BLDG a Better Architecture Blog BLDG a Better Architecture Blog

BLDG a Better Architecture Blog

by Cliff Kuang

July 18, 2009

Geoff Manaugh's BLDG BLOG draws daring connections between architecture, science fiction, and pop culture-and draws an audience.

If you've never visited BLDG BLOG, you should-and this month, the blog has been transformed into a book aimed at both newbies and fans. The premise takes some explaining-the blog is a quixotic, oddball experiment. Geoff Manaugh started it in 2004, when he was working as a non-profit grant writer in Philadelphia. He was devouring science magazines and pop futurism, reading New Scientist and Wired. He had just opted out of a Ph.D. program in architectural history at the University of Chicago. "Architecture writing is hamstrung by academic protocols," says Manaugh. "The same part of me that didn't want to stick around for a Ph.D. is the same part that was inspired to create the blog."BLDG BLOG posts usually start with architectural history or news, and then take detours through pop culture and full-on sci-fi, as Manaugh noodles on unlikely parallels and indulges in dazzling flights of imagination. (The modus operandi of Jorge Luis Borges comes to mind.) For example, in one recent post, Manaugh turns a bit of history about New York's telephone companies into a full-on pitch for a plausible sequel to the Ghostbuster's franchise. Manaugh makes it all sound obvious, if not inevitable. "If I see a link that's shown up on six other blogs, I'm not going to just describe it," he says. "But I'll connect that to an architectural proposal or a story I read as a kid." It's not really fiction, per se, and it's certainly not architectural history-but it's often more enjoyable than both.
The book's a bit more ambitious than the blog-to-book adaptations you're used to seeing-it actually consists of blog posts that have been revised, updated, and sometimes rewritten, to create entire chapters dedicated to a single theme, such as "The Underground" or "Landscape Futures." "I was trying to create an entire narrative," says Manaugh. "I didn't want to produce this A.D.D. thing that would confirm this idea that bloggers can't put a chapter together." Indeed, part of the fun is the sheer improbability of the continuity-the chapter on "Redesigning the Sky," for example, involves a competition to design the most spectacular weather patterns-a spectacle which in Manaugh's universe comes to overshadow the Super Bowl-and also explores the possibility of using severe weather as a weapon.Fans who've offered praise for the book include the filmmaker Erroll Morris and the art critic Lawrence Weschler-like Manaugh, two connoisseurs of strange parallels. To Manaugh, that's still a surprise. "When I started the blog, I felt like I was doing soething that no one would be interested in," he says. "It seemed like exactly what people didn't like, to judge from the market. I'm still not used to having readers."But Manaugh's been in demand: Until recently, he was a senior editor at Dwell; he's now a contributing editor to Wired U.K. He's currently writing another book, which he describes as a more straight-ahead journalistic effort but whose premise he's still keeping a secret. And when we spoke, he was in Australia, leading an architecture class exploring what could be done with Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbor, which has at various times been a prison and a girl's school. "You know, the movie Wolverine was actually filmed here. They're going to preserve it," chuckles Manaugh. "So in 25 years you're going to see sets from X-Men film. It's kind of a surreal way to preserve it." One can only imagine.
Join the discussion
Sign up to receive the best of GOOD delivered to your inbox each and every weekday
Why the King of Sweden thinks we should ban baths.
BLDG a Better Architecture Blog