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Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Urban China Bootlegged by C-Lab for Volume

Urban China Bootlegged by C-Lab for Volume edited by Jeffrey Inaba
C-Lab, 2009
Paperback, 156 pages

Volume is an independent quarterly magazine started by Archis, AMO and C-Lab. Urban China is a magazine exploring the process of urbanism in China today. These two platforms are "bootlegged" by C-Lab, merging the east and the west under the theme Crisis. The merger is an uneasy one, or at least it has that appearance, as content is cut from one page to the next, as if the two magazines each occupied large sheets of paper that were then arbitrarily trimmed into its final shape and order. Of course all the content was plugged into a computer and laid out on a desktop publishing program before printing, so the splitting of photographs and text where such normally wouldn't happen, or the interspersing of white Urban China pages within the black Volume pages, don't not carry the weight of literal cuts or bootlegs. The end-product is polished architectural media production with merely the aesthetics of a 'zine, but for the careful reader this takes a backseat to the varied content tackling the theme.

From Jeffrey Inaba's introduction and Mark Wigley's essay on designing for crises at the beginning of the issue, it is clear that crisis is being considered as diverse and ongoing. Crises can be environmental, financial, natural, of our own doing, etc. What they have in common, as Wigley points out, is how they mark change, as they give cause for revisions to typologies. What worked before a particular crisis occurred must be revisited and modified to work again after the crisis is over. And repeat and repeat... This scenario sounds disheartening, but these bootlegged pages acknowledge the reality of crisis and instill the reader with ammunition for reconsidering how architects can address crises, perhaps even before they happen. The variety of the contributions is particularly laudable, be it the destruction of cultural heritages, the rethinking of infrastructure, or the failure of Biosphere 2. On the heels of this bootlegged issue comes Volume's 19th issue, titled "Architecture of Hope." Apparently after crisis, even architects need hope.

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