To really understand what architecture zine Soiled aims to do requires unpacking the language its creators use to characterize it, which is only ironic because its stated intent to "investigate collective issues" and "document hidden systems" by way of "calibrating filth" roughly translates to a desire to cut through archi-babble. But, then again, architecture zines are all about paradox. Zines, experimental publications that are typically privately published, scrappily printed, and eschewing of commercial success, are in many ways everything architecture is not. They're ephemeral where architecture is permanent, cheap where architecture is expensive, buoyant where architecture is unwieldy, and, above all, accessible where architecture is (as a discipline) closed off. By nature, zines are boldly creative, deconstructed, and probationary. To architecture grad student and Soiled founder Joseph Altshuler, zines are an invitation extended to the public, a chance to "provide a venue for an architectural show."
So-called "archizines" have, in the last decade or so, experienced something of a resurgence, with alternative publications sprouting up by the fistful in the United States and the UK, as well as Ireland, Egypt, Puerto Rico, and Tanzania. There's enough being produced to encourage a man named Elias Redstone to curate a world's worth of high-quality independent publishing online, not to mention conduct world tours and exhibitions to give these works, by nature small and regional, an international stage.
For its part, Soiled wants to be an alternative to glossy architecture magazines by focusing on the architecture of "in-between spaces." This means, as Altshuler says over the phone, writing about "the politics of space"—including the oft-overlooked parts of structures. An example: its most recent Windowscrapers issue explores how windows operate apart from their obvious functions. One contributor "plants her finger and nose prints upon previously un-soiled retail windows" and another "charts the historiography of architectural glass to reveal its latent comedic potential," according to the table of contents. Another contributor offers an intellectual piece on the power of small spaces, exploring how the power and comfort a kid feels in a pillow fort translates for him in adult spaces. Probably the most overt example of the architecture of the "in-between" featured in Soiled's first issue: a contributor's fantastical plan to turn the foundation craters of abandoned construction sites into molds for "land paddies," proposing that people somehow pour materials into these holes and plunk the resulting masses into lakes as manmade islands."To distill it down to the simplest terms," Altshuler says, "Soiled is about telling stories in which architecture plays a central role."
It all began in 2010. Altshuler was a recent graduate of the architecture school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he was "frustrated with what I perceived as the tendency of the discipline of architecture to really talk to itself." He wanted to open the more intellectual considerations of his field to the general public. "Architects love to speak archispeak. There's little effort to engage a wider audience," he says. He took issue with the fact that, unlike dance or theater or music, there was no way to strategically invite the public into the intellectual discussion of architecture. That's what he—and the architect, writer, and graphic designer who make up the zine's staff—wanted Soiled to be: a ticket into those highbrow discussions, and graspable insight into architecture's hidden stories.
Those stories, Altshuler insists, are often messy; they're so convoluted that traditional publications and narrative structures can't tell them. Here's where the "calibrating filth" objective comes in. "The stories here are unscientific and inexact," Altshuler says. "We think that's beautiful and while we certainly don't want to clean that mess, we want to make it more productive, to calibrate it. We want to give it sign posts and entry points."
Sign posts come in what seems to be innumerable forms: short stories, illustrations, comics, collages, crosswords, renderings. "We believe in architecture that can be humorous and serious at the same time," Altshuler says. That stated intent to "instigate mischief" allows for things like Francesco Vedovato's illustrations of Tiramisù (below) and lasagna constructed according to modernist architectural tropes and Sarah Ross's photos of fleshy bodies draped across uncomfortable city structures.
Alternative stuff? Undeniably, though Soiled still pushes the boundaries of its traditionally print medium: up until the most recent issue, which was partially funded via Kickstarter, Soiled was primarily an online magazine. "We needed a way to get started. We needed no capital to do this," Altshuler says of printing costs. He clarifies: "We make no money."
Now that Soiled has made its publications more affordable to buy in print—before the Kickstarter campaign, people who wanted hard copies had to pay for the one-time print, which was prohibitively expensive for most readers, particularly considering a free download was available online—the creators finally get to explore the physical components of a zine. "It allowed us to be more intentional about color and paper and dimensions and the very tactile things that we believe in."
And more than that, Soiled finally gets to tap into the stuff that makes architecture and zine-dom such a dynamic couple: permanence and disposability working together to tell the stories that would otherwise go untold, to people who would otherwise not hear them.
For more information about Soiled, head to its official site.