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Moving Target
21st-century archive aims to expand how we document the built environment.
Bjarke Ingel's presenting at ASAP launch event.
Madison McGaw/

The meaning of the word “archive” has become slippery in the face of 21st-century technology, where a collection doesn’t necessarily demand physical space. In fact, today the word is most commonly seen in verb form, as in “five emails from your inbox have been auto-archived.” Where these items have actually gone and how to find them again remains somewhat mysterious. It’s this active yet enigmatic sense of the word that best applies to a new project, the Archive of Spatial Aesthetics and Praxis, or ASAP, which launched in New York in December.

Developed by architecture curators-writers Tina DiCarlo and Danielle Rago, an Architect’s Newspaper alum, ASAP’s intention is to document and present the work of a selected group of architects and artists as they create. By doing so, the founders hope to expand and enliven the discourse around what they term “the spatial environment.” The focus is on not just final products but also what is generated as part of the work process, from objects to books to blogs. Which raises the question: how does one acquire a blog?

Left to right: Sissel Tolaas, Guy No.5; Andreas angelidakis' "Suns and Thoughts and buildings" presentation (background image by superstudio); AN Alum Matt Chaban in Alex Schweder La's "Friable Aperture series evaporative building," at ASAP launch party.
left Courtesy ASAP; center and right madison mcgaw/

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) acquired the @ sign for its collection, signaling a new way of thinking about collecting design, one that was less about making room on a storage shelf and more about acknowledging the cultural value of something in the public realm. But DiCarlo draws a distinction between this approach of identification and re-presentation of a finished work and ASAP’s objective of tracking and tagging the efflorescence of the creative process, including those artifacts, like blogs, that may continue to grow and evolve. “We have concrete goals, but at the same time we want to remain agile and flexible enough because we don’t exactly know what we’ll find,” said DiCarlo, who has worked in the architecture department at MoMA and now teaches at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.

andrea Zittel, "small Liberties."
Courtesy asap

So far ASAP has invited about 30 so-called protagonists to participate in the project, from architect Bjarke Ingels to artist Andrea Zittel to scent designer Sissel Tolaas, and is open to considering proposals from those who would like to be included (the archive start date is 2004). Some pieces have already been donated and handed off to ASAP, while others will remain with their creators. DiCarlo and Rago are looking for a New York office, where ASAP will be established as a nonprofit, with most of the physical archive stored off-site. They also hope to develop events and lectures all over the world.

But for now, the work of ASAP’s interdisciplinary group of subjects is presented on a website that allows for sorting and even iPod-style shuffling to create unexpected juxtapositions. It’s just these kinds of mash-ups that ASAP wants to encourage. At present, wholly dependent on donations and silent benefactors (Peter Eisenman is a friend), Rago said she hopes the archive will “facilitate discourse with a larger public who makes the majority of decisions about the built environment.”

Molly Heintz