Does the AIA need a magazine?

February 15, 2010

The American Institute of Architects announced recently that it is severing its ties with Architectural Record. As I’ve written in previous posts, I have never liked the magazine as an organ for the AIA. Despite its distinguished history, Record is burdened by excessive obeisance to the current starchitect system. I doubt whether cutting ties with an architectural organization will change this.

The AIA, meanwhile, is struggling to stay relevant in a rapidly changing profession. I am a member, in fact a fellow, and I applaud the efforts of the leadership to stay with, if not ahead, of the curve. The AIA has an online newsletter that goes out to every member–it contains many articles of interest to practicing architects. There are other vehicles that keep members informed as well,  such as a bookstore, a software service, and online education resources.

As the Institute prepares to get in bed with Hanley Wood, publisher of builder’s magazines and a rather lightweight architectural periodical, I think that many members will ask why? Print subscriptions are at an all time low, and many architects get their information on the web anyway. What will be served by creating another print vehicle for the sporadic publication of design awards and official news? If the only regular feature in the new magazine will be news and Continuing Education articles, there will be very little bang for the buck.

The AIA needs to ask the hard question of whether the old media model of a sanctioned print journal is really appropriate in the 21st century marketplace. If it refuses to do so, I suspect that the new relationship will be short lived, and the AIA will suffer another embarrassment.

A Tablet from Heaven?

February 6, 2010

A good deal of ink has been spilled arguing the merits of Apple’s Ipad tablet during the weeks since its launch. Apple’s hype has been almost messianic, with the great Jobs calling the new gadget magical about twenty times in his presentation. I admit to being an Apple devotee, but this put me off a bit. The inflated Iphone will not change your life, and may not even sell very well in a depressed economy. But, should we dismiss this new portable entertainment device without considering its potential?

As the author of four books with another on the way, I have mixed feelings about the emergence of Kindles and other digital book avatars. Amazon has nearly killed the book publishing industry with its punitive discounts. We need traditional books, and will continue to enjoy reading them for the foreseeable future. The Kindle has not yet made a real dent in book sales, and many find its screen cold and impersonal.

The question is, can a tablet with dazzling color rendition become an alternative form of media dissemination in an era when other forms are vanishing? Notwithstanding the spate of cool Iphone Apps that may run on the Ipad, there is a very large untapped market for rich visual media that can be carried in a light, portable device, enriched by text, music, video and other as yet undiscovered means of communication. Apple has been clever in opening the doors to these kinds of innovation in the past. Will it do so with the latest miracle device?

As an architect who writes for a broad audience, and likes to see lots of color in books, I am aware of the economic limitations of color printing in a paper format. What if that drawback were eliminated in tablet publishing? What if other media could be combined with text and photos? Wouldn’t art and architecture publishing benefit profoundly from these new methods of “printing?”

I can’t help but believe that, sooner or later, this generation or next will figure out a way to present the wonders of the visual world with the kind of sharp clarity that we now appreciate digital film and music. What a dazzling show that will be.