“New Editors – The Basis of a New Discourse” Presentation

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When I was invited for this round-table I was flattered but extremely aghast at the the same time. Having said that, I must confess that, I prepared this presentation just some days ago. At first I started by asking myself: what is this editing all about and am I an editor? In a reality where everyday more and more people edit contents, I also feel like what I do is not necessarily remarkable, just slightly different. And I also feel that one doesn’t just become an “editor”, it’s a progressive action that leads you to that. It’s all about the process more than the final destination, as they say. So I really tried to find out what were the first steps in what are the things that I create and that I publicize through my blog and other mediums.

And I have to say that probably the way I produce all my contents is deeply linked with my profound incapacity in Mathematics. I was an awful student at math. Actually my senior year Math teacher told me that I would never be an architect because I was so bad at math.  I did fail the whole year and instead of retrying the exam I attended some other subjects, one of them being Sociology. This – unlike Math where every single result expected were convergent in the sense that it did not admit more than one solution – was a more open subject. There was more freedom when analyzing reality.

So one day, my Sociology teacher said something that till today forms the way I see reality as much as architecture does. He said that in Sociology we learn how to understand reality without the barriers that normally are put up when creating Knowledge. For him, reality was not possible to be divided and put in complete unrelated and closed containers. I learnt that everything was related and for sure this had a huge influence in what is it that I do.

Later on, while I was on my third year in university, my lack of skill for math was again manifested, and with several semesters of Static failed, I also failed the whole year, and it was the greatest thing that happened to me during college. Because of it I got the opportunity to get to know new colleagues who were willing to do something to promote our architecture school. In a way, perhaps this was the beginning of my editing occupation. Specifically when we decided to start a new publication called “NAU-Newsletters”. Something we did for 2 years, and which resulted in eight issues, with interviews and articles from many architects. We also organized conferences and exhibitions.

But, if I should point one thing that has really allowed me to do what I do – maybe even more than free open-source blogging tools like WordPress – that would be e-mail. Although some people predict that e-mail as we know it is dead and that something more sophisticated will be developed, in my case e-mail was and has been a fundamental tool as someone who selects and creates content. It would be almost impossible to contact the many people I have during the years without it because most of the contents I produce are in collaboration with other people.

And it was because of an e-mail that I started my blog. This was in early 2012, some months before architect Pedro Gadanho had been appointed as curator for the Architecture and Design Department at the MoMA. I was familiar with his writings, mostly because of his blog Shrapnel Contemporary, and had an admiration for his path. I decided to e-mail him asking for advice. He was kind enough to reply to my e-mail and to let me know that: a) creating his blog was probably his best career move in recent years, b) writing in English was important in disseminating what he created, c) since I had time, and since writing online did not cost a thing, and if what I wrote had any value, that could give me some new opportunities. And that is precisely what I did.

Some years before, as a student, I also asked for advice to architect Alberto Campo Baeza. Looking back this had a huge influence on my path because I started to understand that it was not that difficult to establish contact as well as to create content together with people we admire. It was also through this e-mail that I started to question the idea somewhat established idea that in architecture, only things that are materialized in our brick and mortar reality, are in fact creative acts. I began to think that Alberto Campo Baeza’s well-known motto “thinking with you hands” could also be materialized through other ways.

At that same time I got an e-mail by architect Wiel Arts – very similar to this one that I show to you from Kohn Pedersen Fox – in which he advised me to each and every week go to a library and learn about things that are not directly related to architecture. I do have to say that, in the experience that I have been having since graduating, this sort of holistic view of architecture is much more likely to be valued in North-America than in Western Europe (the two realities I am familiar with). It sort of links with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek and his correlation between toilet and ideology. There is a European and a North-American way of producing knowledge, and one of the main differences has to do with the degree of acceptance of people from different backgrounds in a specific area of knowledge. For instance, at C-Lab it would be normal for me to work with someone who had a background in American Literature and Music, and another person who had worked in something as unrelated as a sex toy factory. Both of them graduated with honor from Ivy League universities. I believe that that is less likely here, and in my opinion it limits the production of new content.

This is something that often times is brought up by many people I interview, even by architects like Álvaro Siza Vieira. “In today’s world there is this regrettable tendency for hyperspecialization”.

So, what is the reality that I edit?

These are the people with who I have collaborated or for who I created contents for.

The names underlined are of those who are in fact architects.

And as you can see, most of them are not architects. These are the people I interact to when creating contents that are related with: architecture, urban issues, creativity, etc.

I believe that through these people I can look back to the central theme – architecture – and understand things that I would have never understood through the view of architects.

So another question I frequently ask myself is: what is an editor’s role in a world where anyone can edit? 

What will it be like for editors to work in a world where, thanks to technology, thanks to “zero marginal cost” and to the “internet of things”, anyone can go from being a consumer to a prosumer (i.e. an individual who produces and shares goods/services). Things like: renting property, serving food, providing energy, but also translating/reviewing/designing/printing/delivering contents, can be easily outsourced, using mobile apps? Anyone can edit, curate their own reality. Economists say that this will enable a new kind of economic system to appear, the so-called “social capitalism” or the “collaborative commons”. In this reality people will collaborate with each other in a much more direct and intense way.

Nowadays, if we look at platforms such as Lulu or Blurb, it is already possible to develop, print and deliver a book on-demand, on-line.

But if we look back, it seems that it was in the music industry that most of the advances in terms of the adaptation of content creation and its adaptation to the digital world was better understood. Some of you might remember how revolutionary it was the file-sharing platform Napster. Not even the most successful artists and labels could battle against the movement it promoted. Artists became more aware of the changes that they would have to embrace in order to stay in the game. They understood that although they were selling music, they were not selling objects materialized in CDs, those were only promotional to what they were really selling: experiences through live playing music, through concerts and other events. And I do think that in publications this will also happen sooner or later.

And so we need to first of all know how to define. What is important to let people know?

In an interview with António Câmara he emphasized the need to define problems, more then solving them. Nowadays, if we look at the pharmaceutical industry we see how the formula for a specific drug is the most expensive part of the whole process, more than the actual fabrication. Soon, the same 3D printers that use polymers to produce objects will be able to use chemical compounds to produce medicine. And I do believe that will also happen with the production of other written/graphical contents: the idea behind a new publication/content will be the most important thing. Not how it will in fact be produced.

This leads me to my next point which is: we need to know what to edit.

In another interview – that I haven’t yet published – with renowned architectural photographer Hélène Binet, she addressed the issue of how to be a photographer when there are so many images. And in her opinion this is kind of liberating. You can better define what you do in contrast with what everybody else is doing. With this comes the need to eliminate what is not essential, to be selective. Be it in photography or in publication.

And finally we should know what to print.

Famous graphic designer Irma Boom  with whom C-Lab collaborates with through Volume magazine – is very harsh but very correct when it comes to the books that shouldn’t be printed but rather published digitally. Not everything is important to be publicized, and not everything in the same way.

And so, with this overview, what is the future of editing? I believe that having in mind the way that our world is changing – and specifically in what architecture-related-content is concerned – we will be asked to look at it in a more holistic way, we will have to be more selective as to what we decide to show, and will need to foresee alternative ways of sharing those contents so that they are not about the object but about the experience that we can offer.

Thank you very much.

(Speach originally written for the round-table entitled “New Editors – The basis for a new discourse”, held on April 23, 2015, at the Ordem dos Arquitectos, Lisbon.)

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