I’m really pleased to announce that my book Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture is out now. I’m really pleased with how it has come together, largely thanks to the generosity of those I’ve interviewed, the people I’ve worked with, and especially the freedom and trust from my publishers to let me make the book I wanted to make.
The ‘official’ blurb text about the book is on the publisher’s website and on the various online shops, the contents and various other links are on my own site, but for this post I just thought I’d put down some of the ideas and thinking around the book itself which aren’t necessarily touched on inside it.
Cover of Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture, hanging out the window of our rental in Venice.
On the seed of the idea
While the book itself should stand alone, it gathers together thinking that for me goes back a number of years. Most importantly is my phd thesis which I undertook at RMIT university, started in 2005, which looked at the relationship between new design strategies and organisational structures in architectural practice. It’s based on the seemingly obvious assumption that how a practice is structured has an impact on what it creates. Practice is understood as a context for production (rather than the professional or legal side of architecture, as it is largely taught), which led me to examine architecture through the firms that produce it and strategies they employ.
Within ‘traditional’ architecture, this is all fairly predictable. Where this becomes interesting (for me, anyway) is when you look beyond architects to other adjacent professionals or organisations that also operate on the built environment. That became the focus of an article I wrote for Architecture Review Australia (now AR Asia Pacific) called Potential Futures for Design Practice, which sought to assign ‘roles’ to what I saw as constructive precedents for how designers could operate in the future.
It was this piece, and the extensive discussion in the comments below, that led to Routledge approach me to turn this idea into a book.
Screen shot of diagram held up by Bruce Mau during our Skype interview
On the use of interviews
It always seemed clear to me that this should be a book of interviews. Where Potential Futures pieced together the various roles largely from others’ descriptions of their own work, to get closer to the reality of these people and practices necessitated speaking to them directly. An edited book of contributions by each of these people may have also worked, but it’s important to note that — with some exceptions — these are all doers, not critics or writers. And doers are, by definition, busy doing stuff, not writing about doing stuff. In this sense, I also saw it as important to get these (busy) voices on the page, to discuss their work in a way that they might not feel compelled to write down themselves.
All of the interviews were conducted ‘face to face’, in the loose sense — meaning either in real space or over Skype — but never over email. People have a natural tendency for immediacy in the spoken word which I find is lost when filtered through a keyboard. Or, as Jennifer Sigler puts it, “I’m obsessed with the spoken word in print.” Most interviews ran for 1 or 2 hours, which was then transcribed in full (big thanks to the indefatigable Jude Crilly) and then rigorously edited down to about 3000 words of the real juice, which would work out at only about 25 mins of talk. These edits were then sent to the interviewees for approval — which I’m sure breaks every convention of ‘real’ journalism — but one I felt was necessary given the amount of restructuring that was done. Nobody was overzealous in re-writing history, with only a few making comments at all. Despite this amount of editing, and because they have been run past the interviewees, each of these interviews can stand up as a ‘primary text’.
Contents on back cover
On the structure
Each interview is preceded by an introduction of about 500 words, intended to give some background on the person, how they fit into this Future Practice context, and to link this person back to the more generic ‘role’ which I’ve applied to each. I’m a big fan of interviews, but I feel strongly about how they are presented. I’m less interested in those that are ‘written in’, such as Lunch with the FT (a bad example actually, as I love it), where the interviewer seems to spend more column inches describing the way they’re eating their food than what they actually have to say. At the other extreme is the interview that just starts in with a question and continues question and answer verbatim, with no context whatsoever. This is all a long way of saying that I’m proud of my introductions, and I hope they strike a good balance between the deep end of the straight transcript and the flounciness of a written-in report.
The bound spine, no glue in sight.
On the design
One of the reasons I was keen to work with Routledge, is that they were open for me to coordinate the design myself. At the very start of the project I approached Sam de Groot, who worked in the studio next to mine in Amsterdam, to handle the design. Sam took on this role as much more than providing a graphic template, he actually read all the interviews, gave extensive advice on editing and content, and even schooled me on the finer points of book binding by introducing me to the most fastidious master: Robin Kinross. ‘Books that lie open’ has to be the most impassioned texts on binding ever written, including the memorable line: “One might remark also that a book open on a table – while the reader holds a cup of tea in both hands (for warmth and comfort), or sews a button on a shirt, or carries a young child – is no more than a mark of decent civilization.”
It’s a small miracle that Sam was able to convince the publisher of spending the money to make this happen. Future Practice is not bound with glue, but stitched, and the cover spine is not fixed to the pages, but only to the covers using a technique called Otabind. And it should indeed lie flat on a table as you hold a cup or tea or a child. This is something I’m very pleased about.
Sam also came up with the idea of using a flag for the cover, and directed the cover photo by Liam Tickner, taken on the top floor of our studio building in Amsterdam. One of the ideas we spoke about communicating graphically is the pluralistic nature of the book: where each of the interviews presents a potential future of practice, none are definitive. We played with digitally distorted letters, even subtly distorting each page of the entire book (tests proved this to be far too annoying), but then came upon the idea of the flag as a way of ‘naturally’ distorting the words ‘Future Practice’, and thereby introducing a level of instability into what is otherwise a fairly declarative statement.
Cover photograph by Liam Tickner, flag design and direction by Sam de Groot.
I’d like to thank everybody who has helped propel this project from an idea into a real thing sitting on the bookstands. Most of all to all the interviewees: Bruce Mau, Indy Johar, Reinier de Graaf, Laura Baird, Mel Dodd, Wouter Vanstiphout, Camila Bustamante, Steve Ashton, Matt Webb, Bryan Boyer, Todd Reisz, Marcus Westbury, Hedwig Heinsman, Hans Vermeulen, Martine de Wit, Jeanne Gang, Conrad Hamann, Liam Young, Arjen Oosterman, Lilet Breddels and Natalie Jeremijenko. All are amazing people doing amazing stuff, and have been incredibly generous with their time, comments, and image permissions.
A special thank you to Dan Hill for his fantastic foreword, it makes sense of the whole with a critical eye, and pulls together some great references, especially the scorcher from Kevin Lynch talking about edges.
And thanks to all those who gave feedback and comments on the manuscript: Sam de Groot, Jude Crilly, Dan Hill, Bryan Boyer and Tobias Natrass Pond, Justine Clark, Katja Noviskova and Amelia Borg. Thanks to Mark Burry, my PhD supervisor, for setting me on this path of exploring practice. Thanks to Mat Ward, Simon Sellars and Timothy Moore for commissioning interviews for their various magazines which have made it into this book. Thanks to Camila Hornby for advice on my contract. Thanks to Stuart Harrison and Simon Knott, my co-hosts on The Architects radio show for giving me such great experience in live interviewing. And of course thanks you Anthony and Chloe Hyde, and to Amy Silver for supporting me along the way.
It’s available now from Amazon.co.uk, and will be shipping imminently from Amazon.com (you can currently pre-order it), and from various other online booksellers. I’m yet to see it in bookstores, but I’m told it is on the way.
I am also assured there is an e-book edition also on its way.
If you are a journalist interested in reviewing it, please use this review copy request form
You can also get hold of it at one of the various book launches that I’m planning in the coming weeks, for details see this separate post.
If you’re a university, organisation or bookstore and you would like to host a launch, lecture or workshop, please get in touch! I also do weddings and kids parties.Posted: September 7th, 2012
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