An Interview With Beatriz Colomina


Your exhibition celebrates the two golden eras of independent architectural journals: the 1920s and then the 1960s/’70s. Why don’t we have a new golden period in publications now? A lot of people think there’s a malaise in the architectural press.

BC Yes, I think you’re right. There’s an increasing demand for iconography, and that comes at the expense of thinking. Now, people put together a book with almost nothing. They may not even have invented anything. It’s just all this production of images with not necessarily any kind of substance.

And little provocation, it seems. One of the trends is an increased emphasis on production quality, which was much less evident in the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve heard editors and publishers express an aversion to negative critiques. They want to offer only what’s worthy of all that crisp photography and heavy-stock paper.

BC Exactly. So magazines are not acting as a kind of instigator or as a provocation by a younger generation, as it happened most of the time in the ’60s and ’70s. Back then, they pushed against the established order. Now the magazines themselves are part of the established order.

So now they’re just reiterating the order?

BC Yes. The journals are not taking the crucial position of provocation. At one of the events organized in Storefront for Art and Architecture in Manhattan (where this exhibition originally launched), Peter Eisenman said that the kind of debate that had been happening in Skyline or in Oppositions was much more frank, but now nobody dares to criticize anybody.

There’s a theory that before, the architects had less to lose: they didn’t have work. Now they have work. Is that safety–that material comfort–something they don’t want to risk by being rabble-rousers?

BC Right. Historically, it can be demonstrated that the periods in which architects have less work are the periods in which the discipline pushes forward. This great moment of the ’60s and ’70s is a moment in which nobody had any work. Most of these projects are fantasies, and the rise of architectural theory in the ’70s is completely related to the lack of architectural practice. So it’s kind of a paradoxical situation: the period in which there is no work is a time to slow down, to think more, to write more, to reflect more. And these periods which seem so frustrating to architects at the time, in the long run they turn out to be great incubators.

What do you see as the legacies of these “little magazines?” Have they informed work that we see today?

BC The contents of the magazines reveal that many of the debates that we are having today–in ecology, sustainability, new materials, for example–originated in that moment. In many ways, they were pushing the limits of the discipline. Many of them were very much into the world of the computer, a world which so many architects are fascinated by today.

Going back to your book Privacy and Publicity and your formation of the idea about architecture as mass media, how did that inform your work here?

BC It’s inseparable. Privacy and Publicity emerges out of my dissertation, and my dissertation started with the study of L’Esprit Nouveau, the magazine that Le Corbusier edited in Paris in the ’20s. I cannot separate publications from architecture. Publications are one of the most important sites in which architecture is produced.

Yet in the exhibition, there are so few actual buildings you see on the magazine covers. They show ideas, concepts, people, animals, cartoons. You posit architecture as media–the iconic image of a building or even the view out a window. But those journals from the ’60s and ’70s are so devoid of conventional architecture.

BC Yes, it’s very characteristic of that period. On the cover you don’t have even the image of the architect, and definitely not buildings. It’s a period in which buildings are not the thing to do. It’s related to what Hans Hollein says on the cover of Bau: “Everything is architecture.” The new generation is more inclined to do monographs of their own work than journals about whatever is happening now. They are less collaborative: this is more about them. And that I think is a loss.

Have we become too obsessed with images?

BC Maybe we should publish a ban on images for a while. It has become too easy to produce images. It would be an interesting exercise to try to write without images and see who makes it. CA

Adele Weder is an architectural critic and curator based in British Columbia.