The ranks of small, independently published magazines that enlivened architectural discourse in the 1960s and 1970s have left few direct off spring in print. Instead, that culture of intrepid architectural commentary has reemerged online, in the form of blogs.
“Blogging has become an incredibly important part of how architecture is discussed,” says Joseph Grima, director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture, a nonprofit Manhattan gallery. To underscore this point, last spring Grima tapped four architectureoriented bloggers—Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG, Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat, Bryan Finoki of Subtopia, and Dan Hill of City of Sound—to orchestrate Postopolis!, the first conference about blogs and the built environment.
For five humid days in Storefront's snug Manhattan gallery, the host bloggers and their invited guests discussed architecture, the web, and related subjects. Acknowledging the passion and mischief in the air, Grima compared the well-attended marathon to Woodstock.
Although the most thorough research and criticism of buildings is still done by scholars and professional journalists, bloggers are transforming the forum of architectural discourse through topical creativity as well as the sheer speed and accessibility of their medium. Blogs have reinvented the concept of “breaking news” in a notoriously slow-paced profession. New renderings and photos may traverse the web months before mainstream design journals print an editorial. On the other hand, some bloggers shun the journalistic “scoop,” preferring to venture deep into the realms of theory, commentary, and fantasy.
New voices are flourishing amid the crossfire of hyperlinked articles, images, and videos. Some of these authors have a direct connection to the world of architecture, while others are pure enthusiasts. Most of them defy simple categorization, reveling in combining the subject of design with tangentially related interests, from social policy to planetary acoustics. “I much prefer the outsider perspective,” says Finoki, whose background includes as much literature and psychology as architecture. Ryan McClain, an intern architect, describes the informal tone of his blog, Architecture My Ninja Please, as “reminiscent of a buddy approaching you.”
At this stage in the history of architectural blogging, the endeavors range in scale from part-time web diaries of practicing architects and graduate students to a handful of more-prolific blogs with dedicated editorial staff. Australian architect Marcus Trimble, creator of the blogs Gravestmor and Super Colossal, has begun deliberately to cross-pollinate his blog with his day job. Lockhart Steele's blog, Curbed, recently became his day job. And the avid research and originality of BLDGBLOG is presumably one of the reasons the print magazine Dwell recently hired Manaugh as a senior editor.
Like Curbed, the green-themed blog Inhabitat has organized a business structure with advertising revenue to support professional staff and equipment. “We currently occupy an interesting and challenging middle ground between labor of love and commerce,” says Fehrenbacher, who founded Inhabitat in 2005. The blog's dozen or so contributors earn a nominal fee for their work, but less than a professional freelance rate. The full-time managing editor earns a salary. “Obviously, ad revenue is very important to us,” adds Fehrenbacher, “though we are very sensitive to trying to keep all of our advertisers high-quality and in line with the values of our site.”
Blogs may represent the first indigenous web publications, formatted as continuous digital scrolls rather than adapted from print journalism. Along with the excitement of autonomous publishing, though, come a few pitfalls. Chief among them may be what Bill Millard—a frequent contributor to the print magazines Oculus and Icon—described in a conversation at Postopolis! as “the enormous temptation for everyone's inner windbag to come out.” In addition, bloggers must accept the ephemerality that the internet imposes upon their work. “If I stopped posting to my blog,” Manaugh muses, “nobody would refer to it in a year.”
Gideon Fink Shapiro is a freelance writer based in New York City and a contributor for the blog gothamist.com.