Expanding the Field of Architectural Publishing (EF—AP) proposes a new role for speculative graphic design in the definition of publishing processes. The speculative publications are seen as devices that switch the traditional workflow of publishing—the one that provides publishing responses to existing sets of data or problems—by positioning the conceptual design stage first, and postponing the editorial until the conclusion of that initial stage. The alteration in the order of procedures brings with it an ontological shift. The definition of publishing, in the context of EF—AP, is challenged, and the traditional roles become much more dispersed than in a traditional publishing setting. Within this framework, the role of speculative publications is to provoke discussion, and questions around the meaning and forms of architectural publishing. The results of these discussions are then distilled into a collection of small booklets with homogeneous characteristics. EF—AP proposes a definition of the term ‘publication’ as always unfinished, and is rather a sum of processes than the creation of individual artefacts. The final object of production can be understood as the baton used in a relay race; an object that can be continued, as well as being augmented or modified by others.
The methodology employed by EF—AP is an attempt to expose areas for collective expansion in the field of architectural publishing. This publishing project also makes distinctions about how we understand certain roles and ideas that relate to publishing: knowledge as a fluid matter; the authority as peer; the reader as participant. The expansions of the field are multiple and happen within different rooms, they partially overlap and create dissonance in their interpretation.
To date, EF—AP has started with four speculations that have prompted eighteen different booklets containing essays and interviews that create conditions for new speculations and discussions. Three of the speculations follow traditional formats where contents are held: a newspaper, a leaflet and an activity book. They experiment with different understandings of expansion: agency, critique, readership. However, the fourth round of speculations proposes an expansion of the formats for architectural publishing.
Covers is a speculative publication that aims to expand the format and production techniques of architectural publishing. It takes the form of a collection of scarves that establish an analogy between façade tectonics in buildings, and the primarily superficial role of scarves worn on the human body. On one side, the scarves use common verbs that state what the façade does: disguise, expose, enclose, assemble, reveal, and include. The other side features an abstract illustration of the building. This bi-faced narration feeds into the intentions of the speculative publication. Each scarf was designed in collaboration with six architectural offices, and a selection of façades from contemporary architecture. Foremost, this speculation addresses architects and encourages them to share their productions in a less controlled way, contaminating them with the tools of other creative fields. Secondly, the speculation is a development of a very aestheticised version of an architectural representation. This aims to attract members of the public, who do not usually relate to the field of architectural publishing, and to create simplified points of entry into the disciplinary debate.
The four speculations unravel a process of discussion and research that frames the places where these publications sit. The text that follows is an adapted excerpt from an interview with Dr Atxu Amann, professor at the Superior Technical School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM), where she teaches initial modules, and coordinates MA and doctorate programmes in architectural communication.
Carlos Romo-Melgar: One of the ideas that I’m putting forward in Expanding the Field of Architectural Publishing is a greater understanding of the concept of post-disciplinarity. We’re too caught up in academic frameworks that are rigid, outdated and prescriptive. When you leave university and enter real life, you begin
to define your professional profile. It is true that architecture necessarily entails a certain set of legal requirements, licenses, and technicalities, however, after my own personal experience—I left architecture for graphic design, and in the meantime flirted with other, similar disciplines—I’ve realised that it’s all the same thing on an intellectual level.
Atxu Amann: Of course! When we were to set up our studio, Nico and Andrés (the other two members) came back to Madrid after doing an MA course in Columbia and military service, respectively. They found me working as the co-director of the magazine for the Higher Council of Architects Associations (CSCAE). That was what put food on the table for us at the very beginning. Afterwards, we spent some years working as graphic designers, putting together designs for IFEMA  , and ended up designing exhibitions; we never actually decided to become graphic designers. Then, I was hired to teach at a fashion design university, and the rest of the team subsequently joined me. We spent some years at different places and, in the meantime, I was appointed director of editorial design for the Community of Madrid. Finally, we got to teach at ETSAM. Because of all these experiences, I hardly ever talk about architecture. I prefer to discuss the architectural. I share Morales’ understanding of the architectural: it is a cross-sectional condition that arises from applying a strategic order to something. Results depend on which tools and materials you might decide to use in that process. Maybe that’s a very old-fashioned way of viewing architecture, but in my opinion there’s no difference between designing a doorknob, a sink, or a building. For me, the important thing is the projective intelligence that we learn in architecture education. That skill allows us to foresee an alternative present. It shows us how to unfold complex processes, which require a certain level of technical skill, and material knowledge. It doesn’t matter whether you’re putting together a publication or a building; it’s all the same.
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CR: So do you think that architecture professionals run the risk of being left behind if they don’t bring themselves up to date and accept a hybrid reality?
AA: Whether we want it to or not, change is going to happen because there are a huge number of architects. If we assume that 30% of future architects are going to be trained to construct a building, the other 70% will have to train themselves for any one of the different jobs that they will have during their lives. The only thing that university can teach you is how to adapt, and how to learn on your own, the projective intelligence, which at its core is basically a way of managing information: knowing how to conduct a specific complexity.
CR: Following this prognosis, it can be disheartening to weigh up the real return on all that invested time in our education. It is true that with the changes that have been made to the training programme in Spain, we are taking the discipline forwards. However, I think in my time, architecture was taught a bit more generically.
AA: Well, architecture is a generic discipline.
CR: Do you think so?
AA: Yes. Society isn’t asking us to be experts in one specific thing when they say that we need a specific training programme for working with heritage buildings. I always think that it needs to be something additional, rather than something that replaces the basic training. When you finish your generic degree—when you’ve got your projective intelligence—you know how to read the real world. If, after that, you decide that you want to design pencil sharpeners, then great. You will need to understand the materiality of pencil sharpeners, how they are made, etc. You don’t need to be an expert but to work with others who are not architects, that is the difference. The key is to find out how to link our knowledge with that of other disciplines, and to learn how they intertwine. I’m not suggesting that we break the architectural foundations of our training, but that we expand them, and contaminate them.
CR: I’m interested in this idea of the architectural approach as a system of mediation, rather than as a medium or a subject matter.
AA: It’s got a lot to do with the distinction that exists between politics and the political, and between architecture and the architectural. Politics refers to the laws that govern our bodies. Architecture is a discipline. The architectural, just like the political, refers to agency, the possibility of certain things happening to those bodies.
CR: To further explore this idea of agency—of the political—part of the MA Graphic Media Design project that we’re doing this interview for questions the idea of ‘the academic’. Not just the concept of the university as the seat of everything academic, but also academia as a system. I think that it’s got some largely evolutionary methods: legitimation, referencing, creation of evidence… They’re more evolutionary than disruptive. I always think that the contemporary, the cutting-edge can be found in disruption, in the need to break the prejudices and the preconceptions that limit us. This is one of the reasons why I put forward speculation as a valid methodology, beyond ‘scientific’ experimentation.
AA: I’m 100% with you on this. Out of the seven subjects that I teach, I would always choose ‘Speculations Workshop’ as my favourite. It’s a module in which there’s no criticism and no grades; we don’t even have the roles of professors and students. We achieve the module objectives by means of action: by destroying a social imaginary, by learning how to teach/learn possibilities, and by developing strategies. All this, without any subject matter or a curriculum at all. We’re living in a time in which you can download any and all information from the Internet. Teaching has turned into time management. I don’t think that it would make much sense right now to ponder the future of academia, because academia is living on borrowed time. Academia is no longer able to offer actual subject matter. Me, you, your son or mine, the dog – we can download all subject matter from the Internet. The only thing that we can try to teach is a capacity for independent learning, for intersectionality, for hybridisation, for interpretation, for translation, for postproduction, for management. I don’t think contents are relevant anymore.
CR: And then, we can’t find a job.
AA: Of course! The thing is, learning happens in other places. At some point, the concept of ‘university’ is going to atomise, expand, and increase. Just like what’s happened with the concepts of ‘house’ or ‘city’, the concept of ‘university’ is going to shake off all its old associations. We’re not going to stop learning – that would be impossible for us. We’re designed to learn. Obviously, this worry is more relevant to you because you’re young. From a critical position, you’ve got a vested interest in knowing what the new learning environments are going to be. My advice to you would be that instead of worrying about the unknown, you begin the change yourself. That’s why I agree with your idea about the role of speculations. I used to go to thousands of meetings about educational innovation. I actually founded the group for educational innovation. And what did all that get me? Nothing. On the other hand, when I created the speculation workshop, I realised that the participants were learning things that went above and beyond the standard framework. I believe that it’s your task to create this space, and this time for learning, which dismantles the existing model.