An Interview with Francis Aguillard & Sam Schuermann
Francis Aguillard and Sam Schuermann were co-Editors-in-Chief of PLAT 7.0 Sharing. They are now Masters of Architecture.
Now that the dust has settled, how are you feeling about PLAT 7.0 Sharing and its related lecture series?
Francis Aguillard (FA): PLAT 7.0 was difficult, but I am incredibly happy with the final product. The pieces worked well together and the final graphic design decisions led by Design Director Mark Bavoso complemented and furthered the theoretical points being discussed in the issue. The lecture series helped the conversation leap from the pages into other spaces and mediums. That was also satisfying.
Sam Schuermann (SS): I consider PLAT 7.0 and its accompanying lecture series a definite success. We were ambitious—in some cases too much so—and I think that shows in the robust, beautiful journal. The paired format of the physical journal and accompanying lecture series worked well together to bring the topics of conversation to a larger audience and to re-read the journal’s content from the specific perspectives of our speakers.
What worked for this issue?
FA: The five subsections coalesced well and allowed for specific entry points into an otherwise overwhelming amount of articles. The color also worked nicely—more on that soon…
SS: From the cover to the individual spreads, the graphics worked really well to communicate the turbulent mood of the issue. The number of articles worked well in that it gave the journal a heft and allowed a space for sharing to be dissected outside of architecture proper; this was one of our goals from the start.
And: What didn’t work?
SS: The large number of articles, while successful in certain ways, was a challenge organizationally and administratively for the team. In hindsight, the mood and breadth of the journal we were trying to cultivate could have still been successful with fewer entries. At the end of the day though, I’m happy with the content we published in the journal.
FA: We knew we were publishing around the same time as several other sharing-inspired journal issues; in hindsight we perhaps could have done a better job attempting to create a submissions network between us and those outlets.
As you’ve been sharing this Sharing issue, what feedback have you received about its content and design?
FA: There were so many pieces that related to the themes Rice graduate students were discussing for thesis projects this year. It was really satisfying to see how the discourse evolved in real time. I also think people are fatigued with the circa 2014/2015 sans-serif-only type layouts, or even conventional serif and san-serif combinations; we got a lot of positive feedback on the bolder graphic direction we took.
Every page is printed in color, and this makes a big impact as you flip through the issue. Why was color so central to your editorial vision?
FA: PLAT poured out the entire Crayola 24 pack, maybe even the 64 pack, to make this issue. Sometimes complementary pairs are used and sometimes not. The decision for what color scheme to use with each article was based on the imagery of a given piece or what colors occur in the pieces before and after. Our overindulgence of color heightened the imagery in the given pieces and attempted to recreate the experience of scrolling through content on our phones and other screens. In this online experience, colors collide in random combination, with little regard for creating a holistic experience for a viewing subject. There seems to be an ongoing conversation about the “role of print” today, and what a book means, or might mean, in the digital era. PLAT 7.0 was more interested in the ways in which print and digital mediums work together rather than be pitted as opposing concerns. An all-color issue was critical in blurring the lines between so-called offline and online modes of media consumption.
SS: PLAT 7.0’s use of color was largely related to architecture’s embrace of color. Color is cool! It’s fun, it’s expressive, it doesn’t take itself too seriously—it’s moody. We wanted the journal to be hyper-saturated and hyper-expressive because we see the sharing economy as saturating and accessible yet exclusive; ad-hoc while corporate; and at times, as the reader sees in the journal, polarizing. PLAT’s colors range from primary to pastel to acidic. This approach, tailored to each individual article, produces an overwhelming, intense reading experience that translates to the digital realm.
How did your take on the topic change as PLAT/you/we worked on the journal? Did you find pockets of the subject that surprised you? Did you get tired of it?
FA: When we first conceptualized the topic, we didn’t necessarily see it as a heavily digital or image-centric concept. We focused slightly more on the economic, physical, material, and social consequences of sharing; we thought coliving, coworking, cohousing, and digital-physical platforms like Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit. What changed was the content of our contributors. Their work made concerns surrounding the image and the digital a mainstay of the issue. What changed our take on the topic over time was our contributors’ influence in making the image and the digital a mainstay of the issue. Topics such as VR, AR, and AI were all dexterously placed within a disciplinary context, and really enhanced the topic.
SS: Right. The contributors’ responses to the call for entries broadened what we all thought the journal’s positioning might tackle; it made the topic more multidisciplinary and much more slippery.
Sharing has democratic and even collectivizing Leftist overtones, but it also has a dark side. The sharing economy is hyper late capitalist and utopian socialist at the same time. How did you sort out this spectrum of meaning? How did you think the issue surfed our current political climate in America? It felt especially relevant as it was a midterm year and the optimism of Beto was in the air...
SS: Its first impression is certainly democratic and collectivist but PLAT 7.0 required the editors, contributors, and readers to look a bit more critically at the topic beyond this first impression. As editors, we made a conscious effort to not try to skew the issue too much in one direction and let the content exist along a spectrum of opinions. We curated and made efforts to include perspectives from many disciplines. I still think the content and our approach to it was timely. Sharing is a beast and requires a deep dive.
FA: Sharing had already been thoroughly dissected in disciplines outside architecture before we embarked on the topic, so we had that literature to help us frame the topic; our task was to make it relevant for various design disciplines. Sharing invited us to peel back the initial warm and fuzzy layer, or for that matter the initial rough and rotten outer coat. 2016 certainly asked us to do the same, realigning past loyalties.
If one is inclined to support the collective and democratic aspects of sharing, then you really must fight for them. That call to action came out of the journal. I always suspected the tone of the journal would take this direction, but I attempted not to be heavy handed early on because I wanted people to feel comfortable proving me wrong. Beto is a good example of a person or discourse in the political sphere that became much more complex with further examination. When pressed about his progressive identity during the debates, he sometimes seemed to resort to bi-partisan tropes rather than staking out a bold, new territory for the left. The same question remains for sharing: Can it hold up to pressure? Can the Left rise to the occasion and shape political discourse?
The issue also contained an editorial statement about the effects of #MeToo within architecture. This is an issue that deserves so much more work and attention. What should we be thinking about as we make issue 8.0?
FA: Movements like #MeToo ask us to listen to those voices that we haven’t listened to before. In creating a journal, one needs to think about what groups of people one hasn’t heard from before, or seen published on the pages, and ask why that is, how we can change it, and how that might also begin to impact other segments of the discipline, such as the structuring of history/theory courses. I think architecture journals could look into the possibility of blind submissions as a way to cut down on implicit bias and hopefully gather a wider range of ideas.
SS: #MeToo has required architecture to recognize its embedded toxicity, sexism, racism, and classism. Recognition, while a required first step, is far from corrective action. I’m not sure what the best steps for corrective action are across the discipline. I do know, however, that academic journals have the incredible privilege of publishing and amplifying specific voices. I would suggest that PLAT and other journals, especially those edited by students without significant monetary and political constraints, have the responsibility to publish work of marginalized identities and to amplify voices that, historically, have been undervalued. I am an eternal optimist and as such reject cynicism, but I do believe that student-run academic publishing pursuits can help to organize voices in the pursuit of institutional reformation.
7.0 Sharing was an international and extroverted issue. How did you conceptualize PLAT’s audience? Did you envision a more Rice-centered audience versus an external global audience?
SS: I don’t think the Rice community is very different from PLAT’s external audience. This is because of the population at the school is diverse and international and everyone has similar ways that they share and consume information. The lecture series also helped to bring PLAT back to Rice and the Houston community specifically.
FA: We were excited to have pieces from UT Austin and from UH Alums. We made sure that our call for submission was sent to the architecture schools of Texas; hopefully that will continue for future issues.
How do you see the ideas you developed in 7.0 being advanced in your own design work? Francis: You’ve been interested in co-living and the sharing economy for a while; will you keep working on it and with it? Sam: How did this journey influence your thesis?
FA: Several of the pieces which challenged or opened up the can of worms on authorship were excellent in furthering my thesis. For my thesis project, a storage center tower in Seattle, I used an automated stacking simulation to create various massing studies, and I always imagined that my entire process could be made descriptive and shareable in an open source way. Sharing opens up visions and imaginations that push beyond contemporary capitalism. If architecture wants to do the same, it must develop more complex notions of authorship.
SS: While the issue of sharing is likely more directly related to Francis’ work, issues surrounding the image of the author and subject/object or consumer/consumed relationships were central to my thesis. My thesis, and likely my future work, suggests a rejection of (high) architectural precedent in favor of (low) alternative modes of knowledge production like budget furniture manufacturer’s catalogs or stereotypical sitcom sets in order to re-read architectural types and their associated imagery. PLAT 7.0, I think, plays this high/low game quite well and suggests new modes of reading and understanding authorship, a task contemporary architecture desperately needs to remain relevant.
We’re asking everybody this… How do you communicate mood?
FA: Music, video, dance, and events. One thing that’s really exciting right now is architecture’s discovery of what I would call the Adam Curtis, Vox, Means of Production, and YouTube style of video production. People have been doing this for at least a decade, and architecture is beginning to see this way of working as instrumental or effective at conveying mood. This style involves taking clips from a wide range of references, from avant garde film to television infomercials, in order to assemble a narrative. I think it triggers nostalgia and emotion in the brain in a really powerful way that helps us reconsider history. Perhaps the next step is more animations of the design process paired with music, maybe even music created specifically in relationship to the project. Perhaps such a combination could create a more shareable clip, something that has appeal to a broader audience.
SS: Broadly—aesthetics. Specifically—taste.
Thumbnail image courtesy Takudzwa Tapfuma.