System of a Malfunction

System of a Malfunction

Geoff Manaugh
Courtesy Geoff Manaugh

On July 7, 2004, Geoff Manaugh launched BldgBlog with a quote from science-fiction writer J.G. Ballard. “Highways, office blocks, faces, and street signs are perceived as if they were elements in a malfunctioning central nervous system.” In the subsequent nine years, the website has garnered a cult following for Manaugh’s idiosyncratic outlook on architecture and urbanism, built on speculation and surreal futures.

On September 23, that Ballard quote could bring new relevance for Manaugh when he joins Gawker Media’s technology site Gizmodo as editor-in-chief, where he will be tasked with broadening the scope of coverage from the nitty-gritty of high tech gadgets to include architecture, design, and urbanism. “The largest gadget we encounter these days is the city,” Manaugh told AN. “From wifi parking meters to the way we get around, the city is a host to technology itself on different scales. At Gizmodo we’ll be looking at technology like the iPhone as a cultural object. We’re changing the emphasis of the site from just technology as technology, like electronics and chip sets, and moving more toward design. The culture of the object and the design that went into it.”

Manaugh is no stranger to the fast paced world of commercial publishing, having worked at both Dwell and Wired UK, and he remains undaunted by what he called “the gladiatorial job of content-creation at Gawker.” Now at Columbia, where he co-directs Studio-X NYC, a social think tank on cities, Manaugh is looking forward to the freedom online publishing can offer with its wider audience, faster feedback, and ability to try out new ideas. “I’m at a low point for enthusiasm for academic life,” he said. “There’s very much not a personal freedom” with the importance of conforming to grant requirements and the “straightjacketed approach to academic research.”

Manaugh believes that the collision of technology and design will help shape the future of the environment around us. It’s a trend many have been picking up on, from Fast Company to Wired to the Atlantic, but with Gizmodo’s self-proclaimed 8 million monthly readers, it has some clout to throw around.

With the proliferation of design and technology blogs, Manaugh said the underlying message has been lost. “Architecture writing had a brief moment at the beginning, when blogs were new, to change the way we write about architecture,” he said. “Everything I’m reading on architecture blogs has a feeling of a little ennui.” The same, he said, has happened with technology writing. “Tech blogging is running on empty. Tech gadgetry has become so ubiquitous. Technology reviews have become irrelevant if they’re not placed in the context of the culture of daily life.”

But Manaugh was quick to point out that the core focus of Gizmodo won’t change. “The goal is not to wake up and find Gizmodo is a totally different site,” he said. “I’m not going to take BldgBlog and retitle it. We’re just adding new layers to what’s already going on,” he said. “There are two worlds that are coming together. It’s not going to become an architecture blog. It’s a tech blog that has architecture.”