Monday, 21 March 2016

Building a book

The author, Andre Tavares, has researched a fascinating study of the architectural book through the centuries.  While a Visiting Scholar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture he  used their extensive library of historical books about building design and they provided the majority of the 120 images throughout these pages.  The book is in two sections with Part one considering titles related to the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition and Giedion's 1929 book Befreites wohnen (Living liberated).  Part two is divided into five chapters based on the essentials of architecture: Texture; Surface; Rhythm; Structure; Scale.

Giedion's book, has the most pages devoted to an individual title (forty-three) and Tavares uses it as a reasonable template for the ideal architectural book, though Giedion was no book designer and it shows.  Professor Sokratis Georgiadis is quoted that the design "is not just devoid of style, it is, deliberately, downright ugly."  Pages eighty and eighty-one reproduce twenty-five spreads showing a mixture of upright photos and landscape ones requiring the book frequently to be turned round.  In the chapter devoted to Rhythm there are reproductions of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Moterei, photographie, film (1925) and Erich Mendelsohn's Amerika (1926) which both have a much more interesting page design.

Part two with its five chapters reproduces some wonderful pages from architectural books.  Obviously a book was the best way of passing on construction knowledge though printing techniques sometimes meant that text was printed first then another print run for the images.  Two spreads from a 1521 book about Vitruvius show a very clean looking layout with text and images, it looks clean because there are no separate paragraphs, all text runs on with paragraphs indicated by a symbol within the text.  Architect Humphrey Repton in his 1800 book The Red Book of Hatchlands in Surrey developed a technique of overlays for his building pictures allowing the reader to flip from reality to the building's future look.   Several examples of this technique are shown.  The chapter on Structure gets down to basics of construction.  Two French books reveal the details using pictures, one from 1762  has a spread showing a pile-driver, an 1859 one dissects an interior buttress and the springing point of an arch.  The last chapter on Scale features several pages from books and a prospectus designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, they all look as interesting as his buildings.

I think it's worth commenting on this book's anatomy.  It's beautifully conceived with two columns per page, a wide one for the main text and a narrower one for the Notes, there are just over nine hundred of these, other publishers might have put them in the back pages where they would require plenty of flipping backwards and forwards.  The Notes here appear on their relevant pages.  All the images of book spreads and pages are treated as cutouts with the addition of a slight shadow to give them a dimensional look on the page.  The non-text pages (title, contents, index et cetera) are designed with an elegant simplicity that works for the reader.

Andre Tavares has written and Lars Muller published a remarkable book about building books.

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