Paper and the Internet: chronicle of a death foretold
The advent of Internet and the World Wide Web brought with it the vying of paper, the quintessential vehicle for disseminating architecture with the younger, more nimble and dynamic Internet.
We enter into this revolution in a phase that has more to do with programming codes than with the weights of different types of paper and physical formats which, like in all beginnings, got off to a maladroit, wavering start. The first ‘digital magazines’ made an effort to recreate paper publications using electronic software staking a pseudo-romantic claim to maintain what was characteristic in the old format. But if the structure varies, doesn’t that also change the form? The question seems to apply to architecture itself.
The shipwreck was imminent, and its successors, architecture blogs, made the stillborn idea evident. These blogs started to take hold when publishers and magazines began to perceive the prevailing need to migrate their content onto the new digital channel.
This transition took shape and took hold over a period of 20 years – the turn of the century and the digital revolution including two publishing projects from the Dutch firm OMA.
In 1995, after five years of work, Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large was published and defined on its back cover as a “massive novel about architecture”. The publication is a manifesto in and of itself, not only in architectural terms, but also in publishing terms. It explores and harnesses all of the paper channels for publication and also offers not only the product itself but also the process: hand sketches, ideas and un-built designs.
Twenty years later, in 2015, OMA published its new website. Once again, very skilfully, the resources associated with the new structure were explored and cunningly harnessed, this time introducing what could give rise to a second revolution in the dissemination of architecture, i.e. including users in the architectural narrative. In other words, participation.
The news item published on 15 September 2015 for the launch presented the platform as “modelling internal data and embracing external information, it worked like an omnivorous sensor, tracking OMA designs from their conceptualisation to their building, use, and beyond”.
This external information ranges from the previously mentioned architecture blogs and generalist news to the appearance of photographs taken from the social network Instagram. And this is precisely what is most interesting about their presentation: the appearance in architectural discourse of the designs’ state after occupancy and the on-going reassessment of the visual dimension on the Internet.
The culture of image has found in speed and vast dissemination a definitive ally to expand in the Internet. Social networks come as a fatal blow, putting traditional dissemination into a definitive checkmate. Instagram enables us to travel from our easy chairs and even offer the world our vision of the architecture we visit. But what about professional photographers in all this? And architects? Are they new content editors? With the advent of the World Wide Web, what role is left for paper?