Books and Architecture Yale School of Architecture


For architects, the book has been a necessary (if not essential) tool for clarifying, extending, and promoting their ideas and projects. This seminar examines the phenomenon of the book in architecture as both an array of organizational techniques (what it is) and as a mediator (what it does).

The book has been the preferred mode of discourse, outside of building itself, architects have chosen to express their intellectual project. Lasting impression relies partially upon durability of message, and symbolically at least, the book remains the objet par excellence among media. In addition to this usefulness, the book finds itself in a privileged position as an instrument of discourse. Despite claims that it is an antiquated tool among an expanding world of media alternatives, it is exactly the book’s resistance, weight, displacement, its old-fashionedness, which seems to safeguard its value as an instrument of thought. Simultaneously, there is a natural affinity between the objects of the book and architecture; they can be seen as analogs. Each is a medium that organizes material using spatiality and temporality; a progression through a group of pages proceeds just as a sequence of spaces are navigated.

This seminar is an evolution of the portfolio class; it suggests that the architect’s book can be more than a demonstration of competency, it can be an instrument for thinking about the production of space in its many definitions.

The seminar is composed of three main components: — A series of lectures on graphic design, content gathering, production and distribution of books, with a focus on books in the area of architecture — Comparative case studies — Three propositions for what the architecture book might do now

At the beginning of the semester there will be a series of lectures covering some fundamentals of book development from both formal- and content-driven perspectives. These illustrated talk on the histories and techniques of the book as a physical and intellectual proposition should give some perspective on both why and how architecture books have been made. These talks will cover:
- Visual sequence
- Typographic and photographic grids
- Typography, macro and micro
- Distribution
- Production techniques: software
- Production techniques: printing
- Production techniques: binding

Comparative case studies
A significant portion of this seminar is composed of a series of Case Studies examining the relationship book production has with a selection of contemporary and historical practices. This study describes each book’s physical and conceptual composition, but also includes how each project acts as an agent of the architect within a larger world of communication.

Seminar members will work in pairs to develop a dossier on their comparative case study. Each case study will unpack and compare the history and design of two books in an analytical fashion.

Some questions the comparative case study may address: What are the book’s contents? What are their content mixtures, in what proportions? How is the content structured in each book? as a sequence, but also on the spread: i.e. macro/micro organization. How are the books read? (are they to be read?!?) What are their means of production? i.e. color, binding, format, page count, etc. What are the book’s means of distribution? Does it’s design limit how far it can go? In terms of their content and message, what is each book’s “position?” Are they contradictory? complicit? antagonistic?

The case study will be a collection of images, texts, diagrams, timelines, archival photos, that are structured in such a way as to make them accessible to the public. Case studies will be made of the following books:

Precedent study 1 Five Architects / Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier (Arthur Drexler)

Precedent study 2 Oeuvre Complete Volume 3: 1934–38/ Le Corbusier (edited by Max Bill)

Precedent study 3 Mask of Medusa / John Hejduk

Precedent Study 4 Mies van der Rohe / Werner Blaser

Precedent study 5 Robert Maillart / Max Bill

Precedent study 6 Frei Otto: Tension Structures / Conrad Roland

Book Projects
The third portion of the seminar is dedicated to the development of three individual (yet related) book propositions. Each proposition should be a set of ideas about architecture to be clarified, extended, and communicated to others. The terms by which each comparative case study is approached will in turn be used as a way of developing an approach to everyone’s work at hand, extending and refining their arguments through the techniques of graphic design. Each seminar member will deliver three distinct book projects: one image-based, one text-based and one that combines these two fundamental modes of communication.
There will be in-class presentations and discussions of each book project. It is important that each book project demonstrate an awareness of its relationship to the books studied in the Case Studies where relevant. The primary questions to be asked of each book project will be “What is it?”, “What does it do?”, “Where does it go?”, and “Why now?” Together these questions are able to address how each part of the book project could participate in the world.