“Hello … my name is ROBERT,” begins Dallas’s architectural ’zine, an artifact of 2010, when the city was between architecture critics. It lasted for only two issues, and now, even the digital imprint of the publication has disappeared, leaving only the paper traces of a voice.
Its mission statement is admirable, taking a no-nonsense view of what it intends to accomplish. “The point is that the Dallas architecture community — designers, clients, patrons, media observers — lacks confidence in our own ability to be amazing. It is time to get over it and expect things of ourselves. It is time to grow up and embrace our Texas-Bad-Ass-Ness.”
Highlights from the offerings include ruminations on the nature of suburban and urban living, an opinion piece on the George W. Bush Presidential Library, and a study of foreground versus background architecture, all by a series of anonymous contributors.
While the ’zine has a tendency to favor style over substance, it does represent an architectural voice rarely heard — one free from the constraints of collegial diplomacy and the watchful eyes of sponsors. Particularly promising is the second issue’s call for readers’ stories about the greatest architectural disappointments of the past five years. Unfortunately, no subsequent issue was ever produced. ROBERT had the potential to spark dialogue that, even with the appearance of a new architecture critic at the Dallas Morning News (Mark Lamster), is often sorely lacking when it comes to issues surrounding the built environment. Perhaps the most striking thing about ROBERT is its potential, which was never given the chance to develop into something more.
While the various contributions are hit-or-miss, combining poetry and grainy images with substantive architectural criticism, the concept here is heartening, and the content, to the point. After all, admonishes ROBERT, “Keep in mind that anything over 400 words is boring, unless it is really well-written.” A shared discussion between architects and citizens about the urban environment and the future of the city, unmediated by blogs or newspapers, seems like a productive conversation to be having. And, in the meantime, if you have a story of the greatest architectural disappointment of the last five years, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alyssa Morris is web editor of Texas Architect.