7 febbraio 2011

Content | Blogging 101 | Geoff Manaugh

by Geoff Manaugh*

O at the origins of blogging – where it comes from, ver the course of this series so far, we have looked its expressive origins and literary history – and we have explored the range of personal equipment and electronic infrastructure that blogging, at least today, requires.
But what should blogging actually be about?
What topics should a blog address?
What, specifically, is the terrain of an architecture blog?

If we start with the assumption that a blog about architecture should offer insights into the contemporary practices and challenges of spatial design, then we’ve only really gone halfway. Discussing architecture solely from the point of view of those whose job is to design and assemble buildings overlooks a much larger audience for architectural ideas: those who experience the built environment, on a near-constant basis to varying degrees of intensity, but who do not otherwise seek to interpret that experience through the vocabulary of architectural criticism. They are users, emotionally invested in the spaces around them, and they want to talk about architecture, too. Put another way, there is a massive public audience today for architectural writing.
Architecture is not a niche subject, of interest only to specialist authors. This readership – a whole other clientele, we might say – lives intimately connected to the cities, towns, houses, infrastructure, landscapes and other spatial institutions produced by architects. This long-term, everyday exposure to the spatial products of the architectural industry brings with it a different kind of spatial knowledge; bloggers would do well to remember this when they write about the world of designed spaces.

So what does all this actually mean?

Put simply, nothing is out of bounds for a blog post, no genre inappropriate for discussing architectural design. Criticism, speculation, fiction, essay, list, interview, review, screenplay, poem, even a pop song: the variety of textual forms is limitless.
Indeed, blogging brings with it extraordinary opportunities for experimentation in style, tone, genre and breadth of reference.
As such, architecture bloggers have a nearly unprecedented opportunity today to change how architecture is discussed – and to involve more people, from more backgrounds, than ever before in the architectural discussion.
And this will be accomplished through content.
The true power of any blog doesn’t come from its form, its design or even its URL, no matter how interesting those might be; the power of any given blog lies in what it covers and how. Genre, breadth of reference, tone – these are absolutely key.
Are you simply re-posting images from the latest architectural press release – a release that went out to every other design blog in the world, but only you were gullible enough to publish – or are you putting out your own original editorials, critiques, stories, reports and Q&As?

If the latter, what are those editorials, reports and interviews actually about?

As it now stands, much of today’s architecture writing is marked by an unquestioned belief that architects understand buildings better than, say, bank robbers, elevator-repair personnel or urban counterterrorism teams. Personally, I have yet to see truly compelling evidence that city planners understand the metropolis better than pest-control specialists, marathon runners or even, for that matter, poets. So why aren’t these latter groups more often consulted, interviewed and involved in today’s spatial conversations?

Similarly, why should bloggers assume that the professional group most adequately qualified to discuss the built environment is architects?

In many ways, it’s like asking the programmers of Microsoft Word what they think of contemporary literature.
So let’s use blogs to expand the conversation. An adulterous couple out for a walk in the city has a more intense engagement with the emotional potential of urban space – they are conspiratorially aware of every nook and cranny, every well-hidden hotel lobby, every over-curious doorman – than an architecture critic sent out to profile the city’s new concert hall; they just don’t write press releases to demonstrate their particular brand of urban knowledge. So imagine a series of blog posts interviewing people caught in love triangles, or thieves out casing local department stores or undercover cops working on a high-profile bust.
This minor encyclopedia of the city is absolutely compelling, as well as architecturally relevant; it just won’t necessarily help an emerging firm win next year’s Pritzker Prize. But that’s not the point of blogging – and it’s the wrong prize to aim for.

We are trying to understand architecture’s impact on human civilization and vice versa – to understand the city, the buildings within it and the way those spaces are utilized. Bloggers aren’t here to ensure that Le Corbusier is still important. Bloggers should be aiming for Pulitzers and Nobels; they should be covering architecture the way Hunter S. Thompson covered the Hell’s Angels, critiquing the city the way Neil Armstrong met the moon.
The important thing to remember is that architecture has always meant much more than whatever new museum, housing project, mansion or sports stadium is opening in some global city somewhere; architecture involves every aspect of how people interact with the built environment. Discussing architecture – blogging about architecture – thus needs to encompass other, less official encounters with the spaces around us. If we want to make public conversations about architecture as common as conversations about blockbuster films – as common as family arguments over good food, good music and good TV shows – then a major recalibration of how we write about architecture is required. So let’s write about love triangles, bank heists, suburban burglaries, haunted house films, urban infestations, bad public bathrooms, archaeological sites and, why not, new art museums, because these are all ways of understanding architecture and the city. Otherwise, critiquing specific buildings as if they are works of art separate from their human context is an anachronism. Bloggers should operate from the position that the appropriate response to a new building extension by Renzo Piano is not necessarily to write a critical review of that extension – perhaps the appropriate response is to set a crime story there or to write a screenplay, to experiment with genre and format, with medium and target audience.

Those are all examples of writing about architecture – of helping to bring a building to public attention.
Janitors, joggers, bike messengers, trash collectors, house husbands, terrorists: these are all jobs or social roles that come with a particular knowledge of space, its vulnerabilities, opportunities and strengths: these positions, too, are all equally available to the authors of architecture blogs, and none should be rejected as irrelevant.
Architecture blogging should thus proceed with an attitude of enthusiastic pluralism, recognizing an all but unlimited amount of genres and perspectives within which to work.
After all, there are literally billions of people with their own individual experiences of built space; finding a way to put them all into conversation is the real challenge of blogging.
In the end, then, blogs are a flexible and immediate route by which to change what gets covered in the architectural press.
If you don’t like what you see being discussed in Architect’s Journal, The New York Times, Abitare, Icon, Archinect or, for that matter, on BLDGBLOG, then you have a simple and obvious solution: start a blog. Put up a new post. Cover the things you think deserve more attention. Do so with great energy and commitment.

Review the books, buildings, cities, streets, parks, films, ideas, designers, spaces, techniques, software, dreams, stories, maps, events, technologies, other blogs and more that you think everyone else should be talking about.
And if you can cultivate an audience for your vision of the built environment – if you can find others who share your interests, dislikes, and enthusiasms – then you’ll have successfully demonstrated not only the power of blogs, but that you’re not alone in caring about these things. You’ll have shown what blogging can do: that, in the absence of editorial boards and thesis advisory panels, people still want to talk about architecture. Blogging can allow people to participate in a conversation that should have been happening all along.


* Publication authorized by Abitare
Geoff Manaugh, Blogging 101 - Content, Abitare n. 509, january 2011, pp. 11-1