Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG is one of the most invigorating, subversive, visually engaging, and purely pleasurable outposts on the Net, and those qualities carry over into this beautifully written and designed book. The range of Manaugh's restless intellect is breathtaking, incorporating everything from urban design to climatology, music, astronomy, pop culture, and much more. Under the guise of writing a blog about architecture, Manaugh has crafted a tribute to the world-transforming power of imagination itself. Along the way, he wrestles with some of the most athletic and ambitious minds of our time, including the late novelist J.G. Ballard, classicist Mary Beard, architect Lebbeus Woods, and urban theorist Mike Davis, author of "City of Quartz" and "Planet of Slums."
It's hard not to laugh out loud when reading "The BLDGBLOG Book," because Manaugh's own imagination is so astonishingly fertile and nearly child-like in its refusal to abide in comfortably deadening assumptions. Like a prodigious three-year old armed with a flaneur's comprehensive street-level knowledge of the way things work, Manaugh relentlessly interrogates everything we take for granted about the environments we create. The overall effect is to open new vistas in what appeared solid and settled, as if you'd suddenly discovered a secret passageway to the unknown in your own cramped apartment -- one of Manaugh's pet obsessions.
For example, hearing about a collaboration between architects and sound engineers to create "sonic windows" in a house that bring the outside aural environment indoors, Manaugh imagines the resident of such a house -- built above a glacier -- nearly immobilized by awe and wonder. "Crystalline pressures of melting ice 3,000 feet below you suddenly break, sending cascades of sound shivering upward through the house's foundations," he writes, with a taut lyricism rarely found in books these days, much less on blogs. "Some days it's impossible to get out of bed, hypnotized by unearthly noises."
What is this kind of writing -- science fiction? Magical hyper-realism? Who cares? Manaugh has succeeded in creating his own genre and remaking the world on his own terms. To him, the oncoming parade of catastrophes of economy, population, and climate are arguments for striving ever more boldly to refashion the world in accord with our innermost desires.
One of the first people to recognize the author's young genius was Allen Ginsberg. Though Manaugh only elliptically refers to his teenage apprenticeship with the late author of "Howl" and other poems in this book, it's easy to see why Ginsberg was smitten. Manaugh is able to fuse abstract musing with concrete particulars in a way that is particularly suited to our historical moment, yet harkens back to the restless probing of reality embodied by Ginsberg's own poetic mentor, the pioneering 18th century multimedia poet William Blake. Even the modus operandi of this book -- the fervid "hyperlinking" between seemingly disparate realms of emotion, experience, and intellectual discipline -- feels appropriate for our densely networked, neurotically twittering era. But unlike other blog books, this volume will outlast our ever-accelerating Now, because it's so luminously written. It's easy to imagine a smart kid stumbling on scans of "The BLDGBLOG Book" in some pocket-sized Library of Congress on Mars 100 years from now and feeling energized to take up his or her own outrageous vocation.