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Dimensioning

This issue of Dimensions marks the 25th year that the journal has been in continuous production. Thus, it seems appropriate to take stock, to look back as a means to continue to move forward, and place Dimensions in the context of its own history as well as within the larger framework of architecture culture.

While architectural publications have been key in the construction of the discipline's discourse, student-led publications have always played a pivotal role in this endeavor by serving as the field's foil – its other – always anticipating, negating, or reinforcing architecture's strength and exposing its weakness. Unencumbered by the financial pressures of minimum circulation, student-led journals have been able to do away with mass appeal and concentrate on the issues that students find pertinent to their time. These publications have been free to advance the discipline of architecture through the dissemination of new ideas and the critique of existing cannons; minority voices can be heard; polemics can be fabricated.

In architecture schools student publications are often divided among those that focus on a particular disciplinary topic looking outwardly versus those publications that tap their internal production primarily serving as a venue to disseminate student work. Those journals that face outward have predominantly featured history and theory articles from established academics and practitioners as a means of forwarding a particular vision of the discipline as set forth by the group of student editors. Theory course readers are replete with texts that were first vetted and tested in these student journals. In this category, the Harvard Architecture Review (1980–1998), UPenn's via (1968–1990) and Yale's Perspecta (1952–today) come to mind. Of those journals that look inward, the ones that use their current body of student and faculty work as a means of developing new polemics for the discipline are among the most interesting. SCI-Arc's Offramp (1988–2001) and Princeton's Pidgin (2006–today) are the best examples of this class.

As you would expect of Michigan, Dimensions defies these stereotypes. From its onset Dimensions stood out as an alternate model. Theory, practice, history, and projects have always co-mingled to advance new modes of thinking. The writing and work of faculty, students, visitors, and outsiders have been presented on equal footing. In the pages of Dimensions, the well- established, the lesser-known and the plain not- known have found a platform for the framing of new debates and new polemics for construction of new turns for architectural thinking.

While our current cover is grazed with the number 25, the history of Dimensions goes beyond the boundaries of this quarter decade. Dimensions was inaugurated in 1956 and was published more or less biannually until 1967. After a hiatus of twenty years, students approached Dean Robert Beckley to reinstate the publication, and thanks to his leadership and vision the magazine has run continuously since 1987. Always student led, the journal has represented diverse points of view. Some issues have been unapologetically "thematic," while others have left it to the reader to ascertain its "theme." Each volume has managed to balance a desire for heterogeneity with a certain (un)spoken cohesiveness. Diversity can be found in all volumes.

Perhaps this balance is the result of the excellence of our faculty advisors, which have included Caroline Constant, Brian Carter, Linda Groat, and certainly Christian Unverzagt who has served as the faculty advisor continuously for almost ten years. Or perhaps this loose cohesiveness of Dimensions simply comes from its name. In 1955 the original student editors of Dimensions sought to choose a word that provided a precise, yet expansive definition for architecture: "...that DIMENSION, whether apparent or real; physical or imaginary; third, fourth, or fifth, represents our supreme ambition to govern the universe in a multitude of directions. DIMENSION, unlike measure, is flexible, and fundamental, and dynamic. . . ."1 In In those early days, contributors included Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, and Félix Candela. Themes prophetically included among others "Ornament" (1965), "Fringe" (1963), "Line" (1960).

Since its re-emergence in 1987, the journal has given us a preview of things to come. Key debates in the architectural discourse of the time have played out in the pages of Dimensions– Volume 5's Peter Eisenman/Stanley Tigerman "Vices Versus Verses (or Voce-Versa)" comes to mind. In Dimensions, practitioners have claimed new intellectual territories. Among the most memorable, James Corner's seminal 'Field Operations' text was published in Dimensions 19 at the inception of his practice with Stan Allen, before their thought matured into Fresh Kills. Or Michelle Addington's 'Thinking Small' which set the tone for a shift in attitude toward sustainable issues in the built environment in academia. Dimensions has also served as testing ground for emerging practices—ARO, LTL, David Clovers, Howeler Yoon, among others, proved their footing on the pages of Dimensions early on in their careers. One format that has proven fruitful for the journal is student interviews of selected practitioners and thinkers who have visited the school. From Jeff Kipnis, to Hans Hollein, to Laurie Hawkinson, to our own Dean Emeritus Robert Metcalf, students have posed questions that reframe our thinking about architecture culture. Through his interviews in Dimensions, we can trace the evolution in Thom Mayne's position vis-à-vis practice (Mayne is one of the few "outsiders" that appear in Dimensions more than once).

Our faculty has gotten to expose the ideas that guide their coursework and their practices. Melissa Harris, Jason Young, Craig Borum, Karl Daubmann, Perry Kulper, Keith Mitnick, James Chaffers, Mireille Roddier, Neal Robinson, Robert Adams, Gunnar Birkerts, Kent Kleinman, to name only a few, have used Dimensions to set out provocations against the norm. One can see the tone and evolution of Tom Buresh's Chairmanship through his introductions. Our fellows have used Dimensions as a platform to outline the ideas that would later springboard them into practice. The current work of former fellows such as Michael Meredith, Eric Olson, Anca Trandafirescu, Michael Silver, Lisa Iwamoto and Steven Mankouche cannot be understood without the earlier framework presented in Dimensions. Among these is my personal favorite: Architect Barbie made its debut in Dimensions 21. In a carefully constructed essay, Sanders Fellow Despina Stratigakos critically examined "the role of gender in the formation of professional self identity." As part of her fellowship exhibition she asked students and faculty of Taubman College to develop prototypes of Architect Barbie which were displayed in our gallery. The images in Dimensions are striking. Women architects of diverse colors, hairstyles, and fashion sensibilities are displayed in architectural practice. At the time, this was a fantasy since Mattel did not count an architect as part of their "I Can Be" series. While Despina's intent was to discuss gender inequities in the discipline, and cultural stereotypes of who and what makes an architect, she followed suit by lobbying and subsequently persuaded Mattel to issue an Architect Barbie, adding architecture to the repertoire of acceptable disciplines for girls to pursue.2

Through its history, the diverse and heterogeneous mode of inquiry presented in the pages of Dimensions has served as a unique model of what architecture should be. Its impact on our culture has been multifaceted and expansive, well beyond the boundaries of our institution and the boundaries of the discipline. Architect Barbie is just the tip of the iceberg.

Monica Ponce de Leon, Dean and Eliel Saarinen Professor of Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning
Introduction to Dimensons 25, 2012


1 Excerpt from the student editorial of the spring 1956 issue. The fall of 1955 was the first time students edited a publication (without a name). In the spring of that academic year the students chose to give the journal a name. The original title was "Dimension," and it is in the 1987 issue that the title is pluralized.
2 See Dimensions 25 for full footnote.