From Classroom to Publication: U.Va. Architecture Seminar Creates Book in Partnership with International Publisher

November 07, 2013

What would it look like to condense the research and teaching created during one academic year at a major architecture school into a single published book?

A University of Virginia research seminar titled “Paper Matters” has been exploring questions like this one regarding publishing and printed materials related to contemporary architecture since the spring of 2012. The seminar consists of faculty and students working together as an editorial group and publisher, and is led by School of Architecture faculty members Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh, a lecturer; Iñaki Alday, Quesada Professor and chair of the Department of ArchitectureRobin Dripps, T. David Fitz-Gibbon Professor of Architecture; and Rebecca Cooper, fine arts architecture and instruction librarian.

“Catalyst,” the latest book project produced by the seminar’s participants, answers this question, and was designed and printed in partnership with Actar, a leading international publisher of books on architecture, graphic design and contemporary art, based in Barcelona and New York.

The book comprises of student and faculty work across all the disciplines at the Architecture School, including architecture, landscape architecture, urban and environmental planning and architectural history. The work featured in “Catalyst” was selected from student and faculty projects focused on research and pedagogy on the built environment from the 2012-13 academic year.

“‘Catalyst’ is the seminar’s first co-production with an international publisher, thus the first experience in the large context – a joint effort of the school, the seminar and the publisher,” Alday said. “The key aspect in this case is the potential for the distribution of the book, which opens a new dimension for work done in the School of Architecture.”

As a class and research enterprise, participants in “Paper Matters” have helped in designing an ambitious suite of publications – including books, magazines, guides and digital platforms – that serves as an exercise in taking ideas about communication and presentation of concepts and making them real. For example, a printed book like “Catalyst” is a practical exercise regarding content, design priorities and methods of communication.

The editorial process is at the very heart of the course – with the goal of keeping pace with the evolving nature of what publishing actually means and entails.

“Paper Matters” participants consulted on the student-run design journal, “Lunch”; produced the books “Vortex 01” and “Paper Matters, Spring12”; the Master’s in Architecture recruitment program for spring 2013; and the digital platform “The Linker,” an alternate topic- and person-based organizational system for projects done at the School of Architecture. Seminar participants are currently planning a digital bookshelf to show all the architecture publications, a monograph about the work of two faculty members and a “Vortex 02” book.

The creative process for “Catalyst” began in classrooms across the School of Architecture, where the original projects were conceived. From all of this work, the editorial team made selections for inclusion in the book. Upon publication, they developed an exhibition for prospective students based on the student and faculty work from the book.

“‘Catalyst’ is the final step, a worldwide, commercially distributed book that started by questioning how the School of Architecture can participate meaningfully in the current academic discussion and how the production of the school could percolate beyond the boundaries of U.Va.,” Alday said. “It started in a seminar, ‘Paper Matters,’ grew as a draft book of the previous spring, and was taken as school project in conjunction with a leading international publisher.”

The editorial team, led by Abbasy-Asbagh, developed the conceptual framework, and collected and organized the content. The student editors – graduate architecture students Rebecca Hora, Ryan Metcalf  and Matthew Pinyan, all of whom graduated in May – played a key role in the collection, design and production of the book.

“Catalyst” gathers a range of formats, project types and representation styles within the framework of various disciplinary processes, research agendas and pedagogical approaches – all under the rubric of one institution.

“Often overwhelmed by the staggering quantities of information made available to us on the Internet, the task of a collection such as this goes well beyond documenting the moment, framing future projections or even the potential of re-branding or re-imaging a school,” Abbasy-Asbagh said.

The cyclical nature of the academic setting, and in particular design education, usually puts the focus on short-term projects, which are often judged in only a few minutes by a panel of experts. These exercises, however, become the seed of an interest in the topics and approaches that are at the core of design pedagogy. The work in “Catalyst” was curated with an eye to cultivating that interest.

Questions the “Catalyst” team asked were: What is the impact of design on the forces that shape contemporary life? To what extent do contingencies of time and place shape responses?

“Our intention was not to produce a conclusive answer to these questions, but to suggest that the disciplines of design have devised many methods and processes for responding, which become the thematic basis of categorizing the work in this volume,” Abbasy-Asbagh said.

“When curating the work of some 200 authors, you have to be judicious and cautious – at all times aware of all 200 entries in relation to one another,” she added.

“What became abundantly clear, after just a few rounds of reviews of the work, was that the thread that tied all the work together was the authors’ investment in responding to the forces that shape our contemporary world.”

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Robert Hull

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications