the philip johnson tapes released

The second of my three book projects this year, the Philip Johnson Tapes, Interviews by Robert A. M. Stern has just been published. My role in this project was to take a set of raw tapes of interviews that Stern conducted with Johnson in 1985 and turn them into a coherent, readable narrative. According to the readers who’ve seen the book, I was successful. A beautiful design by Pentagram and a huge amount of photo-archive research and fact-checking by Stern’s office made this something I am quite proud of.

Expect some Johnson-related events in the near future as well as more work on Johnson from me. A critical analysis of the architect’s role and work is in the future, I suspect…

athe philip johnson tapes

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networked publics and publicity

As I mentioned, the first of my three fall books, Networked Publics, is out. Initial reaction has been really positive and I am just thrilled.

If you are a member of the press, please contact me and I will ask MIT to send you one.

One of my goals in the next few days is to get the video section of Networked Publics back online after a year’s hiatus. I post a note to the site to that end when I’ve done that.

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whence and wither

I got back from teaching in Limerick yesterday and am slowly plotting my next steps. Certain things are in play. I continue to do new work with Robert at AUDC. The Netlab is going to launch a large project or two during the next year. But the foremost question in my mind now is: "what’s my next book?"

Fate conspired to make three years of edited books come out this fall. That’s not ideal, but we take what we can get, I suppose. Part of the fall will go to the inevitably necessity of promoting these books, but my clever strategy of having projects published in neat succession was undone by one slow publisher, one collaborator who wanted his project out by this Christmas, and one project that came out on on time. So a barrage of books will be followed by a gap as I gear up to the next project.

Originally, I had planned to write my network culture book, but now as the economy is tanking, I’m wondering how such a book will be received and where it would fit into such a rapidly degenerating condition. So another strategy may be to finally put together my work on Philip Johnson, add some more research, and publish that.

Now, as anyone reading this blog knows, I have been predicting the implosion of the markets for years. In any sensible world the market would have had a correction years ago so of course this one is much worse than expected. Well, I told you so. If anything surprises me about the world economy’s current plight it’s that anybody professes surprise. The signs of the collapse have been around us for a long time and, this will come as unwelcome news to many, but things are worse even than they might appear. My current bedside reading is Kevin Phillips’s Bad Money. Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Failure of American Capitalism, a harrowing account of how this collapse happened, written in 2007 (!). See the Bill Moyers interview with Phillips here. If the book is written in 2007 and the interview is from September of this year, they both anticipate and explain the current collapse.

Since the collapse is a key moment in network culture, once I can get a handle on its consequences, it would only make sense to continue that project. This strain of thought argues toward network culture as the next book and that’s likely to happen. There’ll be a lot of thinking aloud,  wondering, and asking you, my reader for advice along the way no matter where all this winds up.


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goodbye to all that

Yesterday I turned in the final copy for the Infrastructural City. Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles. That makes three edited books done this summer (the other two being The Philip Johnson Tapes. Interviews by Robert A.M. Stern and Networked Publics). These have been long, multi-year projects and I am delighted to get them out the door. You will see all three of these books in bookstores later this fall. Doing three books in one year is total madness and I won’t repeat it anytime soon!

What’s next? A book-length project on network culture is in the works while I also continue to fill in the blanks on Johnson’s life, aiming toward a critical book on the architect. Perhaps most important, however, is that AUDC’s Robert Sumrell moved to New York last week. Expect new work from us soon. It’s coming as early as the Grand Tour issue of Perspecta, but we are also teaching a studio together at Columbia and other projects are in the pipe.

I’m taking a few days off to regroup, but afterwards, it’s time to go back to the blog.

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spring break

This coming week is spring break at Columbia and I’ll be on break myself, on a much-needed restorative ski trip, so posting will be light, although I have one or two items in the works. Not enough content you say? The three books we’re publishing in 2008 are shaping up nicely (oh what the heck, I might as well tell you I’m putting together a fourth) and you’ll be crying uncle before you know it. Robert noticed a little spike in Blue Monday sales. Maybe you’ve picked it up for spring break reading?

In news along that front, I was delighted to meet Michael Bierut of Pentagram who is designing the Philip Johnson Tapes. It’s great to have an opportunity to work with him. For those of you not in the know, not only is Michael one of our most accomplished designers, he is also a blogger at Design Observer where he reflects on topics such as the all-important concept of bershon


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Place, Revised

One month ago, I announced that I’d re-introduce the Networked Publics book to my readers, chapter by chapter. In the meantime I’ve been hard at work on that book, the Johnson Tapes, and the Infrastructural City. Networked Publics achieved another milestone yesterday as MIT finished my corrections to the copy edits that they made to the text. So far, my experience with the press has been stellar. I’m a big fan. 

Today I’d like to turn to the text that Anne Friedberg and I co-wrote on Place. To introduce it, I’d like to recall a conversation I had with Mark Shepard last night. Mark is a brilliant professor with a joint appointment in architecture and media studies at the University of Buffalo. His Tactical Sound Garden is an amazing project that employs locative media while it avoids the kind of heavy-handed instrumentalism that so many locative media projects embrace (aside: I really hope it gets realized for a broad audience with the opening up of the iPhone SDK). Curiously, Mark and I were in architecture school together at Cornell, sitting two desks away from each other. But circumstances are just that, the milieu certainly did little encourage us in this direction, unless perhaps it provoked a counter-reaction.

In any event, Mark clarified my own framework to me when he suggested that the model of network culture that Anne and I lay out in the Place chapter of Networked Publics is spatially distinct from the one that Jameson lays out in Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism. In that model, which was so crucial for us for so long, Jameson takes the Bonaventure hotel as his rhetorical object. Jameson sees the hotel’s notorious interior as an analog to postmodern hyperspace, its bilaterally symmetrical interior simple in plan but impossible to navigate in reality. For Jameson, this condition represents the postmodern entanglement of the subject in a system that has no exterior, a system that the subject can no longer take an outside vantage point in order to map. But this is still a Euclidean space. Being inside it is the reason the subject can’t map it. In contrast, Mark noted that the condition of spatiality that Anne and I describe is entirely different. In this model (even if this is an AUDC project and goes unmentioned in the Place chapter), my rhetorical object is One Wilshire (which has indeed been as important to me as the Bonaventure was for Jameson), a structure that seemingly exists in one space but in fact defines many superimposed simultaneous environments. 

So, Mark pointed out, at the very core of Jameson’s theory, we find a condition that is very different from ours. To be sure, we’ll continue mapping, something I suggest in this essay, but placefinding is going to be a very different thing indeed under network culture. 

All that said, there have been some revisions to the text in the last iteration and I’m quite happy with the chapter and the voice that Anne and I developed during our year at Networked Publics. See here for Place.  





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networked publics on the net

The last few years have been a whirlwind of projects. This week, I deliver to MIT Press  the final copy edits of the Networked Publics book, which they will print this fall. 

I want to turn to this project for a while so let’s start with the inside scoop about the book. It came about as the product of a theme year at the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC. Initially, when I was brought on as a senior fellow, it was to coordinate a group of a dozen or so fellows, build and manage a group blog and write a book based on my Network City work.

With a new director at the Center, however, the rules of the game changed and we were asked to deliver some kind of joint product. After much deliberation, the group came to the conclusion that only a book project could rivet our attention enough. We divided up into four groups, each one devoted to one issue: Place, Culture, Politics, and Infrastructure. In turn, each group worked collaboratively, using social software such as Writely (now Google Docs) to produce the texts. As the leaders of the group, Mimi Ito and I framed the texts with an introduction and conclusion respectively. 

Initially our ambitions were pretty humble. How could you take such a diverse group and create a coherent whole out of it? Since all of us were treading in the heady realm of interdisciplinarity, we all felt like fish out of water that year. I barely talked about architecture in 2005-2006 at all. Could we pull it off? If we did, could the book be anything more than an introduction to the material?

As the texts got finished, ambitions on all of our parts began to rise. After all, the book does have our names on it. My conclusion, it became clear to me, would form the basis of an upcoming book on network culture. In editing the work, I realized how timely and important this project was. Two years after the initial drafting, an eternity today, the book still defines the key issues in network culture and does so incisively. The peer reviews from MIT suggested the same. Of course the reviewers, as good reviewers should, provided comments that necessitated a good deal of rethinking and rewriting this summer. I worked with the chapter editors over the summer and turned in the text last fall. As I complete the final copy edits this week, I am uploading the chapters one at a time to the Networked Publics site. I will be adding some reflections on each text and featuring them on this site. Be aware that some of the texts are not yet updated. 

Over the last few months, I have reworked the Networked Publics site to focus on the content and bring new readers to the book and the blog quickly. It’s looking rather nice although I have a bug or two in IE 7 that I still need to squash and I need to bring up the videos from our lecture series as well.

Of course the book will be far easier to read in print form and it will have certain features that don’t appear on the Web, such as sidebars by noted thinkers reflecting on issues addressed in the book. If you read the Web site, make sure you buy the book too. Our ability to work with publishers to allow content from books to appear on the Web as well as in print is linked to good sales. If sales takes too much of a hit, presses will invoke more protective models about their property.

So, with that preface, start out today by taking a look at Mimi Ito’s introduction to see how she frames the book. More than an introduction to this book, it lays out her models of thinking about the relationship of individuals and media today. For those of you who are architects, this introduction is especially important as it begs the question where is architecture in the ecology of new media? 

Mimi Ito, "Introduction," Networked Publics.



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books and things

Amazon released its oddly-named (Farenheit 451?) Kindle book reader today. On initial view, the device is ungainly when compared to the iPhone or the Sony PRS-505. But with some 90,000 books on offer for the relatively low price of $9.99, the Kindle is a shot across the bow for book publishers. I confess to a certain hatred of books (my publishers wouldn’t want to hear this, I’m sure). About 30% of the books that I bring home are elegant objects that I am glad to own. But some 70% are pointless to own in physical form. Why do I need a work of fiction as a book if an e-reading device can serve me as well? Why do I need to own a copy of a textbook when I could get it on an e-reader? This idea attracts me greatly.

Alas, web browsing seems rudimentary while magazines, newspapers, and even blogs demand a subscription fee. This is a big step back from the world of free content that my iPhone offers.

My prediction is that although Kindle will have some degree of success, it will take someone like Apple licensing the content (why does Amazon need to produce hardware anyway? seems like a questionable move) before this technology will really take off.

But see Newsweek for more.


Book Cover



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the future of the library

At the New Yorker, Anthony Grafton pursues the future of the library. I was shocked to read Grafton recount that a Cambridge University Press editor told him recently that "Conservatively, ninety-five per cent of all scholarly inquiries start at Google." But Grafton’s piece weighs the value of the search engine and the scope of the googleplex against other qualities. Libraries—or at least the major research libraries—will continue to have a role in our lives. If Grafton leaves anything out, it’s that the Web may miss more than it preserves…and not so much of the physical world of print as of its own domain. Take for example, this littlegirlonline (not safe for work), which had some interesting material on it until it was given up and has now been re-appropriated by a porn vendor. You can still find some, but not all, of the writing at the Internet Archive. Thank God for Brewster Kahle and, but still, are we really keeping track of the good stuff online?

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