From Web to Print

Recently I was watching a news program, most likely PBS Newshour or an MSNBC show, and was struck by one of the talking heads speaking via Skype or Zoom being described as "a writer working on turning her blog into a book." I don't remember her name or even the subject, as the news story was not one I was interested in, but this factoid stayed with me for a couple of reasons: I'm a blogger, and I have a hard time envisioning this blog, the one I'm most familiar with, making the leap into book form. Blogs are personal creations, so they vary widely, even as their formats — based as they are on Blogger, WordPress and other systems — are fairly consistent, with chronological posts made up of of words and images. 

I could see some writers tailoring their blogs to potential books, with posts written as chapters or posts combined to become chapters in a book, but for me the blog — both generally and mine specifically — is an informal means of sharing ideas and viewpoints with the world: timely posts that have their moment but give way to new content the next day or week. Turning one into a book would mean most likely resuscitating posts that are outdated and somehow making them relevant again. The process of writing a blog ideally yields many insights on a subject, in turn creating fodder for a book, one whose contents would be almost wholly new — hardly a simple blog-to-book transition, which I'm guessing the news pundit is rather doing.

In the realm of architecture, the best example of a blog making the leap from blog to book — and doing it quite successfully, in my opinion and as gleaned by some of the many positive reviews online — is Geoff Manaugh's The BLDGBLOG Book, which was released by Chronicle Books in 2009, a year that was arguably peak-blog. His blog was five years old when the book came out, meaning BLDGBLOG is going on eighteen years. He doesn't post as frequently, given the books and other projects taking up his time, nor at the length his longtime readers probably came to appreciate, but Geoff is one of the few architecture bloggers still maintaining a blog. (Of the four bloggers who organized Postopolis! at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in 2007, Geoff appears to be the only one still with a blog.) The reasons he made the jump successfully from blog to book are numerous, but the main ones relevant here are: his interest in many subjects in and beyond architecture; his well-done and often lengthy interviews*; and the captivating images accompanying his "architectural conjecture, urban speculation and landscape futures." The editing of the (old and new) text by Chronicle Books, and the laying out of the book by MacFadden & Thorpe, also help greatly, turning Manaugh's diverse interests and hyperactive imagination into something that works really well as a book.

Blogs are hardly the first format, digital or otherwise, in the realm of architecture to bridge media. My insatiable browsing of used bookstores has led me to discover numerous books put out by Architectural Record decades ago, many of them collecting projects from the Record Houses issues, some surveying other buildings types, and others offering depth on particular topics. Two I'm familiar with fall into the third camp. First is Garrett Eckbo's classic Landscape for Living, published by the Architectural Record division of The F. W. Dodge Corporation in 1950 and reissued in 2009 in the ASLA Centennial Reprint Series. The book-length argument for a modern landscape design is evenly split between theory and practice, the former written by Eckbo and the latter presenting projects primarily by Eckbo, Royston and Williams, his LA and SF firm. It's not at all clear how the contents of the book relate to the magazine, but the back flap indicates that a portion of the book was published in a recent issue of Record, resulting in quotes from readers, including Pietro Belluschi. 

The second, more recent example is Imagining Ground Zero: Official and Unofficial Proposals for the World Trade Center Site from 2004, edited by then Record correspondent Suzanne Stephens and featuring a foreword by the magazine's editor-in-chief at the time, Robert A. Ivy. Published by Rizzoli in conjunction with Record, the book is a visual record of the many proposals for the WTC masterplan and the 9/11 Memorial, and other responses by architects to the events of September 11, 2001. The book clearly benefits from the contributions of Record editors and writers for the numerous descriptions and for tracking the process of rebuilding at Ground Zero. Best I can tell, this was the last book Architectural Record was involved with, and I have a hard time finding other magazines branching into books.**
Jumping media is on my mind because of a new book made by "the world's most visited architecture website," ArchDaily:
Initially I was surprised it took so long for ArchDaily to be involved with a book, considering that it did not take long for the website established in 2008 to boast of being visited more than any other architecture website (14 months, per their "YaMoPo" in June 2009). Unlike World-Architects, where I am an editor, which started by publishing books and then migrated to the internet, ArchDaily has always been digital, and perhaps that fact made taking the leap into print publishing far from enticing. The overhead and other costs to run a website make highly visited ones highly profitable, especially compared to print. Plus, only a tiny fraction of the millions of visitors each month would probably translate directly over to book sales. Small print runs are the norm with architecture books, which often cost more than $50 (the cover price for ArchDaily's book is $75, with a "special edition" asking $105) and therefore are often given to architects as gifts. Five-figure sales would make an architecture book moderately successful, but the same statistic would be inconsequential in just about any other genre.

So without an incentive to put out a book, and without me asking the folks at ArchDaily, "Why now?", I can only speculate that the purchase of ArchDaily by Architonic, the design website based in Zurich, in 2020 had something to do with it. A rebranding of the ArchDaily platform followed at the beginning of 2022, when Architonic also acquired designboom and created DAAily Platforms, which I don't know how to say ("Day-ay-illy"?) nor understand how it works; it appears to exist solely as a splash page for the three websites. No doubt the pandemic contributed to the push for a book, as the roughly two-year period of remote lectures and postponed biennales pushed people, companies, nearly everyone in any field to reconsider what they were doing. 

If ArchDaily founder David Basulto's introduction to The ArchDaily Guide to Good Architecture is any indication, the Chilean platform is not content being popular with architects; it wants to be popular with everyone. He starts with the beginning of ArchDaily, recalling their initial question: "What if architects had access to more information, better information?" Their response was project after project continuously added to the website, documented through numerous high-quality photos and, most importantly, almost as many drawings. Let me say it again: the projects always had drawings, the same to this day. The texts provided by the architects were often poor and didn't appear to be edited by the platform, but architects could "read" the photos and drawings instead. By the end of the introduction, just one page later, Basulto has shifted gears, writing: "Our responsibility lies with the built environment and with all its stakeholders, and that requires us to throw architecture's doors wide open." The hinge in between those quotes is one from Rafael Moneo, spoken in 2012: "There is an architect inside every one of us."

So if ArchDaily's first book is a means of democratizing architecture, of throwing architecture's doors wide open, how does it do it? And how does it relate to the website that gives the book its title? The ArchDaily Guide to Good Architecture is, like many Gestalten books, a survey. As such, the bulk of its pages consists of projects, around 70 of them arranged into ten thematic sections, starting with "Good Architecture Is Considerate" and ending about 300 pages later with "Good Architecture Is Desirable." In between, readers learn that good architecture is also durable, holistic, inclusive, innovative, local, protective, resourceful, and useful. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it's hard to figure out what makes one building appropriate to the "durable" section rather than the "protective" one, much less "useful." Shouldn't all of the projects — a drop of water in the ocean that is the ArchDaily website — address all of the definitions of what makes good architecture?

If the sections serve to educate a wider public on the values of architecture, the two-page introductions written by ArchDaily editors are integral. Set off as white text on blue background, the texts make statements about what makes good architecture and what architecture should be contributing to society, and they segue into the projects that follow. Unfortunately, these introductions are widely divergent in terms of quality and readability, with some in even more dire need of editing than the architects' texts on the ArchDaily website, but others presenting agreeable statements in clear, easy-to-follow language; the latter should have been the standard for all of them. The texts for the projects, written by a Gestalten editor, are consistently decent, but they fail to indicate why this or that building is durable, holistic, inclusive, etc.

And what about drawings? Does ArchDaily, like Geoff Manaugh with The BLDGBLOG Book, take what it does best and find a way to put it into the book? Unfortunately, no. I counted five drawings in the whole book, a scant number compared to the many photographs provided for the projects and accompanying the profiles of architects (Jeanne Gang, Alejandro Aravena, Francis Kéré, etc.) inserted throughout the book. This omission makes the book very un-ArchDaily, but the reliance on photographs makes it very much geared toward a more general audience than architects alone. The main positive carried through from the ArchDaily website to the ArchDaily book is the curation of quality architecture; it's hard to fault the diverse selection of buildings that was put into the book. That said, ArchDaily is not alone in being able to weed out the good from the bad or the mediocre, such that this survey appears, at times, like others probably already on the bookshelves of architects, if not non-architects.
The special edition comes with a linen cover and includes a print of a sketch by Francis Kéré.

*One of the interviews in The BLDGBLOG Book is with Lebbeus Woods, whose own, extremely popular blog was posthumously turned into a book by Princeton Architectural Press in 2015. It is also a successful blog-to-book transition, but unlike Manaugh's book, Slow Manifesto: Lebbeus Woods Blog is a straightforward, chronological presentation of 70 posts from the more than 300 posts Woods wrote between 2007 and 2012.

**A different form of branching can be found in two print titles made by Archinect, the 25-year-old website run by Paul Petrunia: Bracket, the occasional journal that started in 2010, with [on farming], and looks like it will have its fifth issue, On Sharing, soon; and ED, which started in 2018 and has had three issues to date.