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Archizines at Storefront

April 22, 2012

At the Archizines symposium at Storefront. Archizines is a traveling exhibit of architectural magazines and journals with quite a nice website that I’ve been perusing back and forth, sometimes obsessively, since this fall, in an effort to figure out what makes a good architectural publication.

The zines are cute. It’s depressing to admit, but not only do I judge a book by its cover, I judge harshly, and I judge immediately.

Actually for most of them, I ignore the covers. They’re of no interest. It’s the inside that I ruthlessly flip through to decide if there’s anything there for me.

I’ve been claiming that it’s the content that matters and that the design comes naturally therefrom, that smart people can and in fact do ignore design, but here, I see that of course the design matters. In fact, the design is the only thing that does matter. The words are almost always the same inside, I think, in a context such as this. Smart words with the same smart counter spin on things that everyone has nowadays. Start with the pomo assumptions, mix in some New Sincerity; it’s the process not the end result that matters; it’s not the architect who matters but the people; the architect’s job is to create platforms for the people to express themselves. Simple but unexpected. I’m not making fun. These are all my approaches too. But impossible to pretend all my smart-ities are my own or even someone else’s, which I stole — they are the Zeitgeist’s and thus, everyone in my/your/our circles is there, on the same page.

So I am forced to agree — design does matter and can speak more loudly, more viscerally than can content. Wasn’t that the point of The Media is the Massage? If the content of the zines is the same, it’s the design that distinguishes them.

Some of the zines are underdesigned, some overdesigned. There are no clear cut rules to the ones I like. Taking a Dutch approach is a classic way to appeal to my sensibilities. There’s lots to write about the Dutch approach but very quickly here are some characteristics: duotone imagery; clear grids to organize text; a flirtation with figuring out playing out what happens when the design rules are taken too their extreme. (Shown: Mono-Kultur. Who are, in fact, German.)

Another trend which I always find appealing: large serif fonts. Friendly, pleasant, inviting texts with a few graphic touches.

Then there’s this (UR. I think it’s Argentinian, but excitingly some of the articles are English). An example of the cover being irrelevant on the one hand (I actually really don’t care for it) and engaging design being hard to pinpoint. The text is very minimally treated, in a fairly undesigned way, but there’s been some love put into the images. Of course I am also intrigued with the Brasilia article (the city that was planned and developed by Oscar Niemeyer). There’s also something quite nice happening with BW images on the glossy paper.

I’ve outgrown the zine aesthetic, but this Ai Wei Wei zine is spot-on. It’s definitely one of my favorites. It’s an example of the content — Ai Wei Wei — being so rich and interesting that just by following it, you’re going to get gold. (Friction House — Ai Wei Wei Issue. More info)

I am most drawn to image-heavy zines. There is one that all silkscreen, beautiful abstract impressionistic images of the city which was really quite stunning.

Here’s a great one that just photographs of a strange object in an urban environment.

Some other zines I’d like to mention quickly: Candide, designed by the German designer Katja GretzingerPin Up, a glossy, fun architecture magazine where the design is always varied and key;  Evil People in Modernist Homes by Benjamin Critton, the premise of which is so simple and yet so engaging.

If anything, there’s just too much. A plethora of zines to dive into, each one more engaging than the rest. If it is beautiful, I am drawn in; if it is ugly, that, too, is on purpose and I am hungrily trying to understand what the intention was. The show is great, but in the end, I am relieved that Archizines has such a fantastic online collection for me to dip into at my leisure.

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