Editorial

Julián Keppl

Sustainability has been a very popular term of late, used so frequently as a common feature in marketing. Even though it is nowadays being pushed away by other terms, new “trademarks”, it keeps popping up in the most unexpected or even absurd contexts. The meaning of sustainability is clear at least until combined with the adjective “permanent”. The mentioned problem was discussed by my colleague prof. Špaček[1] more than once. This editorial will bring my reflections on the term sustainability—associated with the survival of our scientific periodical ALFA.

The ALFA journal has been issued since 1996; however, the ambitions to run a scientific periodical that would publish research outcomes[2] used to emerge every now and again already since an independent faculty of architecture was founded back in 1976. During those years, Architektonické listy (Architecture Papers) witnessed numerous transformations touching both the form and contents. One can say its current shape is the one of a serious scientific, peer-reviewed journal[3] published under the name of ALFA for the past 23 years and there are endeavours to keep it running further and so that it could accompany us in the following years. We keep fighting fiercely for its continued existence, at least a small group of people from among our faculty’s staff makes efforts to this end. Having a scientific journal of one’s own is not only about having better possibilities for pedagogues, researchers, postgraduate students and faculty students to publish their works, it is also a sign telling the world about the school’s status; it is a symbol of prestige, something that only few faculties of architecture can pride on. We should strive to preserve the prestige status.

However, under what conditions could our scientific journal continue its existence? The basic preconditions for a periodical/journal to survive are: 1) a sufficient number of excellent authors; 2) interesting papers and attractive graphics, and 3) a stable readership. Not having readers would render our efforts to keep the journal alive pointless.

Excellent authors. One issue requires some 3 – 6 authors for keystone (constitutive) papers[4] and other 3 – 6 authors for the columns such as reviews, student reflections, and the editorial. The journal is issued quarterly; authors for such constitutive papers, scientific essays, are essential and there should be between 12 and 24 such authors. Authorship is mostly recruited from among educators, scientific staff and researchers, and postgraduate students. Given their number as well as the number of publication outcomes reported annually (more than 500!) there should be no problem with a sufficient amount of high-quality authors. Sadly, the problem is there! The “publication potential” keeps shrinking for some reason. The answers to the questions where it has disappeared and why seem to be clear. The journal is not very attractive to renowned authors. It is easy to say why it is so. It is not registered in the indexed databases, articles published in the journal receive very low rankings, simply put, they are neither “A-class” nor “B-class” outcomes, which are required for one’s academic advancement or to increase the possibility to be awarded funding in “ministerial” grant schemes, and they do not bring subsidy for the faculty. Then there is a question how to attract exceptional authors to contribute to ALFA. The answer looks, seemingly, very simple—to have the journal listed on the indexed databases; there are attempts to be registered with the Scopus database, but to begin with, registration with the ESCI (Emerging Sources Citation Index) might suffice, although the latter does not provide the “magical” Impact factor. A more realistic solution to win authors would be to reduce publishing both in terms of scope and genres. There are numerous activities at the faculty run in parallel that produce e.g. collections of essays/proceedings, “monographies” and other textual material. These are beneficial in terms of registering the abundance of outcomes in the CREPČ database (Central Register of Publication Activity; a bibliographic database of publications produced by academics at universities in Slovakia, transl. note), but unfortunately, take away the authors’ capacity for the writing.

Let me now skip other two conditions for a journal’s continued existence: interesting papers and readership, and before I go to details about these essential criteria I will touch upon a serious problem of today and that is reading. Looking at the matter from a distance, I reckon that writing (with publishing being a part of it) compelled by the “publish or perish” principle, is a minor problem. The evidence is given by the number of outcomes reported to the CREPČ database. Reading appears to be a bigger issue. My observation, based on personal experience from using the means of public transport, as I take a tram, trolleybus or bus from time to time. Fifty years ago, when I came to study in Bratislava, at least half of the passengers used to read newspapers and some even had books to read. Nowadays the picture seems similar, and still, there is one difference: passengers (of only some age and social groups as the rest of the population goes by car) do not look down at papers but cell phones. Even some book-readers came my way, but these are rather the exception proving the rule. Why do I emphasize the importance of reading? Because there’s no point for any written text unless there is someone to read it. The same applies both to a single text or a periodical. One of the criteria of a periodical’s popularity is the number of subscribers (has ALFA got any?), another is the number of citations of published articles. If we take a look at the ranking of renowned scientific periodicals, it is dominated by those having the highest citation index, which is a quality indicator for a scientific journal, the articles published in it and the authors. Being positioned among the top ones in the ranking means a great number of readers, adequately attractive contents, and also that the scientific community cites your periodical/authors regularly. Architecture is by far on the periphery of this ranking’s universe, Hirsch index or quartile ranking (a statistical evaluation) are almost inapplicable to us. However, if we abandon the “l’art pour l’art” principle (i. e. publishing because it is required by clerks) and come down to earth and write because we want to share the knowledge, outcomes of our research, studies, our experience, and also trigger discussion or even arguments with fellow colleagues at the journal pages—such contents will surely find its readers. But before I move on to the condition No. 3—readership, let me comment briefly on the condition No. 2—the catching contents of articles, essays packed with useful information, which is a prerequisite to win readership. It is obvious that some results of a special-focus research are only interesting for a very small group of experts. There is an opportunity to look for other topics, mainly such that are of interest to a wider community. Pedagogy is one of such topics and it is the core of our activities. Architecture schools are above all the institutions of education; the research, to a certain degree, comes as a by-product. We discuss the teaching of architecture, urbanism, and design once a year on a faculty level at the conferences (KONFUC) on the occasion of the Teachers’ Day, then in a smaller group at the meeting(s) of the Scientific and Artistic Board under the agenda item of Annual evaluation of pedagogical activities at the faculty and in the closest circle at meeting(s) of the Board of Study Programme Coordinators (Rada garantov). The fact is that in general we speak rather little about the teaching, methods, contents, and results. Whereas these are precisely the topics for a broader discussion on the ALFA pages by people involved. At the faculty we issue proceedings from student work accompanied by articles of the teachers or specialists from practice. Potential suggestions for ALFA articles might include publishing a summary of experience on a given topic, bringing examples of the best or most appealing works or at least reviews of collections of essays. Topics such as teaching architecture, urbanism, and design on all levels of study, attractive lectures, seminar outcomes, design studio production etc. might help expand the readership that accounts for the pillar 3 supporting the periodical’s continuation.

What readership are we addressing? A general affirmation that we direct towards a broad architecture community and all students of architecture is a rather bold and misleading statement. Even periodicals such as revues with pictures predominant over text that are to speak to a wide architecture community, happen to fail at this field. We have to face the truth of our reality. The ambition for ALFA is mainly to be a journal of a scientific character and provide outcomes of scientific research especially to inquiry-oriented architectural community. This community, unfortunately, embraces not many members, counting dozens of potential readers (I wouldn’t wish to overstate the figure). That is why it should definitely retain an expert, educational and informational character[5], to win over the student readership in particular, as it is higher in numbers and can count hundreds. Another option to grow readership and authorship could be turning towards readers and approaching authors outside of Slovak University of Technology (STU), outside Bratislava: fellow architects and designers from Academy of Fine Arts and Design (VŠVU), landscape architects from Nitra, designers from Zvolen, architects and designers from the Faculty of Arts in Košice, as well as civil engineers inclining to architectural production at sister faculties of civil engineering  in Bratislava, Žilina and Košice. Then it could also look outside Slovakia to attract readers and authors from Moravia, the Czech Republic and perhaps other Visegrád 4 countries. This way we may earn another, maybe three-digit capacity. Acquiring several hundreds of readers and a couple of dozens of authors means they should be offered some benefits. For readers this explains as interesting and enlightening information, beneficial and attractive texts; for authors who are expected to meet this fundamental requirement this includes mainly, in addition to certain financial reward if any, the acceptance in academic circles, mostly manifested through citations. Here we go back again to the popularity of our periodical. The readers’ response to the journal’s content is almost negligible. When I did my humble private research on ALFA citations ten years ago, my conclusions were very pessimistic. Authors were publishing and diligently registered their publications in CREPČ with a highly overestimated evaluations, but responses to their articles neared zero. I am afraid that the situation has not changed significantly. The above fact is reflected in the renowned authors’ interest to publish in ALFA on the one hand, and in the actual possibilities for the periodical to be included in the indexed journal list on the other hand. Whereas the main problem is not in the poor quality of papers but in the fact that our fellow “researchers” or “future researchers” do not read them. When I was drafting this editorial, I read the last three ALFA issues thoroughly and their high-quality level was a nice surprise for me. Once again, we are back to reading. Many of us seem to be strangers to one another, to our own faculty, and even to our disciplines. We know little of one another and/or our work. Years ago I was agreeably surprised by the observations from travels made by my long-time close colleague and fellow Robert Špaček, and also by his reviews of architectural monuments. When studying the materials of my colleague Vladimír Šimkovič required prior to being awarded the title of Professor I stated in amazement that he was good both in architecture and in writing. Moreover, writings of other workmates were also a pleasant surprise, besides several disappointments, though. Nonetheless, I had to come to this through reading their works.

I don’t know if editorials are popular with the readers, I have to admit. If I were to judge by myself, I read them infrequently only, and I do read rather a lot. One of the nowadays phenomena is that on general, people read very much, but what they read are mostly short texts, such as text messages, Facebook statuses or light pieces about various scandals and juicy gossips of so-called celebrities in tabloids. Some years ago I wrote several editorials about writing, reading, citations, the science in architecture and the science about architecture…  If the premise from the beginning of this paragraph holds true I will be happy if, besides the editor, there are more people to read my editorial. Someone may find it inspiring and will write a paper or a review or will simply do their best to keep our periodical in existence, because its survival is fully in our hands or in our pens.

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[1] ŠPAČEK, Robert, PIFKO, Henrich, a kol.: Rukoväť udržateľnej architektúry, Slovenská komora architektov, Bratislava 2013, s. 14 (ŠPAČEK, Robert, PIFKO, Henrich, et al.: A handbook of sustainable architecture, Slovak Chamber of Architects, Bratislava 2013, p. 14).
[2] It might be advisable to follow up on the tradition of the ALFA journal’s antecedent; a good inspiration could be found in the STU’s reference to the foundation year of the Banská akadémia (Mining Academy) in Banská Štiavnica, positioning STU as the academy’s successor in the field of technical university education.
[3] A renowned periodical aspiring to be included in the indexed list of periodicals must have the following attributes: the periodical must be scientific, peer-reviewed and available in the electronic format.
[4] Here I mean 1 to 2 authors per a scientific essay and 1 author of a review, etc.
[5] Publishing lectures and commentaries of pedagogues, essays and seminar papers of postgraduates and students, interesting and successful design studio projects, book- and publication reviews. After all, any university’s mission is to collect, keep, enhance, and disseminate information.

Keywords: research, publication process, editoriál, ALFA, 2019