What Irish architecture could learn from zine culture

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

Zines offer Irish architects a novel chance to break a few moulds without having to break ground

If you take the Venice Biennale of Architecture as a reflection of current architectural culture, it seems that peripheral and alternative approaches are having a moment. For three of the national pavilions at this year’s Biennale – the US, Australia, and Great Britain – the curatorial teams chose to present an array of projects and practices beyond the conventional role of the architect, offering a generosity and openness in keeping with the exhibition’s theme of “Common Ground”.

The British pavilion in particular used the event as an opportunity to explore new possibilities, sending 10 teams to locations around the world to investigate and bring back case studies that might offer something new to British architecture. One of the most interesting case studies was on fideicomiso, a legal trust mechanism in Argentina that allows architects to act as developers, researched by curator and writer Elias Redstone.

Dublin is about to play host to another of Elias Redstone’s projects, the Archizines exhibition, which presents an archive of current self-published titles in architecture. The archive is limited to publications begun since 2000 and still in production, and it includes high-quality independent magazines as well as more informal zines. The exhibition was initiated with the Architectural Association in London last year, and it’s been making a world tour since.

Ireland doesn’t appear in the Archizines catalogue yet, although with a competition running alongside the exhibition, there’s hope that we might be about to make up for lost time. It might also be encouraging to see the distinctive voices represented by independent Irish publications within the visual arts, including Paper Visual Art Journal, Billion, Critical Bastards, and SuperMassiveBlackHole.

The origin of the zine can be traced to the science-fiction fan magazine (or fanzine), spreading to other subcultures, with the zines at once documenting and contributing to what was developing around them. Limiting itself to the present,Archizines offers the most immediate inspiration to anyone considering making an architecture zine, showing how contemporary concerns and possibilities can relate to the format.

The publications run from the hyper-local (The Unlimited Edition) to peer-reviewed journals (OASE) to those produced by an architecture practice (MAS context) or originating in experimental student collaboration (matzine), and the contributors include many high-profile architects and critics. Each one takes a different approach to digital distribution, although many offer a free PDF version in addition to small or on-demand print runs.

Far from just being nostalgic, zines offer a chance to produce content that doesn’t fit within the mainstream of architectural culture – to make something more spirited, more radical, more exploratory, and more personal. It’s open to anyone and it can be used to do absolutely anything. It’s an opportunity to work outside of an academic or professional framework at any level, and it’s as easily done by a student as by an established architect.

Although one might manage do the same with a blog, a zine has the advantage of not needing to be constantly fed by regular updates, with each issue standing as a finished object within a series.

It’s particularly well suited to those weathering the continuing economic pressures in architecture. And zines can always offer a counterpoint to the serious business of designing buildings: they’re cheap to produce, there’s not much at stake, and there’s a chance to use your ink-and-paper skills on every aspect of the design and production.

In relation to Irish architectural culture, it would be interesting to see whether zines could offer a creative approach to the common complaint about the limited critical discourse – perhaps inevitable within a small, interconnected field in a relatively small, interconnected country. Maybe there’s a way for the playful, informal nature of a zine to foster new forms of criticism that address this without requiring someone to just sprint through the firing line. Or maybe it’s enough to hope zines might allow everyone to have some fun.

Archizines opens on Friday at NCAD Gallery. There will be a seminar and competition launch on Thursday

Zine scene: Three worth reading

* Mimi Zeiger produced the first issue of loud paper in 1997 as her graduate school thesis in architecture, and made a dozen print issues before transmuting the zine into a blog. Zeiger’s provocative writing has since appeared in a variety of respectable publications. loudpapermag.com.

* Go, a fanzine about Sheffield (“the best city in the world”), was produced between 2004 and 2008 by Tom Keeley and Tom James. It’s a great example of passion and local focus in a zine, with an engaging, opinionated style, lots of swearing, and a campaign to save the city’s cooling towers. dontgo.co.uk

* Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films seems to have stalled after a single issue in 2010, but it did everything right, starting with its title. It was produced by Benjamin Critton, and presents examples of modernist architecture being associated with villains . It’s at benjamincritton.com.

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