Books and mortar

Graphic designers have to use their imagination to convey architectural ideas, as Quentin Newark discovers when he reviews the latest books on the subject

Architecture presents a number of problems as a subject for graphic design to deal with. Physically there are fundamental differences: graphic design is two-dimensional, usually quite elementary in form, static and of a scale to suit the hand, while architecture is three-dimensional, often highly complex in formal conception and construction, constantly altering in changing light and weather, and of massive size.

These oppositions limit any wholly satisfying representation, and mean that the designer is usually best off leaving physical mass to focus on process – the design method, or perhaps construction. In recent years there have been some inventive and marvellous responses. For instance, Michael Johnson interpreted Daniel Libeskind’s V&A spiral in a fundraising mail-out, using a simple strip of card that folded into a 3D model, so a sophisticated building could be represented by an instantly recognisable construction. Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaus explored the myriad issues and ramifications of architectural theory in a gigantic and labyrinthine book entitled S,M,L,XL. Otl Aicher examined Norman Foster’s buildings in a series of four meticulous and painfully thorough books that seemed to explain every tiny decision, echoing Foster’s meticulous and painfully thorough method.

Without imagination and the will and client support to move into fresh territory, the designer can always fall back on a formula: some text about the finished building with a few pictures. If the writing is insightful and the pictures good, this formula can work well as an introductory text. The successful large-format Blueprint Extras and big square profiles by Phaidon Press combine a large page format and a mouth watering range of rich colour photography with plain, unpretentious copy and plans.

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