ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with The Architectural Review, bringing you short introductions to the themes of the magazine’s monthly editions. In this introduction to the February 2017 issue, Editor Christine Murray discusses craft. Seeking to find parallels between the processes of creating their own magazine and of designing a building, she argues that "there are easier ways to make a magazine, but along paths we choose not to take."
The magazine you hold in your hand is the product of many: 16 writers, 48 photographers, plus illustrators, jellymakers, 3D printers, 10 editors and an art director; and at the press, 15 people for its printing and binding.
You may imagine that the contemporary magazine-making process has lost its need for expertise through automation – push a button and the printer spits it out. But as AR Head of Production, Paul Moran says, "Machines may have taken on some of the front-end work, but every element of the printing process is a skill."
Likewise, if computers have eliminated some of the editorial drudgery of producing layouts and reproducing photography, this time has been eaten up by fresh concerns. Like you, we don’t work less for the use of computers, we do some things more quickly, and so work differently. While our editor forebears would have had fewer options and greater obstacles in covering architectural projects, instead we are faced with an abundance of options. As Richard Sennett wrote in The Craftsman, "We are more likely to fail as craftsmen due to our inability to organize obsession than because of our lack of ability." An editor today can do so much, trawling an endless internet of ideas, but this only begs the question, what is best to do, to add value and rise above the ordinary?
So, while there are faster, cheaper and easier ways to make a magazine (writing about buildings without visiting them, for example, rather than sending people to the Himalayas and rural Norway, as for this edition), these are roads that we choose not to travel, because we want to craft a magazine. Craft is the product of skill, time and care, adding value to a basic material. Many products are made; few are crafted. But the series of choices that lead to craft are entirely subjective – unlike the artisanal, there is no orthodoxy, no right way to make, only more or less appealing results.
When I visited our printers Headley Brothers last month, I was struck by the warm, fruity smell of the offset lithographic press on which the AR is printed and the sweetness of its vegetable-based inks (lean in close, and you may be able to smell a hint of this now). Unlike the belching, hot and noisy web press, where the sheer speed of impressions stresses and overheats the paper so much that it must be chilled and rehydrated, causing a wrinkled effect, the quieter and slower litho requires no additional processes. Because it runs at a slower rate, the press checker can constantly adjust the ink and register for a better result. The pages are left to dry for around three hours. When dry, the paper – each sheet accommodating eight pages of the magazine – is moved to the folding machine, and then to binding. The mix of papers that we use must be planned at specific intervals and inserted by hand. In last month’s anniversary edition, we changed paper stock so many times, it took the printers a day and a half alone to bind the magazine. But the change in paper allows us to craft a haptic experience alongside the magazine narrative. In short, it takes more time, but it’s worth it. In a final step, the cover is folded and glued around the pages before the magazine is trimmed, the pages cut. And so it ends, and we begin again.
The AR’s creative process, which begins in conversation and ends on paper, is not artisanal or old-fashioned. Its modern tools and methods of production, a mix of hand, digital and machine, are carefully selected based on the balance of cost, time and their perceived impact, conducting the skills of a whole orchestra of specialists to create the most interesting magazine that we can. I write this because perhaps, as with architecture, the thumbprints on these pages are not visible, but I hope that, as with a handmade brick, the humanity of its irregularities and imperfections can be read. Three words: we were here.