Archive for the ‘As Submitted’ Category
The pdf copy of the The Comic Architect has now been uploaded to the University of Sheffield School of Architecture’s digital archive. You can access the digital archive from any university computer, or further afield if you have a Sheffield username and password.
Or you can click through to the digital archive from the departmental website:
This blog has now reached a turning point. It was created last spring to record the processes that I went through as part of my Masters in Architecture dissertation. This week, the final text has been printed and bound, and is now with the staff at the University of Sheffield for marking. The project is, for now, completed.
As my supervisor suggested yesterday as I started rambling about other projects I’m interested in exploring, it’s time to take a break from research. I have the rest of the academic year’s design courses to concentrate on, first with the ongoing Live Project and then with the studio that will keep me occupied until next summer.
But this blog is going to continue. Nothing exists in a vacuum, so although the material that I’ll be posting here will probably begin to move away from comics, it will remain within the field of architecture and act as an ongoing journal of my own personal thoughts and readings related to my research and theoretical study. There are a number of interesting avenues that I want to explore, and the blog will be a place to test out ideas and open them to a wider audience. It would be foolish to forget about the head of steam that this page has built up, and I sincerely hope that there will continue to be something here for you to read and respond to.
So, watch this space… there’s so much more to come.
Here is the complete text of The Comic Architect: words and pictures along the line between architecture and comics – the M.Arch dissertation that this project has produced.
It includes in the appendices the three interviews I conducted with Joost Swarte, Henk Döll and Ben Katchor.
Please note that in uploading this dissertation, I am concious that the text includes illustrations of drawings, paintings, comics and prints made by other artists. These were used in the dissertation for illustration purposes, and in the context of the submission could be included without permission being sought. Now that I am, in effect, publishing this dissertation, I am aware we are approaching a copyright issue. To this end please note that all work remains that of the original artist. If you represent someone who I have cited, or if your work is included and you are not happy to see it in this context, please contact me as soon as possible and I will respect your requests.
The text itself and the interviews are published here under a Creative Commons licence. Please contact me if you would like to reproduce any part of it.
Earlier this week I was required to submit a first ‘chapter’ of this dissertation project. The submission is not required to be carried over in the final text, but was required to ensure that everyone had been getting engaged with and actively working on their respective projects. What follows a text-only copy of my opening thoughts. Regular visitors to this blog will spot some sections lifted from previously blogged research: hopefully this ‘chapter’ begins to suggest connections between the very different time periods, artists and architects that I have been looking at. Your comments are, as always, most welcome.
Update (28 April): I’ve been able to compress a pdf copy of the original submission of this text – complete with all images and footnotes. You can download it by clicking here.
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.
Paul Hefting, Toneelschuur, Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers, 2003, p. 20
In April 1995, the Dutch illustrator and comic book artist Joost Swarte was invited to design a new building for the Toneelschuur Theatre in Haarlem. He had worked as the designer of the Toneelschuur’s house style for more than a decade, creating, programmes, brochures, tickets and a house typeface, but never before had he designed a building, nor had he ever received any formal architectural training. Swarte accepted the proposal, and ultimately delivered (with the technical assistance of Mecanoo Architects of Delft) a memorable, coherent and practical design for a new theatre and cinema complex, on an unusual inner-city site on Haarlem’s Lange Begijnestraat.
STATEMENT OF INTENT
Without dwelling on the frequently observed and well discussed professional and legal protectionism with which the modern western architect guards his exclusive capability to design buildings, this study will investigate why interdisciplinary projects between architects and comic book artists, such as the Haarlem Toneelschuur, occur as infrequently as they do, and whether the varied techniques of comic book artists are relevant to the design of buildings. It will do so while assuming a progressive understanding of the problems of the presentation and discussion of architecture; beginning with the assertion that the manner in which architecture is taught, discussed and promoted is too reliant on the image, rather than the building. As Kester Rattenbury explains in his preface to the book This Is Not Architecture:
Architecture is discussed, explained and identified almost entirely though its representations. Indeed, these representations are often treated as though they were architecture itself. Huge status is given to the imaginary project, the authentic set of photographs of the eminent critical account. This is a paradox. Architecture is fundamentally concerned with physical reality, yet we discuss and even define architecture (as opposed to building) through an elaborate construct of media representations: photography, journalism, criticism, exhibition, history, books, films, television and critical theory.
Kester Rattenbury, This Is Not Architecture London Routledge, 2002, preface
The depiction of architecture (normally at that brief moment between the completion of construction and the occupation of the building’s tenants) through images of frozen moments that are touched neither by occupation nor the passing of time denies both the participation of the occupant and the process by which the building was designed. It denies both the presence and the participation of an ‘other’, raising architecture from its purposeful role to the realms of aesthetics or even high art, and excluding those who will ultimately use the building. Judging and appreciating buildings, space and place solely by the appearance of their two dimensional representations negates and eliminates both narrative and time.
Comics, comix and graphic novels, however, almost universally feature a narrative element, introducing a notion of time to the images, and a relationship tied to the passage of time between the images. Crucially, it is not just the sequence of picture frames that mediate the passage of time, but also the space and time between the frames. Comics are unique as a representative medium, since they allow the reader to control and interpret the pace at which the narrative is experienced.
TALES OF ENGLISH MORALITY AND FRENCH SECTIONS
William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) provides many lucid examples of the early relationship between architecture and comics. Hogarth’s ‘modern moral subjects’ were pictorial series that he produced both in painted and printed form. It was the printed versions of these which were his most notable financial and popular successes.
[A Rake’s Progress and The Four Times of Day] confirmed his increasing mastery of the series as a pictorial format: in both cases meaning and narrative are generated not only by a highly innovative manipulation of figures, architecture and space within individual paintings and engravings; but also by the subtle pictorial relationships that he sets up between the different images that make up each series.
Frédéric Ogée & Olivier Meslay, Hogarth, London: Tate, 2006, p. 16
Hogarth’s two most well known morality series – The Rake’s Progress and A Harlot’s Progress – used the sequential art form (quite simply a series of pictures) to follow the progress of two protagonists through a series of scenes in their lives, and along a rapid decline in their fortunes. A passage of time can be followed through the series, and striking caricatures of specific people or generic figures in society people the pictures. The changing architectural backdrop also marked the changing fortunes of the subjects: Moll Hackabout’s descent into prostitution in A Harlot’s Progress, for instance, is partly defined by the changing backdrop between the second and third scenes: from the aristocratic townhouse of her lover to a cheap room in a brothel in Covent Garden. As in the theatre, the caricatured figures in these scenes play out the story against a caricatured backdrop; importantly this also allows the story to become legible to an illiterate audience. Hogarth marketed his series as expensive oil paintings, relatively affordable volume-produced prints, and as features for inclusion in contemporary newspapers. In that sense, Hogarth could be said to have predicted the inclusion of sequential comic strips in the printed mass media by almost two hundred years.
A subsequent and significant collaboration between architecture and ‘modern’ storytelling in the popular press was to be found in France in the nineteenth century, when a number of illustrated newspapers and publications began to feature illustrations of contemporary Parisian building sections. These were known as coupes anatomiques, or ‘anatomical sections’.
These sections reveal the anatomy of Paris at a glance. They use our understanding of the domestic interior, particularly the way it regulates activities and flows, to present a summary of the city through the ordering of its constituent elements. A hybrid of the technical drawing, that shows construction and infrastructure, and of an assembly of pictorial tableaux, they are seductively banal. Seductive, because they give us an overview of the normally hidden world of the interior, made miniature and caught between the pages of a book or magazine. Banal, because in doing so, its mysteries are laid bare. The systems that structure the city, from its social divisions to its networks of electricity conduits, are explicitly set out.
Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’: Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, p. 289
Hogarth’s pictures played on well known contemporary themes in similarly well known locations. The French coupes anatomiques, by comparison, connected directly with the ‘reader’s’ personal understanding of familiar domestic environments. Diana Periton charts a short history of three of these Parisian coupes anatomiques. The first is of a single five story Parisian town house by the French writer, photographer, illustrator and caricaturist Bertall, first published in 1845. The second is from 1769, and is a slightly earlier but wider section through an (idealised) Parisian street by the architect Pierre Patte. Periton introduces the third as a ‘hybrid’ of the first two: it’s by the writer and history Baron Alfred-Auguste Ernouf and comes from his 1885 publication l’Art des Jardins. Bertall approaches his section of the Parisian town house as a caricaturist, presenting a series of stacked vignettes. Patte, however, is an architect, showing the houses, street and even the drains below the surface of the paved street as a complete urban system. His rooms are noticeably vacant of human occupation. In these two sections, we already have what would appear to be the first seeds of the seismic gap between the way that architects and cartoonists present buildings. Bertall embraces the variety of human activity in the building. Like Hogarth in the century before him Bertall regarded himself as a moralist, and used the readily accessible and affordable mass media to present a series of vignettes, acted out by characters. These generic characters are partly recognisable in the wider and fractured French society by the levels of the building that they occupy; from the grand first floor rooms to the low and angled ceilings of the cheaper and unornamented garrets. Bertall uses a Parisian apartment block to provide a framework to his anthropological and sociological observations. Patte’s coupe is, however, very different. It is, in effect, an architectural treatise, but one that considers the compilation of the entire city rather than just one building at a time.
Patte uses his drawing to decompose the street, a section of the city, into a series of elements that can then be arranged to generate a new and ideal territory. If we allow our eye to move around the drawing by following the labelling system .. it is in order to understand how each element of that territory functions with the next. Patte’s ideal city is a system of instruments, designed to regulate the fire, water, filth and people that come into contact with it. Patte frequently assures his readers that the aim of conceiving the city in this way is to ensure ‘the happiness of the inhabitants’, to bring about a ‘genuine sense of well-being’. But as he shows it, the city is unpeopled.
Diana Periton, The ‘Coupe Anatomique’: Journal of Architecture, vol. 9, p. 293
Patte is, like many other architects before and after him, well meaning in his desire to cleanse, simplify and re-organise the city into a more ordered image. But in doing his, drawings reveal the city without character or human marks. If Hogarth and Bertall predicted the engagement of architecture in sequential art forms such as comics, Patte effectively demonstrated the same aesthetic approach to presenting architecture that would become prevalent with the increasing use of the camera.
The Parisian coupes anatomiques of the nineteenth century used the architectural section of a building to provide a structure to a visual impression of the city. These apartment buildings separated the different classes of Parisian life into strata, and the coupes of Bertall and others used the commonly understood social separation of the different storeys of a multiple-occupancy building to assist the viewer in understanding the different characters depicted on each storey. To a modern eye, these coupes resemble primitive comic strips: sequential picture boxes that have an intrinsic relationship to the boxes above, below, before and after them.
BUILDING STOREYS AND BUILDING STORIES
I think drawing is “about” – or at least good drawing is about – trying to see. It’s more about detail and looking. Whereas cartooning is making a story happen with symbols … cartoon drawings are – just by nature of how they’re used as symbols – in a lot of ways not really drawings because the information that they have is so rudimentary, or conceptual.
Chris Ware, interviewed by Gary Groth, The Comics Journal # 200, December 1997
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the American illustrator and comic book artist Chris Ware (b. 1967) has begun to the use a Chicago apartment building as a framework for a series of interdependent stories . There is, it seems, an acknowledged value in architecture as a structural and social framework to sequential art, both visually and figuratively. Ware’s artistic style warrants closer inspection, since it is not simply the use of images of architecture that structures his stories, but also the spatial techniques of designing buildings as series of interconnected and related spaces that helps him structure both individual pages and entire stories.
Ware compensates for the page breaks in the composition by deliberately placing recurring images and visual motifs in an identical location on their page spread, visually linking parallel emotions and events in the lives of the Corrigan men … to nudge the memory and help the reader see more of the book at once. This points out what we might call the architecture of comics.
Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (Monographics)
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, p. 25
Ware has been employing ‘architectural’ techniques in his work for many years now, and because of its explicit setting in a Chicago apartment block, Building Stories offers the clearest opportunity to investigate the direct parallels between the aesthetic techniques of a comic book artist and those of an architect. Many architects are, for instance, familiar with the strategy of repeating elements to aid navigation through a building or to draw attention to building features by using, for example, the same material or circulatory structure on different levels or in different parts of a building. The participatory act of reading a comic book can be likened to moving through a building; an intrinsically participatory act that engages the occupant of a building, allowing him or her to discover and form a personal impression of the building. Similarly, Ware acknowledges a parallel between reading a comic strip and playing a musical instrument. Through the participatory act of reading, he explains how the reader brings a story to life by introducing an element of time to a narrative.
“What you do with comics, essentially, is take pieces of experience and freeze them in time,” Ware says. “The moments are inert, lying there on the page in the same way that sheet music lies on the printed page. In music you breathe life into the composition by playing it. In comics you make the strip come alive by reading it, by experiencing it beat by beat as you would playing music…”
Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (Monographics)
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, p. 25
This passage of time in comic strips will often manifest itself principally with the inclusion of dialogue between characters. But Ware warns against the traditional approach to introducing dialogue to sequential art forms: if comic strips are to maximise the potential of their visual narrative, they must adopt a more coherent approach to this dialogue.
“The basic idea of comics is just slapping word balloons on top of drawings,” Ware says. “That is so boneheaded.”
Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (Monographics)
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, p. 10