Features

Interview: Mimi Zeiger

March 30, 2011

Architect and writer Mimi Zeiger on loud paper, Spinal Tap and why architectural activism can bring about urban change.

Architect, journalist and curator Mimi Zeiger founded architecture zine loud paper as her master’s thesis while studying at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles in 1997. The independent zine broke away from traditional architecture journals, focusing as much on art, popular culture, film and music as it did on architecture: in Zeiger’s words, “a slambamgetitoutthere way of linking architectural thoughts, musings and new work with the culture at large”.

Now based in Brooklyn, Zeiger continues to run loud paper as a zine and blog, and also writes for The New York Times, Wallpaper, Dwell, Domus, Azure, and Architect, where she is a contributing editor. Zeiger will also be in Sydney for ‘The Right to the City’ symposium on 9 April, discussing how activism can transform our urban environments.

loud paper is dedicated to “increasing the volume of architectural discourse”. What were your objectives when you started the zine?
The loud paper tagline was always meant to be a bit cheeky. Like the This Is Spinal Tap line about amps: “These go to eleven.” It was meant to be louder than what was out there – to be a reaction.
I began loud paper in the late 90s. At that time, there was a vacuum within architecture publishing – you had journals and you had trade magazines. 306090, PRAXIS, Grey Room, Volume, or even Dwell or Wallpaper – publications that fit in-between those two realms – didn’t exist yet. I founded loud paper as an alternative place for young architects to write about architecture in a way that linked the discourse to popular culture at large, to write louder.

What audience was it created for?
The first call for submissions read: “loud paper is open to all students, architects, educators, girls about town, dear Johns and critics as a place for writing loud about architecture and culture.”
That pretty much sums up my thoughts on audience. What I hadn’t expected was that the audience who enjoyed loud paper and contributed to its pages in the early days would come back into my life later as innovative architects, artists, designers, and journalists – like-minded folks who were also itching for an alternative discourse and that are now important in their own right and continue to be fantastic collaborators.

You’re now running loud paper as a blog – has this had an effect on the popularity of the zine?
I began blogging after I let the zine go dormant for a couple of years. Restarting it online opened up another generation of followers and re-established links to old fans. In many ways, my @loudpaper twitter account in its mouthy 140-character bursts and mix of pop culture, literature, design and music, is closer to the original zine than the blog platform.

Architectural criticism – like all writing – is changing with the growth of blogs, where the public is taking on the role of critic. What sort of role should print media take in the digital era?
We have to stop drawing distinctions between print and digital formats. Hybridity is key. I like to call the publications that crop up in-between ‘mutants’: they are taking components from both formats and exploiting them as dictated by the content. (Although “content” is such a problematic word, it does serve as a catch-all for all the tools that we now use to tell stories, report journalism, and craft criticism: text, image and video.)
In this context, the role of the critic is not about gaining authority from association with any particular publication, but with establishing a strong point of view that carries across platforms.

Do you think online media is forcing architects and designers who would previously have relied on old-school print media to engage more with the wider public and start writing for people outside the architectural fraternity?
I’ve seen a number of emerging firms make great use of social networking –Facebook, Twitter, Architizer – to get more exposure. Della Valle + Bernheimer in New York, London-based FAT and Chicago’s MAS Studio (and the related publication MAS Context) have been expertly using twitter, while a couple using Facebook come to mind, including Barbara Bestor and Juergen Mayer H. But I am still unclear if it is reaching a group outside of the typical architecture and design circles.

loud paper brings together architectural discourse and popular culture, covering a much broader scope than is typical of architecture magazines – music, film, art and so on. But you also write for traditional architecture magazines such as Domus, Dwell and Architect. What do you think that pop culture focus brings to criticism?
Given how diffuse culture is right now, it’s impossible to maintain a position that architecture (and design and urbanism) has autonomy separate from music, art, video games, movies, food, infrastructure, etc. My critical stance is rooted in these fruits of contemporary life. They make my language richer and allow me to address a larger audience. There’s a long history within and outside architectural discourse of mixing it up in this way: architects Peter and Alison Smithson, Denise Scott Brown, Rem Koolhaas, critic Peter Reyner Banham, even Beatriz Colomina, or Sam Jacob and Charles Holland of FAT, as well as some of my more literary faves – Dave Hickey, Joan Didion, Jonathan Lethem.

You’re participating in The Right To The City symposium in Sydney on 9 April, discussing ‘Tactics for DIY Cities’. Can you give us some insight into the discussion?
I’ll be discussing the research I’ve been doing for the Interventionist Toolkit series I’m writing for _Places Journal_ [click here for first and second installments]. Taking stock of how practice is using the tactics of DIY and arts activism to create urban change, and how this is creating a groundswell of new, recessionary-era work that may very well be changing how the architecture, design, and urbanist camps operate for a time to come. I’m also very excited to be sharing the panel with artist Marjetica Potrc. I can’t wait to hear more about her current projects that blend art installations with social justice and infrastructural thinking. For me, the subject is a return in sorts to my zinester, DIY roots, mashed-up with my interest in emergent urbanism.

The Right To The City symposium takes place on Saturday 9 April at the Faculty of Architecture Design and Planning, University of Sydney. For full details and to attend this free event, register at www.therighttothecity.com/symposium

www.loudpapermag.com
www.loudpaper.typepad.com
@loudpaper

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