What About Paintings?

Study No.2 
160cm x 120cm
63" x 47 1/4"
Oil on Canvas
WAI Presents Garcia Frankowski

In order to explore the potential of painting, WAI co-founders Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia have created Garcia Frankowski, a web portal that displays some of their latest works, studies and explorations on canvas.

Study No.1
120cm x 120cm
47 1/4" x  47 1/4"
Oil on Canvas

Project for the Affirmation of the New No.1
60cm diameter
23 5/8" diameter
Oil on Canvas

For more info go to:

For information about the paintings write to:
subject: paintings

What About a Conversation with Perry Kulper?

David’s Island
Strategic Plot
Drawing made: 1996-97
Drawing size: 24” x 36”
Materials: Mylar, graphite, ink, tape, found imagery, x-rays, foil, photographs, transfer letters + trasnfer film, cut paper.

Drawing Architecture

A conversation with Perry Kulper

If “action painting” is produced by the dynamics of dripping, smearing, and sweeping brushstrokes of paint to reveal the complex character of abstract art, then “action drawing” would be something like juxtaposing lines, planes, volumes, typographical elements, photographs, and paper cutouts on a  drawing that aims to uncover the intricate universe of architectural ideas. 

Each of Perry Kulper’s architectural drawings is a cosmos of information and possibilities that resist the banal and simplistic reductionism so typical of contemporary architectural representation.  Series after series, his drawings display objects as background, and background as object in a constant visual journey of an architecture that doesn’t settle and always evolves: an architecture of ideas. 

WAI discussed with Perry Kulper the concept, intention, and potential of drawing architecture. 

‘Fast Twitch’, Desert House
Site Plan v.01
Drawing made: 2004
Drawing size: 24” x 36”
Materials: Mylar, graphite, tape, found imagery. transfer letters + transfer film, cut paper.

WAI: There was a moment in our academic experience in which we became very interested in the potential of       representation strategy. This was at the same time as  one of us was researching about the potential of the representation tools of the avant-garde in the 20th century, starting with Le Corbusier and ending in the late 1960’s with projects by Archizoom and Superstudio.

Following our studies we discovered in Europe, in the midst of the debacle of Wall Street, that the architectural crisis had started a long time before the crash of Lehman Brothers. We felt that architectural representation and its dialectical relationship with architectural thinking was being overlooked, as representation was becoming a mere sales exercise in which renderings and cartoonesque diagrams served as smoke screens  that tried to disguise a lack of intellectual depth.

In order to continue our interests and answering a strong urge to challenge the situation we created WAI.   

 We would like to know about the origins of your fascination for solving the puzzle of architectural representation? Could you share with us how your interest in this realm of architecture started?

Perry Kulper: While I had a latent interest in architectural drawings in my time in grad school at Columbia (Archigram, Graves, Stirling, Abraham, etc) and in the offices where I worked, my active interests in architectural representation evolved through: a self reflection on my own limitations as a designer through a realization that I lacked the formal, material and representational skills to work on a fruitful range of ideas; an interest in trying to find ways to visualize and materialize thought; trying to find a way into unexplored disciplinary conversations; exposure to a range of architecture and art practices in Los Angeles that opened questions about what architectural representation might discuss.
My interests in architectural representation were motivated specifically by my early years of teaching at SCI-Arc where I was around a number of provocative people who were thinking and working on the potential of the architectural drawing including Thom Mayne and Michael Rotondi of Morphosis, Mary-Ann Ray and Robert Mangurian of Studio Works, Andy Zago, Neil Denari, Coy Howard and so on. I was also beginning to think about the preferences of various kinds of architectural drawings and I was formulating thoughts about the ‘crisis of reduction’ and how the architectural representation might help avoid the reduction of things too quickly in the design of a project. I was also wondering how I might account for things that couldn’t be metrically, or instrumentally visualized  and was moving from my more dominant formal predilections in design to relational thinking and how to structure various interests in spatial settings. This suggested to me that alternative forms of visualization, imaging and drawing might be more effective in relation to an increased range of ideational and architectural possibilities.

‘Bleached Out’
Relational Drawing , v.02
Drawing made 2003
Drawing size 24” x 36”
Materials: Mylar, graphite, tape, found imagery. transfer letters + trasnfer film, cut paper.

 During that period of time have you seen architectural representation in general undergo substantial changes or has the essence remained the same although with a different set of tools?

Digital culture has and will continue to have significant impact on the roles that visualizations have played for the architect over the last 15- 20 years. What can be worked on, who can work on it and the translation of what’s being worked on have changed in contemporary life. Collaborative logics, forms of spatial generation, construction logics (linked to digital fabrication, in particular) have changed the roles, questions and operational positions for architectural representation. Arguably, the latent capacities and tacit knowledge gained through the making of a drawing have been changed through the instrumental techniques linked to various digital protocols. The changes are less dramatic in practice and perhaps more vivid with un-built projects and speculative research. Architectural representation has changed to include other forms of imaging and visualization ‘outside’ the conventions of drawing practices, opening alternative potential for what’s in play and what’s not in a project. In some influential discussions there has been a shift from what architecture looks like to how it behaves –a movement from the configuration and image dominance to parametric and performance logics. We’ve also witnessed an increase in the roles of the meditating visualizations, particularly the use of diagramming. There are certain questions that remain the same and others that will change. Key disciplinary discussions linked to a multitude of cultural shifts will be of increased importance as they become integrated in spatial production, particularly in relation to shifts in the augmented or changing roles of architectural representation.

Has your perception and understanding of architectural representation changed during your years of experience as a thinker, educator and practitioner? Have you seen an evolution or any dramatic change in your approach towards architectural representation?

Yes, my sense about the potential of architectural representation has both changed and been enlarged astronomically. Several key things come to mind including: an increasing interest on my part to augment the picturing of architecture (as the dominant mode of recognizing the potential of a project), to the generative roles of mediating drawings and their capacities to consider a wide range of ideas simultaneously, I have augmented imaging form or its abstraction through visualizations connected to relational thinking. In addition to what things look like I am particularly interested in: how they are structured; the roles that representation have played in expanding what I think is possible ideationally, conceptually and materially; a clearer understanding of the capacities of various approaches to architectural representation and when to deploy them relative to the different phases of a projects development; the value of moving between certainties explored in the space of representation and hunches, guesses and flat out shots in the dark; the latent potential of the drawing in relation to its explicit intent;  an ability to work on and through temporally active conditions rather than static appearances; and an expanded sense of what might be considered as fodder for the architectural mill.

  When you mention that the approximations, hunches, and shots in the darks have hugely increased, does that imply that the process has become more artistic in the sense of a programmatic freedom that allows you to explore representation “as” an end in itself, instead of representation as a possible building in the future?

Partially, as a result of allowing uncertainties to enter drawings I have enjoyed freedom of many kinds. A more relaxed and accommodating approach has allowed me to work ‘creatively’ (always a dangerous word) in broadened ways by supporting expanded relational capacities in the drawings to discuss things that might not otherwise be in play. I try to visualize and support ideas long enough to see if they might be relevant to a project in the long run. Increasingly, I am less judgmental about possible ideas for a project, especially in the early phases of a project –about whether everything in play is suitable for the piece of work. Depending on what I am working on I often make drawings, or parts of drawings that are not targeted at a synthetic building proposal, but are specific in their intent –studying erasure as a possible representational and spatial activity, for example.

With the liberations I’ve granted myself come different kinds of possibilities including an ability to make connections where I hadn’t seen them, to open the range of ideas that might belong to a project and to work on things that might not initially, or ever, make sense. Eventually, I tend to look for a fitness between the situation in which I am working (the situation might include a site, or sites and their respective histories, physicality, futures, etc, the cultural and disciplinary questions at stake, considerations of like projects in the world, my ambitions for the work, etc) and whatever I might propose –a kind of measure of what is relevant, or appropriate to discuss in a project.

Explored through certain kinds of drawing techniques, the hunches and approximations allow me to see other possibilities- the drawings and my understanding of the work frequently gets richer and talks about an expanded set of constituencies, or possible participants, real, conceptualized and as yet unimaginable. To be honest, I also simply need to support some considerations through drawing in the only ways I can at the moment because in the early phases of a project, in particular, I often don’t know how to resolve the geometric and material articulation for ideas. By allowing the co-existence of fairly certain ideas and hunches I relax a need to get it all right and enable conversations to emerge through the visualizations, discovering the project rather than attempting to prove it.  If I had the skills to ‘convert’ the intellectual project into a geometric and material one immediately, I might not make mediating visualizations. On the other hand, the potential that emerges as a result of making drawings that try and move ideas to formations enables a multitude of unforeseen and sometimes profitable trajectories to enter a project. Ultimately, some of the drawing efforts have been testing grounds to examine the appropriateness of ideas and where ideas might come from.

 On that same line, do you think that architectural representation can or should be appreciated as an art in itself, or  should it always remain judged as a purely architectural exercise?

A great question- I’ve had a range of conversations with friends, colleagues and students over the years about your question. I think that architectural representation has a range of things it can discuss, both internal and external to the discipline. I think we should position and support a broad range of ways in which architectural representation works including its capacity to work as a design accomplice, to enabling musings without known outcomes, to speculating on alternative agendas for architecture (the roles of so-called paper architecture, for example) to, as you’ve suggested, being objects in the world with their own potential. I don’t think architectural representation should always be judged solely as an architectural exercise, absolutely not. From my perspective it’s useful to expose the roles architectural representations play, when and how they might be deployed, how they relate to other forms of architectural representation and how, if appropriate, they might find their spatial translation. For my workI’m interested in finding appropriate modes of representation given the tasks at hand- the situational fitness of things again. I also value decisions I make in the drawings that are not linked to the situation in which I am working, but are linked to the agency of the drawing with its own potential.

Has any specific strategy or tool helped you to have a better understanding of the potential of architectural representation or of architecture as a discipline? 

Amongst a range of things that have happened relative to your question a handful of key things occur to me. These include: the potential of composite architectural drawings, or visualizations- using multiple representation languages simultaneously in the same drawing; strategic plotting —plotting relations of agents, actions and settings, over and through time; analogical thinking  —thinking and working through likenesses with things, events, conceptual structures, etc; and an expanded sense of the potential of architecture through the use of diverse design methods.  I’ve indentified 14 of them and those means for producing work have allowed me to work on a highly varied range of ideas in different situations.

‘Central California History Museum’
Longitudinal Section
Drawing made 2010
Drawing size 24” x 36”
Materials: Mylar, graphite, tape, found imagery. transfer letters + trasnfer film, cut paper.

Referring to something you wrote in the piece “The Labor of Architectural Drawing” when discussing the risk of drawing as a confrontation with the “conceptual daylight of the blank drawing surface”, we can’t help but see an allegory with one of Jose Saramago’s literary masterpieces about a city in which a mysterious outbreak makes people go blind. The blindness in the story is not portrayed as the typical visual blackout, but on the contrary, it is manifested as an incessant light that drowns the sight of those affected in an ocean of milk in which any discernible contrast between the sky and the water has become imperceptible.

In the story, the hero is portrayed as somebody whose sense of duty and hope keeps her from going blind. In her struggle between her feeling of impotence in front of the overwhelming amount of problems of a blind society she has to carry the unbearable weight of responsibility and somehow guilt of being the only one able to see.
When you affirm that architectural drawing’s “potential for creative engagement with diverse ideas in a project are on the wane,” do you feel as if architecture has lost its sight, and that there are just a few architects able to see and understand the potential of architectural representation as a tool to think architecture?

 The Saramago (‘Blindness’, if my thin memory serves) reference is interesting and useful, but I don’t think I am in a parallel world to the hero. I think I’m looking for potential in architectural representation that maybe others aren’t, but I also don’t expect them to   —the cultural and disciplinary questions and interests are just different. I do see the world of architectural representation as amazingly well poised to act as cultural and spatial agents, especially in the midst of significant change –as a generative realm, not simply a descriptive medium, or a technique motivated position.

I think there are multiple sights, or sites for the discipline to work on. I don’t think architecture has lost its sight, it’s just seeing other potentially interesting things at the moment. To be honest (this is pure conjecture) I’m not sure there’s a broad interest in architectural representation, or more specifically the roles of the architectural drawing at the moment. In the early 21 Century architectural representation seems often to be used instrumentally, often bypassing the expansive potential of representation as a way to think through spatial problems and to enlarge what it is that architecture might discuss.

Parenthetically, related to my interests in situational thinking, in diversifying my skills as a designer and in trying to come to terms with what kinds of issues are relevant to work on in a project (its ‘scope’ towards a cultural and disciplinary ‘fitness’) and how to work on them (using particular design methods and representation techniques, strategically), I am often interested in sustaining multiple families of ideas, or interests in a project. Given my predilections the potential of architectural representation is huge on this front.

David’s Island
Proto Strategic Plot, Details
Drawing made: 1996-96
Drawing Size: 9” x 12”
Materials: Mylar, graphite, found imagery, transfer film, cut paper.

 Do you see your architectural approach as a mode of intellectual resistance?

No. The approach, ethically, structurally and operationally that I champion might be entirely different from project to project, or from speculation to speculation. I think some people see what I do as a mode of resistance, but that’s not my intent. I consider my interests more a form of augmentation and challenging default positions rather than a mode of resistance. If there is intellectual resistance it has more to do with challenging the mono-project, while avoiding the crisis of reduction and in not taking the means and techniques we deploy in architectural production for granted. I have a desire to develop spatial scenarios that participate at several levels with multiple constituencies in a spatial proposition- culturally, disciplinarily and situationally.

   And finally, referring to what you call the crisis of reduction, do you think that the current architectural scenario (disciplinary, academic, professional) offers a fertile soil for the development of new representation strategies, or is a radical change needed?

From my point of view, and very generally, I think the use of representational strategies is sometimes deployed instrumentally and that anything outside that usage is seen as peripheral, or outside what the discussion might be. Because of my frequent interest in trying to support and develop multiple families of ideas in a project, single, or mono- drawing approaches tend to be inadequate to the questions I ask. Said differently, I don’t always have the skills to figure out how to sustain ideas I’m working on in a project through conventional drawings like plan, section, perspective and so on. Given my predilections these drawing types, while historically extraordinary in their own right, implicate synthetic understandings of the ideas of a project at the time of their use. Sadly, my understanding and ability to make synthetic decisions is often not ‘in sync’ with the preferences or allowances of traditional drawing types.

And while I rely a lot on the conventions of architectural representation, in fact I grew up in architecture education and in practice through them; I have tried to understand their biases and preferences, so that I can deploy representation strategies more tactically, given what I’m working on. Again, I generally look for an appropriate set of relationships between what’s being worked on and how those things are being worked on. Said differently, drawing types ask the ‘lions to jump to the same platforms at the same time’ and my design skills and interests simply don’t work that way.

I think there is a reasonable range of representational strategies available disciplinarily, professionally and academically. I do think we might address the question about contextualizing the representational strategies available, what they’ve led to and when they are more effectively deployed as a way. I also think that it’s possible to innovate within what’s known, by shifting the relational assemblies, or relational contours within a representational approach. To be honest I do think that radical changes might be necessary.

Spatial Blooms
Il Gesu Study 2
Digital Print
Assisted by Justn Foyle

Perry Kulper is an architect and associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning. Prior to his arrival at the University of Michigan he was a SCI-Arc faculty member for 16 years as well as in visiting positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University. Subsequent to his studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (BS Arch) and Columbia University (M Arch) he worked in the offices of Eisenman/ Robertson, Robert A.M. Stern and Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown before moving to Los Angeles. His interests include the roles of representation and design methods in the production of architecture and in broadening the conceptual range by which architecture contributes to our cultural imagination.

What About a Conversation with Bernd Upmeyer?

Spread of the WAIzine Featuring all of Monu's previous covers.

The Ideology of Publication
Conversation with Bernd Upmeyer

Urbanism is one of those malleable concepts that defy definition. A flexible subject where, by trying to lock it within a specific scope, its validity sometimes gets undermined and its potential spoiled.

But when a magazine develops and maintains its own way to portray the multiple faces, forms, shapes, relationships, arguments, contradictions, images, consequences, and messages of the discipline that is supposed to carry the unbearable load of thinking the city, then the exercise of defining urbanism becomes an enriching intellectual journey.

MONU (Magazine on Urbanism) was born in 2004 in Rotterdam. What was originally an almost underground magazine made available through a pdf dossier and a stapled black and white print has evolved into one of the main independent publications, a reference for the collective intelligence of urbanism, and an icon of exquisite aesthetics.

Set to satisfy a growing urbanophilic hunger, MONU has thrown into the mix an intoxicating mixture of up-and-coming talents with household names. A microcosm of the urban intelligentsia, the magazine includes works, interviews, provocations, cartographies, analytical essays, critical manifestoes, political outcries, and fairytales. An expanding list of worldwide contributors  form a global network of artists, thinkers, urbanists, architects, photographers, ethnographers and urban provocateurs to assure the inexhaustible variety and compelling heterogeneity of the publications.

Bernd Upmeyer’s intelligent elaboration of the call for submissions sets the tone for intense debates that question the status quo of urbanism through projects that flirt between pure research and dark humor.
WAI discussed with Bernd the ideology of publication

Cover Monu No. 15

 WAI: To start the discussion, we would like to retake a topic initiated in the 15th issue of MONU dedicated to “Post-Ideological” Urbanism, and specifically to the call for submissions that argue that after the end of the times in which “revolutionary urban ideologies were not only conceived but actually, unlike today, also truly believed in”, if it is necessary today to bring back new or true ideologies when it comes to the city. 
But, would it be accurate to still rely on the western perspective of post-ideology even when the basis of the argument of Fukuyama has been severely threatened by the social composition of rising powers in the East (China for example) that respond to a completely different set of structural values? 

Bernd Upmeyer: I believe that, apart from the conservative neoliberals, most of the people never really relied on Fukuyama’s idea of “The End of History”, but did not see any real working alternative to liberal democracies and free market capitalism, which you could call post-ideological. But I think that that should not frustrate us as the possibilities within this supposedly final form of government have not been entirely exhausted and explored yet. In that sense, it is still the right thing to do in my opinion. Today, people are less naïve when it comes to ideologies. Everything is more about the small details and the grayscales after the black-and-white thinking of the past.

Fat Provocation:
MONU calls for contributions of its 7th issue presenting the obliterating contrast of a sumo wrestler against a kid.
The issue was released during the summer of 2007. Urbanism has never before been so heavy.
Poster  © MONU   

Following that line of thought, is not urbanism (as a profession) very much a tool that responds directly to ideology? If it is not to an ideological command, then to what form of social input does urbanism respond?

Yes it does, but urbanism is a huge field and cities are big and complex things and the production, organization and maintenance of cities involves so many different people and parties that all bring their own ideology into the different negotiations and discussions, meaning that you cannot speak of direct responses and impacts of singular or all-encompassing ideologies any longer. Everything gets compromised and diluted, at least in the Western Democratic World, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as it reveals the level of democracy in a city. How a city responds to the input of people can be compared to how, for example, a harbor responds to the input of people. I experienced that when I recently had to pick up a package directly from Rotterdam’s harbor and had to drive around 30km to fetch it, having received only an address called “Harbour 5044”. Before that moment, I had always perceived Rotterdam’s harbour as one entity, but when I arrived at number 5044, it became clear that there is no such thing as “one harbour”, but thousands of individual people, mostly company and property owners, with thousands of different ways of looking at things and each of their individual decisions and actions make up what we think of as the harbour.

Godzilla versus the City in the call for submissions for MONU #05
Brutal Urbanism: Violence and Upheaval in the City.
Poster  © MONU

At the beginning of the 20th century in Europe several magazines started proliferating as a way to portray a new set of aesthetic and social values. De Stijl, L'Esprit Nouveau, G were just a few examples of the universe of publications that questioned the state of design in relation to society. These were critical magazines with an obvious agenda.
Simultaneously, other magazines were digging even deeper into their political affiliations in places such as Italy. 

Up to what point could a magazine such as MONU today either become part of the communication apparatus of a bigger ideological agenda, or - in opposition - become part of a strategy to break away from predetermined ideological postures?

The biggest difference of MONU to magazines such “De Stijl” or “L'Esprit Nouveau” is that we never wanted to question “the state of design in relation to society” as you call it, but to understand how cities work. What MONU has been aiming at since the very beginning is exploring every kind of urban aspect, everything that appears around the city. The magazine was always intrigued to find out the hidden political, social and economic truths, formal realities and interdependencies in cities. Part of cities is of course also its design, but when we founded MONU at the start of the new millennium, it felt much more appropriate, in a globalized and increasingly complex world, to investigate topics such as architecture or even design as a part of a wider field – in our case urbanism. In order to investigate how ideologies impact cities, for example, we dedicated recently the entire issue #15 to it and called it “Post-Ideological Urbanism”. But since we have put that topic on our agenda and drew up quite a few conclusions around it, we wanted to move on and discuss other topics. There are still so many other topics to explore around cities. In that sense “Ideology” was only one topic besides others in the past that we don’t wish to stretch out and extend necessarily for ever. The important thing is that MONU remains critical and uncompromised, which is our main ideology. But I doubt that it would be a good idea that MONU becomes a part of a communication apparatus of a bigger ideological agenda that will make the magazine very inflexible and compromised in the years to come. In that sense, I would also never call a magazine “L'Esprit Nouveau”, because it is just a matter of time that it becomes “L'Esprit Rétrogarde”. Such a magazine would be too dependent on short-lived trends. MONU has been created to last for a long time. However, MONU is not a neutral platform. It has opinions and is, for example, generally critical of the fact that often urban spaces only fulfill the wishes and dreams of a powerful minority, who neglect the needs of most other people (MONU#12). The magazine also dismisses the lack of interest among architects and urban designers in dealing with the enormous potential of the existing urban material and topics such as urban and architectural restoration, preservation, renovation, redevelopment, renewal or adaptive reuse of old structures as socially irresponsible and economically and culturally unacceptable (MONU#14). And MONU disapproves furthermore of the non-ideological - or better post-ideological - conditions of our society when it comes to cities and aims for a new sincerity that is needed in a world consisting of a multiplicity of choices and urban outcomes without a single consistent urban ideology (MONU #15).
Flying carpets and exotic urbanism.
Call for submissions for MONU #09
Poster  © MONU


Being based in the Netherlands, and particularly in Rotterdam which can be considered the epicenter of both the Dutch architectural avant-garde and the architectural establishment, what strategies do you apply to keep MONU within a neutral international focus, and avoid (if this is the intention) reflecting the doctrines of the ideological influences of the Dutch architectural scene?

I could not say that we follow any strategy to avoid reflecting Dutch architectural doctrines. The Dutch scene does not have one particular ideology or one particular doctrine anyway when it comes to architecture and urbanism. There are several and completely different ways of thinking to be found. Nobody would ever try to influence or force you into one. It is rather the opposite. From an outside perspective it might maybe look as if certain relevant figures in Rotterdam rule and influence everything, but I don’t experience that being here. Maybe it is like being in the eye of a cyclone, but everybody is very open to new ideas and directions and most of the people have an international focus. In that sense, I don’t need to avoid anything, but join the ubiquitous international atmosphere and open-source mentality and try to contribute to it. However, MONU does not focus on neutrality, it clearly has an international - or better global - focus, but it is not neutral. I think that a magazine should never, and can never, be entirely neutral, but should only try to be as open as possible. Just by favoring certain topics and certain contributors and viewpoints the neutrality is already gone.

Along that same line, do you see MONU as an international magazine made from a Dutch point of view, or from a European perspective or simply as an international intellectual outlet in its purest sense?

I think that MONU would be pretty much the same magazine as it is, if it were produced in another country and another city in Europe or elsewhere. It is quite independent from its context. I believe that today, in our highly globalized world, viewpoints neither need a location nor to be influenced only where they were created. In that sense, you can probably find much more “Dutch” magazines in other parts of the world than in the Netherlands. But although we try to create a truly global magazine, its departure point for some topics is probably still pretty much from a European point of view, although our new topic “Next Urbanism” is clearly independent from a European viewpoint. And also, at the time when we introduced, for example, the device of “open calls for contributions” in our first issue as a tool of finding contributors, this was not very common for architectural and urban magazines in Europe, but more established as an academic method to finding conference presentations in the US. In that regard, MONU is clearly an international intellectual outlet, as you call it. However, you can still sense a European background, for example in topics such as “Editing Urbanism”. In that sense a lot of our topics are still motivated and initiated by European urban phenomena that we then try to expand and project onto the rest of the world. Furthermore, you might be able to see certain Dutch influences in MONU, such as the belief in the value of diversity in perspectives and viewpoints, as I mentioned before. But at the end of the day, you have to give us some credit here. With MONU we developed a magazine that is not just a product of its context. It has its own independent identity and pursues its own interests. 

WAI's first encounter with MONU was with its Ferris Wheel in the call for submissions for Beautiful Urbanism in 2006.
Poster  © MONU

Is the critical agenda of MONU and the selection of topics related to specific events or moments of contemporary urban history, or are selected themes the product of more personal reflections on the evolution of the city? Have you noticed the development of a major “issue” with regard to the city or urbanism since the magazine was founded?

MONU’s critical agenda is truly based on the belief that it is necessary to criticize and question prevailing urban conditions in order to understand better how cities work, to fuel the debates around them, and ultimately to improve our living conditions within them. But generally speaking, we are most interested in contemporary urban phenomena that we usually try to evaluate in relation to their potential to impact cities in the future, and their relevance to the history of cities, before selecting them as topics. To what extent a topic may be directly related to a specific moment of urban history – for instance the financial crisis of 2008 – can probably best be seen in issue #12 of 2010, on the topic of “Real Urbanism” that investigated how the real estate industry shapes and influences cities on all kind of levels. But it has to be said as well that although this topic did fit very well and was clearly related to the aftermath of this crisis, it already had been bothering me for years, while walking around Rotterdam wondering who is actually responsible for all those uninspiring plans, all those faceless glass facades, and all those dysfunctional public spaces that comprise 98% of all our cities. I became desperately curious to find out more about the impact of the real estate industry on cities. I think that the example of how the topic of #12 came about shows quite well how MONU’s topics are arrived at in general. Nevertheless, every new topic of MONU has its own little history and its emergence could be described with one or another little anecdote. In that way, you could say, that most of the themes are both the product of personal reflections and experiences, and of specific historical events. But the proportion of these two sources of inspiration, if you could call them that are different with every new topic as no clear method is followed here, but only the conviction that a topic must be relevant, if it truly feels relevant. And, in the end, that is a very personal thing. 
Ladies in revealing clothes invite to discuss Border Urbanism in the 8th issue of MONU.
Poster  © MONU

MONU is willing to explore the concept of urbanism from every possible angle, including the social, political, ideological and artistic spheres. However, something that is not being discussed is the contribution of MONU to the visual culture of architectural publications. An important element of the unique attraction of MONU is its layout (varying from article to article), typography and provocative covers that have featured Godzilla, Jesus, Marilyn Monroe, Superman, and John Lennon. Was the aesthetic approach for MONU a derivative of the content or was it a choice assumed from the beginning as a main concept for the magazine?

The fact that every article is different in terms of the layout was a clear choice from the beginning and we have been applying that concept ever since – although a little less wildly today. From the beginning, this choice was meant to emphasize the multiplicity and diversity of the articles and viewpoints and, on the other hand, the result of the fact that I always had trouble with magazines in which I got lost, not knowing whether one article ends, another one starts or images in between are merely advertisements. Some magazines are doing that excessively. I have always considered that very annoying. Therefore, this principle of the layout is not a derivative of the content – however, the emphasis on diversity clearly is. Principally MONU’s content always comes first and its layout only serves the content and its readability. MONU’s visual culture should not be overrated. When it comes to the covers, we started very naïvely, not knowing how relevant and important a meaningful and attractive cover for a magazine is. We started getting a bit of a clue when the magazine was already three years old and on display and for sale in more and more bookshops. Seeing the magazine on the shelves, especially in the bookshops in Rotterdam, made us think more about its cover, as the cover was the only thing people would see while walking around the store. In addition to that we recognized an increasing interest in the magazine and the moment more people are looking at you, you better get a better haircut, so as not to look like a fool. Thus, you can say that ever since the summer of 2006, starting with issue #5, we are putting more energy in finding interesting and inspiring images that represent the content of each issue. Since the “Godzilla” on the cover of #5 we are trying to provide more direct access to the still invisible content of each issue. But it is not simply about provocation, but more about the belief that a magazine with uncompromising and daring content also needs uncompromising and daring covers.
Mr. Clean features in the call for submissions poster  for MONU #11, Summer 2009.

While the value of MONU as a platform for open discussion and experimental speculation is undeniable, the importance of strategies such as the “open call for contributions” should not be overlooked. Recent exhibitions like Archizines highlight a resurgence of independent publications that very often are created following this selection tool. When you created MONU, did you see it as an independent exercise or did you anticipate its paradigmatic potential? By the same token, do you feel that MONU, apart from its intellectual contributions, has served as a model for a young generation of independent magazines?

No, we definitely could not foresee its paradigmatic potential, but we were only hoping that it would help us making an interesting magazine. You have to understand that at the time we founded the magazine, we neither knew how to make a magazine, nor did we know any writers or potential contributors. We had no network whatsoever. Not that we believe in networks. Today, we actually avoid making use of our network, as we want to keep the magazine open to new people while avoiding inviting people that we know as most magazines traditionally do. But what is a choice today was a constraint in the past, as we simply had no idea how to get contributors for the magazine. We had a lot of ideas for topics, but no ideas for authors. Therefore, the open call for contributions” was for us at that moment the only way to start a magazine. That we receive today so many proposals and submissions of such a high standard is incredible and fantastic and we are very grateful for that. I would be very happy if MONU served as a model for a young generation of independent magazines as I feel that that we truly did some kind of pioneering work here. As I mentioned before, in 2004, when we introduced the device of “open calls for contributions” in our first issue as a tool of finding contributors, this was not common for architectural and urbanism magazines. Being a role model shows that we have created something meaningful and interesting. That is a big honour for the magazine itself and for its authors. But what is more important is that in recent years MONU has contributed to bringing back a new critical edge to the architectural and urban discourse and if this approach has inspired others to start similar magazines, that can only be judged positively.

How would you describe the evolution of MONU from the first issues to the current ones and how do you envision the future of MONU?

The evolution of MONU has to be understood as a continuous attempt – driven by tireless curiosity - to improve the magazine with every single issue with regard to the diversity and quality of the contributions, the relevance of the articles in general and in relation to the particular topic of the issue, the relevance of each topic taken by itself, its appearance and layout, and finally its financial sustainability. In that sense, I believe that our last issue was the most elaborate – however, most of the earlier issues contain a lot of very good and relevant contributions too, coupled with the charm of something that is in the process of becoming something very special and unique. I see the future of MONU in the same vein: as a magazine that will continuously improve, yet will continue to take risks and flirt with failure. And as long as people are still motivated to contribute and we are not getting tired of initiating new topics and investing time and energy into something that will probably never have a secure and stable financial base, MONU Magazine on Urbanism will keep looking forward to its next issue.

Bernd Upmeyer is the editor-in-chief and founder of MONU magazine. He is also the founder of the Rotterdam-based Bureau of Architecture, Research, and Design (BOARD). From 2004 until 2008 he taught and did research as Assistant Professor at the department for Urban and Architectural Studies at the University of Kassel. In 2010 he taught as Adjunct Professor at the department of Urban Design at the HafenCity University Hamburg.

MONU is an English-language, biannual magazine on urbanism that focuses on the city in a broader sense, including its politics, economy, geography, ecology, its social aspects, as well as its physical structure and architecture. Therefore architecture is one of many fields covered by the magazine - fields which are all brought together under the catch-all term “urbanism”. MONU is edited in the city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Continuous publication began in June 2004. It refers to itself as an independent, non-conformist, niche publication that collects critical articles, images, concepts, and urban theories from architects, urbanists and theorists from around the world on a given topic.