Archive for the ‘Notebook’ Category
After almost nine months, the dissertation is done. I put the finishing touches to the 10,000 word text (and the 22,000 word appendices, which included the three interviews with Joost Swarte, Henk Döll and Ben Katchor) on Wednesday night, before taking two copies to be bound. One is being lovingly stitched into a deep red hardback cover by Sue Callaghan on Division Street in Sheffield, while the other is getting a much more mundane black plastic cover for the University of Sheffield Library. Both copies go in for marking on Tuesday.
A special foreward went into the dissertation explaining the role of this blog, and the project’s online presence. This is the first time that I’ve put so much energy into using the internet for recording my work, and I’m now very interested in following and developing the use of blogs in the academic world. As we speak, I’m involved in a live project which has its own blog and which has had almost 700 hits in less than two weeks. Blogs are perfect for solo or group projects which require some public face to discuss what’s going on and to solicit comments or opinions for participants, stakeholders or anyone who happens to be interested. My misfortune with bag handlers at Philadelphia Airport also means that I’ve appreciated the blog as a way of backing up the work, preserving the vital processes that lead to a finished academic text.
I’ll be uploading a compressed pdf of the dissertation itself in the next couple of days. A similar pdf will be added to the University of Sheffield School of Architecture’s digital archive.
Thanks for the continued support and interest of everyone who’s been following the project, and keep an eye on this blog as it develops with my own personal research projects.
During my visit to Sheffield the week before last, I was able to squeeze in a brief tutorial with my supervisor, Renata Tyszczuk. Out of the conversation come a number of new themes and directions which will hopefully be picked up on in this blog and in my studies as the project progresses.
> wit: William Hogarth’s morality tales are loaded with subtle visual humour and wit. So too are the cartoons of Joost Swaarte. For an example, look above at two of Swarte’s drawings for the Toneelschuur Theatre. The people standing by the staircase are wearing bizarre metre-tall hats. And in the photo on the right, a dog is drinking an espresso on a radiator. Have you ever seen an architect drawn a building with this subtle passing wit? Where does this come from, and does wit have a place in the visual depiction of architecture?
> time and space: I think that I have already said this before in almost as many words, but it seems worthwhile to clarify it more openly. Comics generally always offer a precise depiction of time and space as two combined elements. Whereas there is no apparent distinction or separation between the two in comics, there is in architecture. Architecture is frequently taught, presented and discussed as a practice that creates and manipulates space alone. Time is dismissed because it is out of the control of the architect, and is most often symbolised visually in depictions of the built environment by dirtiness,and erosion. Some background reading on the subject of space is needed, most notably on its cultural separation from time by those who depict it. I have been directed to Doreen Massey on this topic.
> the complicity of the reader: quite simply, the reader of a comic strip is made complicit in the story by the involvement that comes from reading the story. This becomes especially interesting with artists such as Ben Katchor, whose work I’ve been reading lately, where protagists act as both storytellers and representatives of the reader in the story. Can architecture be presented in a similarly complicit manner?
> the ancestors of the coupe anatomique: without trying to condense a history of the comic strip into the introduction of a 15,000 thesis, it would be helpful for me to trace the images that lead to the creation of the coupe anatomique that I studied earlier in the project. The allegorical subjects of Renaissance frescoes, for instance, which would be a refreshing trip down memory lane to my A-level art history studies.
All this, and much more, coming soon. I have a number of particularly demanding studio deadlines to attend to between now and the end of June, but any slack in this blog will be picked up in the summer, when I relocate to London and begin the main phase of concerted research writing for the dissertation.
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
Hello from rural Norfolk, in the green and pleasant countryside of East Anglia. My delayed Easter vacation has allowed me to return to my family home, and to a landscape of multi-coloured heaths, punctuated by gnarled trees and thick forests. Villages here are built of brick and flint, and the occasional round towered medieval church pokes up above the generally flat landscape.
My apologies to regular readers to the prolonged silence on this blog: I’ve been occupied with other less stimulating things (releasing the inner white van man in me, fixing beligerant digital telephones and filing my Canadian income taxes, for example). Until I’m able to blog some more, I’ll leave you with this image – Theatre cross-section from 1996 by Joost Swarte. It’s included in the excellent study of the Toneelschuur Theatre by Jan Tromp, Henk Doll and Charles Reichblum, which was delivered to me just before I left Strasbourg. I’ll write some more about this book soon, because the Toneelschuur is looking to be an increasingly important building for my project; perhaps the only example of a building designed by a cartoonist. Other cartoonists have drawn buildings in sections, but I can’t remember one who has drawn one with the same appreciation of the hierachy and relationship of spaces in a building of such specific purpose. It’s also drawn with a humour that make similar architects’ sections so dull by comparison.
Click on the thumbnails to see notes on Daniel Raeburn’s introduction to his book on Chris Ware (Monographics) published by Yale University Press, 2004.