Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Images Blue Crow Media
Hi Derek! Welcome back to Kanto! How are things in Blue Crow Media in these extraordinary times?
Thanks, Patrick! Pleased to see Kanto doing so well; you’re amazingly productive. As I imagine you have as well, we’ve learned a lot over the past year and had to make some adjustments.
Fortunately, our regular customers have continued to be very supportive, and we’re still going strong. We’ve had to shift to more online sales, which hasn’t been too challenging, as we’ve always prioritized sales from our website over Amazon. Beyond this, we’re still hopeful that the bookstore orders will return to pre-pandemic levels. We wouldn’t be here without independent bookstores and museum shops stocking our maps.
You’ve crafted quite a collection of products since our last conversation; from architecture style-centric maps, you’ve branched out to metro maps, a Pyongyang map, and even a cartographic survey of significant trees around London! What has changed in your product direction with regards to the types of maps you put out? Has Blue Crow Media’s overarching mission and vision changed in the years since our last conversation?
Our mission has always been to produce high-quality publications with integrity at an affordable price. I don’t think that will ever change.
We have a strong base with our 20th-century architecture maps, and this allows us to experiment with new series and interests. Our London and New York tree maps have been successful, and we’re currently working on one in Paris; the transport maps have also done well, and in the autumn we’ll release the next title in that series: Berlin U-Bahn Architecture & Design Map. The Pyongyang map is one I’ve wanted to publish for quite a while, and Olly Wainwright was a pleasure to work with. That worked out very well.
We’re a tiny operation and we just follow our interests. Before architecture maps, we were producing apps and maps for finding things like craft beer and specialty coffee, so we’ve never been short of ideas. I currently have a list of over 40 titles to publish in the future. It’s just a matter of revenue keeping up with ambition!
Let’s talk about one of your recent map releases, the Modern Venice Map; Venice is one of the most beautiful architectural hotspots in Italy, but curiously, you chose to highlight just the modernist attractions within the historic city. Can you tell us a bit about how the project began, and what prompted the overall direction of the map?
We’ve only produced one architecture map that is not focused on the 20th century (the Nicholas Hawksmoor London Map―which is a beauty, by the way!), so this wasn’t an unusual choice for us. Our designer, Jaakko and I visited Venice a few years ago for the Biennale and put together a small list of places we’d like to see on the map. Later we found the team through introductions: editors Marco Mulazzani and Elisa Maria Pegorin, and the photographer Alessandra Chemollo. They are all based in Venice, and the result is their research and work.
What would you say is the biggest challenge you faced when producing the map? What steps were taken to ensure that the local perspective is adequately and accurately represented?
The greatest challenge was deciding when and if to release it. We had arranged it to be published at the start of the architectural Biennale, but of course, that was delayed. In terms of ensuring we are sensitive to the local perspective, we take the same approach with all of our maps: other than Pyongyang, we always work with people who are based in the city we are mapping. The selection, texts, and photography are their decisions and perspective. Occasionally we nudge editors in one direction or another, but we only work with people we trust to do a good job, so we rarely need to do this. And of course, the texts are in Italian and English. It means a lot to us that these aren’t simply guides for tourists, but locals as well.
Why Venice? This is your first themed map set in Italy, a country teeming with cities blessed with architectural delights.
So many reasons… and, well, it’s Venice!
Which structures were your non-negotiables for the map? Which structures were new discoveries?
Naturally, we’ve got all the essential Carlo Scarpa spaces on the map. I was really blown away by the Vatican Chapels. It was the highlight of the previous architectural Biennale for me, and I was really pleased to learn that they’ll be preserved.
Beyond telling people where to go and what to see, what else do you envision your maps achieving for its users?
If it leads to a deeper understanding of Venice, including parts of the city rarely visited by tourists, and 20th-century architecture, then that is a job done. Also, wandering around a city finding buildings is a terrific (and affordable) way to spend a short holiday, and Venice is the perfect size for it.
You’ve also ventured into book publishing now with an upcoming title on brutalism in Paris; what inspired the team to cross over to book production? Why did you decide that now is the right time?
The Brutalist Paris book has been something author Robin Wilson and photographer Nigel Green and I have been discussing for a while now. We were really excited to have raised the funds for it so quickly on Kickstarter. Like many people, the pandemic has spurred us on to do things we’ve had on the backburner.
What fascinating insights about architectural beauty and how people perceive it have you gleaned from your years of experience running the business? How has it shaped what you do for Blue Crow Media?
Our first architecture map, Brutalist London, came out in 2015, at a point when people seemed to be waking up to what a remarkable style of architecture Brutalism is. There were also, particularly on social media, a lot of detractors. Nothing I publish is ever going to have mass appeal, but if I do it correctly, as I hope I have, then it will be appreciated within niche markets. I suppose I’ve learned to follow my interests and trust my instinct; Blue Crow Media is a reflection of this. •
The rest of Blue Crow Media’s cartographic portfolio at bluecrowmedia.com