Last Friday night, AN‘s William Menking and Aaron Levy launched their new book Four Conversations on the Architecture of Discourse at the Van Alen Bookstore in Chelsea. The book’s publisher, Thomas Weaver of the Architectural Association in London, and the Van Alen’s Olympia Kazi we on hand to help frame the evening’s discourse on discourse.
The new book springs from an earlier effort called Architecture on Display: the History of the Venice Biennale of Architecture, aka “the white book.” In true manifesto fashion, the group sidestepped the official Biennale promo machine by publishing the white book outside of the established Biennale channels and then blanketed the 2010 festival with more than 600 copies. That book transcribed interviews with former Biennale directors and recovered an important history of the forum. From that quick and dirty approach emerged a longer term plot for the “black book” of Four Conversations, which focused architectural display and its relationship to the public.
The new book transcribes four prosecco-fueled dinner conversations between fifty practitioners in four cities: Venice, New York, London, and Chicago. Aaron Levy said that as the white book was steeped with established practitioners, the new book brings fresh perspective from students, young architects, as well the architectural media. In order to move the conversation toward new ground, participants were urged to avoid mentioning previous exhibitions as examples.
Upon opening the Van Alen panel to questions, one audience member bypassed the topic of developing the architectural display discourse and questioned the very notion of presenting architecture as an art–since, he said, it is beholden to real-estate interests and the demands of the client–unlike, say, painting. The question threatened to push the conversation into “what is art” territory, before Weaver pointed out that even the term “curate” has yet to be recognized by Microsoft Word, demanding spellcheck each time its typed. He added that while curating is a well established course of study in European academia, it remains relatively new here, making texts like Four Conversations all the more important.
With a quiet evangelism, Weaver praised architectural book design (the AA series fits neatly in back pockets), but he added that the words shouldn’t be eclipsed by the design, which remains difficult for the contemporary architect/author to resist. Menking disagreed and hoisted Rem Koohaas‘s Project Japan out of the display window to use as an example. He noted that the book is text and image heavy, giving readers the option to flip through in fifteen minutes or spend hours on the text, depending on their mood. The conversation spurred Kazi to recall her student days when Koolhaas and Mau’s S, M, L, XL was on nearly every desk in the studio. Thought Kazi remained unsure if either form represented the future of architectural publishing in an anti-analogue age.
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