ANPAFA is an incorporated non-profit group registered in Alberta. It grew out of Field Notes Press, established in 1986, which published a series of small books on various architectural things of interest: water towers (1986), the caladas of Barcelona (1989), parcs, plaças y arbres (1990), recipes (1993) and the dance halls of central Texas (1994). It then published issues 3-5 of On Site review (2000-2001). At that point we had published enough issues to apply to Canada Council's publishing program and so became a non-profit organisation – the Association for Non-profit Architectural Fieldwork (Alberta). This enormously cumbersome name is the result of many re-applications to Alberta Corporate Registries who first didn't think that 'architectural fieldwork' described anything, then asked whether we were an association, a society or a corporation. Chose association as it seemed the loosest form of organisation, but even this caused grief down the road as associations have paid memberships evidently. The words non-profit had to be in there, and finally, on the fourth try they said we had to indicate where we were located. $59 fee for each re-run at the name. It was agony.
Whatever. Publishing On Site is ANPAFA's main project, although as an umbrella organisation it also proposes and does other projects such as a proposal for emergency field offices in shipping containers for FEMA, a camouflage tarp for people who sleep out in urban areas (exhibited at the Banff Centre 2007), the war memorial online exhibition that paralleled On Site 22:WAR, the ideas competition for a new town in Alberta's oil sands region, a documentation project on rural urbanism.
ANPAFA applies, with greater and lesser levels of success, for grants: Business Innovation Development from Heritage Canada, Canada Council in the Support for Literary and Arts Magazines program, the Alberta Creative Development Initiative collaboration between Canada Council and Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Calgary Arts Development of the City of Calgary, Saskatchewan Arts Board. We are sustained by such grants; they give us the freedom to think about what kind of publication would cover architecture, urbanism, landscape, culture and art in whole new ways.
This leads us to On Site.
On Site is a venue where architects, designers, urbanists and artists can write about the things in which they are interested. On Site is an independent journal, edited by Stephanie White. Really, it is curated rather than edited, although quite a bit of copy-editing goes on.
On Site is a print magazine published twice a year, each issue has a theme, outlined in the call for articles. On Site is also this website, which includes its archive of past articles, special exhibitions, news, and subscription information.
On Site started as a response to the atomisation of architectural discussion in Canada – no one really knows much about what is happening in other parts of the country, and also in response to the work that Canadian architects do outside the country that we rarely hear about. Although it has subscribers from students to retired architects, we like to acknowledge that there is a wide tranch of young architects at the intern level that do most of the work in large offices, have heads full of ideas as they aren't that far from school, and most often have something to say.
There is also terrifically rich work done across the country at the MArch thesis level: astounding work, again, not often seen by anyone other than the audience for the final review. We don't feel that one has to be either a star, or living and working in Toronto, or well-connected to cool-hunters to be published in a Canadian architectural journal — we have a big country, we need a far-ranging magazine and this is On Site.
The above is the official mandate, established in 1999 and which continues with, every so often, small variations. What follows is an addendum, added 30.03.2012:
This is a page from one of Alan Turing's notebooks, about 1950, when he was trying to find a mathematical explanation for the near random patterns on animals – spaniels for instance. Morphogenesis, the self-organisation of cells into random patterns, led to the development of chaos theory, which Jim Al-Khalili in The Secret Life of Chaos eventually described as this: there is a system we think we understand, but which can easily, in fact is always, thrown out of whack by something alien falling into it, or falling out of it: dust, time, wilfulness: the accident, which introduces such a looseness into the system that it becomes unpredictable. Waves break upon the shore, eternally, but never, ever in precisely the same way, not even once.
I will never be a mathematician, but I do recognise that looseness, rather than an impossibly tight rigour, is in the realm of possibility. It accepts contingency, provisionality, failure and impulse. This seems a good thing, given this is how our lives generally proceed.
A comment about On Site recently came our way: 'there is a looseness to On Site – it is not overly curated, is super open, and is a timely reflection on the community of practitioners. With [a journal such as] Volume, the editorial thesis is tighter, but you lose that sense of openess.'
I find this extremely interesting, the sense that On Site's looseness has been recognised. Good. It isn't editorial sloppiness, but has been an intentional policy since On Site started. It comes from the intense boredom I always felt at the intractable and interminable philosophical arguments about architecture that could prove, by rules, that how things must be – logical, rigorous and controllable.
As the editor, I choose a theme, or someone else suggests one and I take out its inbuilt controls: this is a matter usually of language, and it is set free in a call for articles. Despite my introductory blurb to the theme – of course I have ideas about where this theme could go and what it could uncover – what comes in is completely unpredictable, often surprising, but still loosely connected to the overall keyword.
The other part of editorial looseness is that some of On Site's published articles and essays are tentative, others are very powerful, and they sit next to each other. There has to be room for the beginnings of an idea, as well as the fully developed thesis.