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BLDGBLOG: architectural criticism as a kind of literary form

Los Angeles as it appears in Blade Runner

In the latest entry on his blog, BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh describes Los Angeles as "a city of individualized car geographies". He writes about the built world and building worlds and the lives contained in constructed spaces with the beauty and strangeness of a science fiction writer. Many have constructed blogs as covalent bonds (myself included) reporting on reports that appear elsewhere in newspapers and magazines and blogs. Almost no-one creates a powerfully written new story with the link in the way that he does. In Monday's entry, Deep Space Pharma, he reports on a Wired story about a Texas investor who wants to turn the International Space Station into an orbiting pharmaceutical laboratory.

While it seems next to impossible to believe that we'll be able to maintain flights back and forth between Earth and the ISS in a post-oil economy, it is nonetheless quite fascinating to think that, someday, depressed teenagers in suburban Arizona might pop space-made anti-depressants, affecting hormonal moods through the use of literally extra-terrestrial substances; or musicians in small apartments in Prague might swallow attention deficit drugs crystallized in microgravity, writing the world's most intricate symphonies in response; or perhaps even illegal new hallucinogens will be developed in windowless, symmetrical rooms hovering 250 miles above the Earth's surface, and they'll be taken by Rem Koolhaas-reading students at SCI-Arc who then draw up plans for self-healing tentacular cities, under the influence of space...

Geoff Manaugh. BLDGBLOG

He conducts interviews, reviews books, and unearths astonishing facts and lists a blogiography that's a treasure trove of unusual criticism and speculative futures for the built world.

SIMON: What motivated you to start a blog devoted to “architectural conjecture, urban speculation, and landscape futures”?

GEOFF: I was reading Super-Cannes, writing my own first novel, recovering from abdominal surgery, and auditing a university course about Archigram, the 1960s British pop-utopian architecture group; those things just came together somehow – and, one morning, on a whim, I started BLDGBLOG. Now I work on it almost constantly. It’s been two years.

BLDGBLOG became pretty well-defined, with a small but growing readership, and it had a voice, a tempo, an energy, a feel. It was no longer just an ‘architecture’ blog; it had its own direction and orientation, and it was even verging on science fiction in some ways. Short stories in the disguise of architectural theory. Ideas for screenplays. In that regard, BLDGBLOG became more literary – by which I don’t mean to compliment my writing abilities, but to say that the site became its own kind of genre: architectural criticism as a kind of literary form. Somewhere between science fiction, a short story collection, a Don Delillo novel, and a kind of technical catalogue for a world that didn’t exist. Which, incidentally, is how I view a lot of Ballard’s work. So if BLDGBLOG could ever equal Ballard in that regard, I’d be a very happy man!

It’s worth adding that a lot of the architects I admire also use architecture as a form of social critique, or political allegory: Archigram, Rem Koolhass, even Piranesi or Will Alsop. The Agents of Change. Speculative architectural treatises are an extremely exciting, if totally unacknowledged, branch of the literary arts. Look at Thomas More’s Utopia. Or China Miéville. Or, for that matter, J.G. Ballard.

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There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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