The Postopolis! LA event had to move from the roof to the conference room on the second floor by the time it was Geoff Manaugh’s turn to speak; hotel protocols. Geoff is a writer and architectural theorist as his blog, BLDGBLOG portrays. He is also the Senior Editor of Dwell, and Editor of Archinect. Unlike other speakers who had slideshows or powerpoints, Geoff chose to show one picture during the entirety of his lecture: a single photo of an artificial coral reef to explain to the audience his unique take on architecture.
JL: You describe BLDGBLOG as a website about "architectural conjecture, urban speculation, landscape futures." How would you describe it to readers who don't know anything about architecture?
GM: Architecture is almost always viewed either as something incredibly boring (installing ventilation systems in the downtown Convention Center, or designing garage additions in the suburbs), or it's seen as something incredibly specialized (you have to know who Le Corbusier is, or you need to have a specialized vocabulary, full of algorithms and parametric design and rhizomes). But architecture is actually something that you see, for instance, in video games, when characters race through dungeons, castles, or strange landscapes; and it's something you see in films, when a character's entire personality is defined by the look of their apartment or their corporate office or the skyscraper they own.
All of these things are open to architectural discussion, and they can all lead to interesting things. And, now, through the housing crisis, we could even say - if we're willing to stretch this - that the global economy is in trouble today precisely because of architecture (or the pursuit of it). In other words, you might not think you know a lot about architecture, but you probably know a lot more than you think you do, and it's infinitely more interesting to me to hear about *your* experience of the built environment than to listen to the specialized mumblings of a few random people with advanced degrees.
JL: When did you first start reading books by J.G. Ballard, and what is it about his theories that draws you in so much to base a lot of your observations on his work?
GM: I started reading novels by J.G. Ballard only about 5 years ago, actually, but I was instantly drawn to them. They are by no means to everyone's taste, however, so I can't recommend them unreservedly; but I think his novel Super-Cannes is a brilliant look at how the actual physical and spatial design of a corporate community can lead to all sorts of personality disorders in the people who live and work there. The architecture, in other words, has psychological effects; it makes you think differently about the people around you, or about what possibilities your life might have.
For instance, it's so easy to be horrified by empty parking lots and huge highway systems and vast, inhuman expanses of concrete; it's the easiest reaction you could have. But what Ballard does so well is that he asks: What sort of person would you be if you actually *liked* these spaces? What if you could be enthusiastic about all of those strange, overlooked environments - and how would you, in turn, begin to act? It's more like a joke, in many ways, but what if parking lots turned you on? Not many novelists ask that sort of question - so, on that level alone, Ballard's novels can be a unique and interesting read.
JL: Sometimes your blog almost reads like a sci-fi movie, with your observations about the future. Do you have any theories about the future of the landscape/architecture in L.A.?
GM: I definitely have my own thoughts about what might happen here in Los Angeles - for instance, I think an extreme natural disaster is more or less guaranteed to occur within the next ten years, whether that means an earthquake, a wildfire that reaches downtown, or a particularly harsh drought - and this will have a huge impact on the future form and functioning of the city.
Beyond that, though, I think it'd be more interesting to speculate about the architectural future of the city on a much longer scale - as you say, maybe in a novel, maybe in a film, maybe simply in a book of essays about Los Angeles. One interesting possibility, though: If LA could unleash its standing army of special effects firms, concept artists, and other environmental designers from Hollywood, and the video game industry and let *them* offer us visions of LA in 2050AD, we might actually find that the architecture schools - and architects in general - are not really the ones with the big or most interesting ideas for our city.
JL: What's next? Are there any projects you're planning for the future? I know a BLDGBLOG book is being published this year.
GM: Lots of stuff! Some of which I'm yet to announce - and about which I'm genuinely excited - but, yes, there's a BLDGBLOG Book coming out in about 2 months, from Chronicle Books. I'm also going to be lecturing in New York City next week, Melbourne the week after that, and I'll be in Rome for the month of June with my wife just to sleep late and write a lot and look at ruins and drink wine and read. In July, we'll leave Rome to go down to Sydney where I'm teaching a design studio on some sort of abandoned industrial island in July. After that, we're moving back to LA. I can't wait - I really can't wait to be back here.
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