Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book Review: Beyond No.2

Beyond no.2 - Values and Symptoms edited by Pedro Gadanho
SUN Architecture, 2009
Paperback, 160 pages

The second issue of Beyond, a twice-yearly "bookazine dedicated to new, experimental forms of architectural and urban writing ... in which an extended network of young and upcoming European architectural writers are given the freedom to survey the outline of themes and things to come," is built around the theme Values and Symptoms. Editor Pedro Gadanho asks, "in the face of permanent crisis, what are the symptoms and values that are leading the reshaping of cities and everyday life?" In the slim volume are fifteen responses to the theme, one of which is an excerpt from Douglas Coupland's upcoming Generation A. Its inclusion is perhaps an attempt at a wider readership but more likely an example of where these experimental forms of writing should find influence: fiction.

Architecture fiction is a tiny subset of writing around architecture, a recent trend that is gaining traction as more architects, critics and other writers venture into the hard-to-define realm, something of course evident in this bookazine's existence. It's a term that appears to have started with Wired's Bruce Sterling, who dabbled in some architecture fiction. In many ways it is similar to science fiction, in a preference for speculating on future constructions, but with a focus on those constructions and their potential over the people, relationships, internal states, and other more psychological aspects of fiction. Witness how the fiction in the pages of the second Beyond -- not all of the essays are fiction -- like a short story by FAT's Sam Jacobs built around the Kennedy assassination, shies away from incorporating dialogue or first-person narratives, instead opting for third-person, external perspective. This is not always the case, but something I noticed recurrently, indicative as much of the experimental nature of the writing as the refusal to adopt a traditional fiction structure.

So do the format and contributions to Beyond make it a more appropriate format for exploration than, say, traditional avenues like architectural criticism, monographs, or other writings? Adopting a general embrace of urban/architectural fiction, the results can only veer from these other avenues, meaning that they are appropriate for paving new ways in thinking about architecture, space and the city. But this shouldn't be confused with innovation on par with technology or its incorporation into architectural production. How architecture is affected by the ideas conveyed in Beyond's essays is more vague than how new software may change form in architecture, for example. The variety and openness is refreshing, like a poetic mish-mash where architecture underlies it all.