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New Little Magazines II: Block Magazine

[THIS WEEK] Well-designed and produced, Block Magazine excels where it treads unexpected territory, writes James Pallister

Despite some repetition, Block magazine still manages to delight, writes James Pallister

Last week I looked at the first issue of new magazine The Modernist, published by Manchester’s Modernist Society. This week I thought I’d catch up with the second edition of Block as it approaches its first birthday.

The issue is themed around ‘facades’, a sufficiently prescriptive yet flexible subject to, as its editorial says, ‘wallow
in the pleasures of the overtly superficial, whilst digging a little deeper, throwing the possible readings, constructions, and deceptions behind this traditional front of architecture into relief’.

A respectable list of featured artists fills its 68 ad-free pages, justifying the £10 cover price. Stephen Bates, Francis Terry, Peter Blundell Jones and Sam Jacob appear alongside Foster + Partners, Hans Scharoun and Hilla Becher.

The production is excellent: square bound, full-colour printed with a rich but restrained colour palette and a clean, lively design from art directors Katya and Ellie Duffy. The text is serious, accessible and well referenced, though some of the pieces could have done with a little more brevity.

Features range from historical revisits, such as Blundell Jones on Hans Scharoun’s Schminke House and Terry on Sansovino’s Library, to an interview with man-of the-moment artist, Pablo Bronstein. Aside from some unfamiliar items including a fantastic period presentation drawing from 1974 of Foster’s Willis Faber & Dumas building by Helmut Jacoby and Frank Dickens’ Bristow cartoons for the Evening Standard (pictured), there’s other material that has been seen before; Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s The Politics of the Envelope is reprised in brief, and an essay on recladding Sheffield’s Park Hill is one which has popped up before in several journals under different guises.

I suspect this will cut both ways among readers. Some, like me, will be bored by the repetition, others reassured by the bringing together of key stories on one theme in one compendium. For me the charm of Block – and the type of magazine its publishing arrangements affords – is where it takes unexpected turns, as with Julia Chance’s piece, The Façade of the Architect’, which unpicks the changing way architects use portraiture in marketing their practice. My vote would be for more pieces of this nature. Next issue is themed on ‘commerce’ – plenty to chew on there – I’m interested to see where they take it.

Block Magazine, £10, www.blockmagazine.co.uk

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