A research initiative and publication series exploring the history of the Venice Biennale of Architecture and the relationship between architecture and display


Publication and Publicity in Architecture

A conversation about the discursive turn in schools of architecture and design, and new forms of publication and promotion

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Curatorial practice
  • Design
  • Pedagogy

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

PennDesign, Van Alen Institute


The Architect's Newspaper

Opens to public



210 S 34th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Van Alen Institute
30 W. 22nd Street
6th Floor
New York, NY 10010


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "The Architecture of Discourse: Publication and Publicity in Architecture," a lively discussion on February 2nd, 2012 from 6pm at PennDesign's Meyerson Hall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and on February 3rd from 7pm at the Van Alen Institute in New York City.

These conversations will feature Tom Weaver, editor of the AA Files at the Architectural Association in London and other practitioners in the field. They will be moderated by Aaron Levy and William Menking, editors of the recently-published Four Conversations on the Architecture of Discourse, the second of the two-part research initiative Architecture on Display that explores the vexed relationship between architecture and its publics as well as the competing stakes for architectural discourse in a increasingly politicized society.

With invited guests, this public conversation will examine and problematize the expanding range of venues for the production and promulgation of discourse. Using the discipline of architecture as a case study, we will look at the role of traditional scholarly publications alongside non-traditional presses that garner significant audiences and undertake innovative projects, and the role of emerging digital media. We will discuss the need for both rigorous scholarship and the freshness of emergent ideas as well as the multiplicity and commoditization that defines contemporary design discourse. Finally, we will examine how schools of design and cultural organizations focused on design can respond to these demands and effectively foster the expression, engagement, and confrontation of critical issues within the design fields.

Books and texts are forums for speculation, experimentation, inquiry, and creativity, and are understood as important undertakings for any academic school or cultural organization. In recent years, a performative approach to books and texts has also emerged, encompassing exhibitions, blogs, and social practices. Moreover, the discursive turn in arts and museums programming now finds a venue in schools of architecture and design as well.

But what do these so-called conversations achieve beyond offering yet another platform for self-promotion? Can they compete with the scholastic rigor of the peer-reviewed journal or the editorial integrity of newspapers? Should they compete, or is this formulation at once reductive and no longer productive? How does a school or cultural organization invite discourse that does not replicate it's agenda but rather produces it? What are the outcomes? What "counts"? Who decides? And at what cost?

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The converation begins by exploring four tensions/ comments:


"Architecture has a fundamental and deep-rooted problem with the idea of having an audience, to the point that this conversation was rehearsed almost 100 years ago, when the founders of what we think of as modern architecture today were curators and certainly not builders. People like Mies or Corb, for example, either as editors or curators learned to invent an idea of modern architecture long before they went on to build it. The idea that architecture remains trapped in that kind of a dichotomy is a striking record of this difficulty we have with audience." (1)


"Now the issue is, should we continue to fund the aesthetic of Ira Glass because he's excellent, or should we as an organization try to be proliferating multiple stories, multiple forms of discourse? And we should. But if you were to constantly ask us the question of who's the most excellent, you will always end up with Ira Glass... You shouldn't be relying so much on experts to have a vision...You should be responding and responsible." (2)


"Exhibitions are a really important part of architectural discourse, in the sense that they are one way in which ideas about architecture might be conveyed to the public who may otherwise be ignorant of them, if they're not involved in occasions like tonight." (3)


"[There is] a back door through which a kind of censorship is re-emerging...It is not that you are going to be prosecuted; rather, that it will do damage to your public reputation. At a larger level, it represents a hideous discourse of humanism." (4)

1) Brett Steele, quoted in Four Conversations on the Architecture of Discourse (Architectural Association, London, 2012), p. 30.
2) Lisa Lee, p. 159.
3) Sean Griffiths, p. 94-95.
4) Mark Cousins, p. 99.

Related publications

Editors Aaron Levy and William Menking explore the social and political history of the Venice Architecture Biennale and its responsiveness to the 1960s through unprecedented interviews with Paolo Portoghesi, Vittorio Gregotti and other founding directors.

Editors Aaron Levy and William Menking explore the relationship between architecture and display through four conversations in four cities with forty leading designers, theorists, editors, curators and funders.

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