I've always quite liked that for Abbé Laugier, the muse of architecture was female, and there she is, holding her compass, classical architecture in ruins at her feet. For us, it is not the primitive hut that is interesting, it is the water tower.

This journal has been in hiatus for a couple of years, for many reasons.  In 2015 we transferred our Canada Council for the Arts funding to a new independent journal, The Site.  Without the relentless publishing schedule imposed by Canada Council grant stipulations I have had a chance to really consider what On Site review started as and then became over 34 issues.  

The entire archive of back issues is now on ISSUU — all but four whose files are lost, and some of the early issues were reconstructed, changed from black and white to colour.  In the process of doing this, I was reminded of the sheer volume of projects, articles, ideas and wide-ranging topics On Site review covered, and how many of the writers have gone on to be of significant influence in the discipline of architecture, urbanism and landscape.

Our motto from the beginning, not the last word but maybe the first, allowed brilliant but shaggy thoughts, tentativity, ideas on the edge of chaos; never slick, never complacent.


So now, in the spring of 2018, I'm going to float out a new call for articles to see if there is a place for On Site review's particular interests in the current climate.  As always, On Site review is not an academic journal — if anything it was sometimes a courier between graduate school conversations and graduates at the intern level spending their time detailing yet another condo tower and remembering fondly (to their surprise) the relative luxury of talking about architecture at school. But there is also a wider readership of people who practice, think about and love the wide, deep discipline encompassed by the word architecture.


call for articles for On Site review 35 :: the material culture of architecture

There is theory, there is technology, there is history and there is tourism; there are buildings inhabited and buildings looked at.  

There is an austerity apportioned to architecture, described usually by how it comes to be and how it is photographed: sculptural, abstract, often unpopulated — this anomie has become naturalised and influences both the experience of contemporary architecture and its design.  
At the same time there is a sensuality to buildings described by how they feel to the hand, to the eye, to the senses — the chalkiness of stucco, the smell of wood, the erosion of concrete with its ageing lichenous corners.

As a kind of extreme example, let us look at the barrio, often represented on a city's plan by a graphic texture/screen that stands for informal shelter, crime, turf wars, poverty and missing infrastructure — all the things anathema to discrete architecture and planning projects which are systematic, organised and patterns of obvious democracy and access.

Barrios are also much documented for their innovation, their hierarchies, their family structures, their defences against external forces, their colour — less of a dot texture applied to a map than an assemblage of individual stories. The danger of a fly-over or drive-by habit is when informal settlements, whether described as an economic texture or a clean plan, leave the physical altogether in favour of social narrative.  It is possible that the traditions of architectural design processes and critical discussion contribute to this chasm of description.

Might we start instead with something more intimate: the sensuality of architecture and building as a one-to-one experience at the scale of a human hand, and then extrapolate from there the kinds of abstract, or political, economic or ideological systems that put that building and those qualities in place?   This is the beginning of a deep description of a piece of architecture that starts from the senses rather than the intellect.  It doesn't finish there, but the starting point might take us somewhere unexpected.

ideas due June 30 2018: a rough outline, 250 words maximum.  Sophisticated ideas in accessible prose please.

send ideas here: contact us

approved ideas that lead to finished pieces, including text, illustrations, captions, maps, diagrams, videos, links and whatever other interesting means of communication I don't yet know about, will be  due August 31 2018

further thoughts: There is a vast literature on material culture, we won't go over it here, but we might think about architecture as material culture in the way we consider Navajo pots, pit houses and tupperware collections as micro-monuments to particular ways of living.  This isn't a conversation about the vernacular, although that is part of a larger discussion of material culture.  It is a conversation about how and why we make things, choose things and how things embody our culture(s).

The question here is: what will be read from the material culture of our houses, our settlements and artefacts when all our words, our theories, our ambitions are gone?  What does the materiality of our architecture tell us about who we are?
And, what is the materiality of our architecture?




and just an idea I'm thinking of at the moment for a possible On site review 36:

What is the acceptable durée for architecture?  Is it found in construction, or form, or program?  Is the temporary a material issue, or is it about occupation?  Can a rental suite be considered temporary architecture, no matter how long the physical space has existed?  The use of space might be temporary, or the construction of the space itself, such as a Oxfam tent, might be designed to be short-lived.  

How can we extend the limits of a temporary architecture so that it becomes a fluid, nimble, responsive typology not just a reactive condition to disaster and crisis; not just a condition of poverty or charity.  Can a temporary architecture be intentionally demountable and moveable, rather than thrown up for quick occupation and then bulldozed, as happens at Calais.  Well, of course it can, but is this actually happening?

Sometimes a shoddy building stands on into its second century, beyond all reasonable expectations. How does this happen?  Is its use, its symbolic function, part of its material persistence?