based publication, open platform and copyrights, and most importantly, in new ways of sharing.