The BLDGBLOG Book
Having crossed paths with Geoff Manaugh and BLDGBLOG a few years ago, I’m now a regular reader, and even an occasional contributor. My endorsement of this book does have a ring of inevitability to it.
The site seems to have captured the attention of thousands of people by allowing us to take an interest in the built environment in a way that hadn’t seemed viable before: allowing in elements of science fiction, fantasy, speculation, and general imagination. Of course architecture has always been about these things, but recently it seems as if the layman – outsiders to the profession - are being allowed to take a closer interest. Just another side-effect of the altered information flows of the early 21st century. That, and the work of some interesting writers.
Without Manaugh’s own fiercely speculative writing the site would be without its vital spark. He reports on stories, ideas, notions, flights of fancy, but adds his own context, an endless cascade of “What if?” scenarios to bring geological data-storage, subterranean sculpture, redesigned atmospheres, resurrected fortifications, and a million other architectural themes to life.
This is science fiction, but in the manner defined by Brian Aldiss. It is “the sub-literature of change”. The same is true of the book, which I’ve just finished reading. Manaugh storms through a number of his favourite blogging themes: The Underground (adventures in subterranean architectures, geology), Redesigning the Sky (atmospherics, artificial metereology, aurora on demand), Music, Sounds, Noise (architectural acoustics), and Landscape Futures. Each of these receives a series of small essays, which report on interesting phenomena, such as how cities and mountain ranges influence weather patterns, before plunging into the consequential possibilities: weather as spectator sport, weaponising the atmosphere, and so on.
It’s a book that contains multitudes. The core bits of essaying are supplemented by sidebar notes from the blog, as well as the site’s best entries, and a bunch of interviews with architects, musicians, artists, and writers. It’s also lavishly illustrated with dozens of colour pictures.
Through a couple of junctures in this book the sober British empiricist in me frowned at Manaugh’s more outlandish flights of fantasy. I’m not sure whether that’s because the context of reading such ideas in a book seemed to carry a different gravity to reading them on a blog, or whether the occasionally unscientific fiction he was creating challenged even my reasonably broad capacity for playfulness and optimism. He is not dealing in analytical “reality”, of course, as the introduction makes plain:
“…forget academic rigour. Never take the appropriate next step. Talk about Chinese urban design, the European space program, and landscape in the films of Alfred Hitchcock in the span of three sentences – because it’s fun, and the juxtapositions might take you somewhere. Most importantly, follow your lines of interest.”
Which, as a statement of philosophy sounds rather like one of the book’s literary godfathers, JG Ballard: “My advice to anyone in any field is to be faithful to your obsessions. Identify them and be faithful to them, let them guide you like a sleepwalker.”
Over-using that quote. I’ll stop now.