Reading: Toneelschuur

swaarte.jpg

Ordering Toneelschuur from an online bookseller in the USA, I had expected this book to be no exception the rule that architectural monographs are almost universally big and glossy. But when the long awaited package came, I was in for a surprise. The book is compact (about 15 x 20 cm), textured and superbly designed (by Lex Reitsma for NAi Publishers, Rotterdam). The book charts an fulfilling story about the gestation, birth and first steps of a unique building: the new Toneelschuur Theatre in Haarlem, designed by the Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte and realised in partnership with Mecanoo Architects.

The book is the combined work of five principal contributors. Firstly, Joost Swaarte’s drawings and images of the theatre illustrate the entire book. Secondly, Henze Boekhout revisited the completed building to photograph it with a eye not disimilar to Swaarte’s, focusing on the eccentric details and fleeting moments. And then in between their bright pages, come three colour coded texts. Printed on yellow paper is a chapter by Jan Tromp, the chair of the Toneelschuur board; on green is Henk Döll, the project architect who worked with Swarte for Mecanoo Architects at the time; and finally on violet is a chapter from the art and architecture critic and historian Paul Hefting. Almost perfectly, the book is tied together with the personal accounts of the participants and observers of the building’s creation. If there is only one regret, it’s that Swaarte’s input has not been expanded to include a similar piece of narrative recounting the process (it would not necessarily have to be text – a continuing cartoon story would have kept me happy). For while his images are beautiful, the book seems to lack what I would consider the most interesting story of all from this project: that of the cartoonist who was thrust into the role of architect by the Toneelschuur board.

toneelschuur.jpg

Above, the Toneelschuur as imagined by Joost Swarte.

Those reservations aside, though, this book has found a near perfect balance between written and visual content. Press cuttings and other published images are included in the book not by scanned images, but by photographs, which have no shame in including spines, staples of overlapped pages. Combined with the rough texture of the paper on which the book is printed, it’s a convincingly coherent and appealing sketchbook style of design, and suits the book perfectly.

toneelschuur2.jpg

Above, the Toneelschuur as designed by Joost Swarte and Mecanoo Architects.

I have more or less now realised that the Toneelschuur will become a vital case study in this project, and I’m trying to make arrangements to go to Haarlem some time late this year to see the building and to meet some of the people involved in its conception. It’s particularly interesting to find the theatre’s development recorded in such a well designed and unconventional book. A traditionally glossy large format architectural monograph printed on heavy weight smooth paper between hardback covers simply wouldn’t have suited either the building or the process of its creation. The narrative is strong, and the combination of Boekhout’s photographs with Swarte’s cartoons is utterly beguiling. This is a book that makes me want to go and see the building for myself. The key is, again, that narrative content, which is Boekhout’s photographs means a roving eye for populated views of the theatre in use, and considered snapshots of the humdrum working parts of the building: door handles, corridors and toilets for instance. These same details are the same ones that Swarte imbued with life from the outset: his visual wit comes across not only in the images of the finished building, but also the drawings he created during its conception.

What Swarte had always visualised in two dimensions, the comic, dramatic side of everyday life, could now be materialised in three dimensions – in every respect, since his architecture would become the tangible décor for the play of life that is played inside, with film and theatre…

Paul Hefting, Toneelschuur
Rotterdam: NAi, 2003, p. 201

 

 

 

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  • ABOUT THE PROJECT

    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


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    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


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  • CONFERENCE DIARY

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