Following last month’s happy news that this project has been awarded a travelling studentship by the University of Sheffield, I am now able to confirm that I will be travelling to the Netherlands in August to meet the Dutch cartoonist and illustrator Joost Swarte. Swarte is one of the most important artists being studied as part of this project, principally because of his ground breaking role as the principal designer and architect of the Haarlem Toneelschuur.
In addition to informing my final dissertation, excerpts of the interview will be online some time in late August or early September.
If any interested readers of the blog are going to be in Brussels, Haarlem, Amsterdam, or Rotterdam between 18 and 20 August please drop me a line, and I’d be delighted to say hello. Ik zou ook het genoegen hebben om om het even welke Nederlandse lezers te ontmoeten, op voorwaarde dat zij me voor het spreken van hun taal niet vergeven!
The trustees of the Sir H. K. Stephenson Travelling Studentship in Architecture have announced that they will be awarding this research project the maximum possible amount allowed by the fund.
The Studentships are open to men and women of British Nationality who have gained admission to the Final Year for either a Degree or Masters in Architecture at the University of Sheffield. Two Studentships are offered every year to the value of £300 each. They are to be used wholly to meet the costs of travel and study in Britain and abroad undertaken during the long vacation prior to the commencement of the Final year of study and related to the subject of the candidate’s thesis.
The financial support provided by this generous studentship will allow me to travel to the Netherlands and the USA to undertake at least two interviews and original research leading to the final dissertation. I hope to thank the trustees of the fund personally in due course, but until then I use this message to offer my sincere gratitude for their interest and faith in this project; I am honoured to have been chosen to receive this support.
Details will follow soon about the people I’m going to be meeting and interviewing.
Was lucky enough to nab a ticket to one of the advance previews of this film, which opens across France and Belgium on 27 June. A release in English is previewed for later this year. During the Q&A after the film, Marjane Satrapi was asked whether she would like to see the film released on the big screen in Iran. She said yes, but appreciated that with many Hollywood films, pirate DVDs are in circulation in the Middle East within 24hrs of the film opening in the USA, with unofficial dubbed copies appearing soon after. When pressed on whether she was advocating the pirating of her film so that it could be seen in Iran, she said (my translation) “only if the dubbing is done well”.
Regular readers might already be aware of my fondness for the meandering monologues of Garrison Keillor on his weekly radio show A Praire Home Companion. The lingering sense of nostalgia for simpler times and closer communities draws an audience of hundreds of thousands every weekend.
While beavering away at some deathly dull drawings for unrelated work this weekend, I’ve been listening to a similar-yet-entirely-different show from the CBC Radio network in Canada. The Vinyl Café is broadcast on the airwaves of CBC Radio One and a number of networked stations in the USA. As yet there’s no podcast, so if you want to catch it online you’ll need to watch the CBC schedules and work out your time difference. The show blends live performances by Canadian musicians with tales of “Dave and Morley” as told by host Stuart McLean. Once again, the radio waves seem to be the perfect media for nostalgic tales and tightly rooted music.
Even though I don’t speak German, I’m kicking myself for not finding out about this conference sooner. Thanks to Matteo Stefanelli on the Comix Scholars Discussion List for bringing it up though… as with all the others, maybe I’ll make it next year.
Comic und Stadt (Comics and the City: Urban Space in Print, Picture and Sequence) 7-9 June 2007, Berlin, Germany.
Instead I’m going to Paris for the weekend, and I’m hoping not to be as sick as last time.
What follows is an email posted by myself to the discussion list of the University of Florida Comics Studies programme earlier today:
I’ve been lurking for a few weeks on this list, and this is my first post – I’ll try to keep the introduction brief. I’m studying towards a Masters in Architecture at the University of Sheffield in the UK (http://www.shef.ac.uk/architecture). If all goes to plan, this will hopefully conclude in the summer of 2008. I’m also studying for one semester (via the Socrates-Erasmus programme) at the école nationale superieur d’architecture de Strasbourg in France.
My dissertation is provisionally titled ‘The Comic Architect’. It begins with the relatively established assertion that architecture is very poorly represented in the books, journals, magazines etc that are primarily used to promote and discuss it (see ‘This Is Not Architecture’, ed. by Kester Rattenbury for a good primer on this discussion). ‘Official’ photographs and images of buildings are usually made before the building is occupied by its intended users, and are usually sterile, timeless and people-less images that elevate the building from functional space to high art. There are even arguments for saying that some buildings (such as the Case Study Houses by Schulman and others in fifties California) were designed for their representation, since they were competing to be included in a popular magazine.
So, if architectural photography lacks time, narrative and a sense of character, can comic illustration techniques better represent architecture?
The dissertation will be submitted in November 2007, although I am extremely interested in taking it further, perhaps to a phd starting in 2008 or 2009. It will be an interdisciplinary study, but it will fundamentally attempt to examine the possibilities of one form of narrative representation in another context.
The project is being logged online at:
and I invite you to browse the blog and post comments wherever you feel the urge.
“Martha Kuhlman” <mkuhlman@______.edu> wrote:
2) I like the articles in MFS winter issue, and I’d be eager to hear some reactions to them. In particular, what do people think of the article on Chris Ware? (Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time by Thomas Bredehoft). If you don’t have this issue or article, I would be interested in your opinion of Daniel Raeburn’s book on Ware published by Yale. Anything at all on Ware would be interesting, in fact.
Firstly, to Martha Kuhlman, thanks for flagging up an article and journal that had escaped my attention. My university has access via MUSE, so I’ll read the article over the weekend, but I can cerftainly comment on Raeburn’s book. More extensive thoughts on the book and my own subsequent thinking re: my project are blogged here:
Raeburn writes with the impression of some authority, and to me one of the most interesting points is the parallel between music and comics.
“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
Note also how Ware carefully controls the pace at which we experience the passage of time by the use of ‘silent’ panels, or repeating images that slow the pace right down. There’s a review of Ware’s ‘Acme Novelty Library #17’ in the recent April 2007 issue of the Comics Journal by Adam Stephanides which makes a similar observation.
This combination of irregularity with regularity, producing an almost Mondrian-like effect, creates a sense of rhythm, much more so than in Jimmy Corrigan or [Acme Novelty Library] # 165. In contrast, a page showing Alice looking for the bathroom is divided into 12 equal-sized panels, giving a feeling of stasis, as do two pages divided into six equal-sized panels, depicting Alice’s homesick memories of her old home and best friend. In a way, issue # 17 is a return to Ware’s early short comics, which were often about rhythm as much as anything else, but Ware’s approach to rhythm is much more sophisticated than in those comics.
Adam Stephanides, The Comics Journal no. 282, April 2007.
For me, it’s this control of the underlying ‘rhythm’ of a comic than interests me… could architects better explain or describe their buildings using these techniques than in traditional plans and sections, or photographs and renderings?
I categorise posts on this blog as ‘off-topic’ with caution, since nothing is can be so off-topic not to influence what I’m thinking about or do. Professor Ruth Morrow at the University of Ulster in Belfast has recently uploaded the entirity of the pamphlet Building Clouds Drifting Walls, which describes the experimental design studio that she and others implemented in the first year of the Bachelors in Architecture programme at the University of Sheffield between 2000 and 2003. I followed this programme as my first year studying architecture between 2001 and 2002, and I can honestly credit it with forming my interest in the way that architecture is taught, discussed and represented.
Follow the link and click on the individual pages to open a full page scan. Double points if you can spot the very first architectural model I built during my first week at Sheffield, which is feature in one of the illustrations.
Youtube discovery of the week is this trailer for an ‘upcoming’ (someone smack the director with a dictionary) film, including an interview with Ben Katchor, author of Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District.
This is the second installment of my thoughts on Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District. You can find the first part here… I’ve uploaded it very much as a finished piece of work in progress; that is to say I could go on re-reading, editing and changing it for weeks, but I want to record this point in my thinking now before it gets overwritten with subsequent thinking.
My intention on this sunny Sunday afternoon was to walk from my apartment, in the centre of Strasbourg, to a grand old bistro on the other side of town where students, families and married couples all find a place on shiny stainless steel pavement furniture; where extra toxic French cigarettes send trails of smoke into the air; and where the imminent descent of Monday morning is not remembered. It’s the perfect place to read and work, especially when you’ve got two comic books to flip through. But with the weather being so nice, I kept on walking, and kept on going until I reached Germany (don’t worry, it’s not far). The late afternoon sunlight is now falling through the dense leaves of the old trees in Kehl’s town square. The gold painted numbers and arms of the church clock are sparkling, and across the sandy square from water is spraying out into a liquid sphere from the dozen of pipes that make up a recently installed public fountain. I have also managed to order a coffee and piece of apfelküchen. In developing my French to level which is just acceptable for studying in France, I have seemingly erased almost every word or phrase I once knew in German.
Comics Journal Messageboard user billym put me onto Ben Katchor, and also recalled a lecture that Katchor gave at McGill University’s Architecture Department in Montréal in 2002.
The name of the talk is “The Great Museum Cafeterias of the Western World.” The profession of the speaker is A) an architect B) a food critic C) a comic book artist.
The answer is C, but Ben Katchor is no ordinary graphic novelest. The creator of “The Jew of New York” and “Julius Kniple, Real Estate Photographer” is lauded internationally for his wry examinations of daily life.
With a regular strip in the design-focused Metropolis Magazine and a book titled Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, Katchor’s preoccupations are somewhat different than purveyors of spandex-clad “zock! pow!” narratives.
“There’s a growing interest in the architecture field for his work,” said Greg Hildebrande, an architecture master’s student who, along with fellow student Jan Schotte, invited Katchor to speak at McGill as the William Hobart Molson lecturer.
“Architecture texts tend to be very dry – what’s refreshing about his stories is that he deals with things that architects think about all of the time.”
Hildebrande isn’t entirely sure what approach Katchor will bring to the topic of museum cafeterias – Katchor seems to be rather spontaneous in his lecture style.
“It’s an examination of art theory and the effects of cafeteria design and the consumption of food on the appreciation of art,” said Hildebrande. “I’m really looking forward to what he has to say. He seems unpredictable.”
As to why a comic book artist was chosen for an architecture lecture? Hildebrande admits that he’s a fan, but also felt that Katchor could bring a new perspective.
“That’s something we want to do more of – get more cross-pollination between disciplines,” he said.
McGill Reporter: On Campus
http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/35/05/campus/ retreived 4.6.2007
In my earlier musings I’ve already touched on Katchor’s subtle toying with nostalgia, and the powerful and effective way in which this can reach a reader. His interest in museum cafeterias, however, takes this one step further. In much the same way that Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer ends with The Evening Combinator, the second compilation of single or multiple page Julius Knipl stories (The Beauty Supply District) concludes with an extended story of the same name. In it we meet some inhabitants of Katchor’s fictional city who enjoy descending the stairs to the basement cafeteria of the Tenfoyle Museum of Art. For one character in particular, it’s a very special place that nurtures his vital skills of aesthetic appreciation.
It was this particular subterranean environment, with its clacking of dishes, laughter of guards, small of steam-table food and slightly dank, coffee-soaked floors, that instead of distracting him, permitted him to enter into unique relationship with the object of his choice.
Ben Katchor, The Beauty Supply District
New York City: Pantheon Books 2003, page 94
Later in the same story, two unrelated characters jump in a cab, telling the driver “To the Tenfoyle Museum – and step on it! They close at nine”, where they seek out pound cake, cherry pie and tapioca pudding.
“It was,” he proclaimed,”the perfect point from which to mediate the longstanding hostility between subject and object – a point situated directly between the appetive urge to consume a work of art and the disinterested gaze of the cafeteria patron choosing his lunch.”
Ben Katchor, The Beauty Supply District
New York City: Pantheon Books 2003, page 94
I can only imagine a museum cafeteria such as this one existing in the nostalgic tales of Julius Knipl. It is, in fact, a complete opposite of the art gallery eateries one normally finds, where financial pressures (imagined or not) have turned art gallery canteens into trendy cafés, and dusty museum bookshops into boutiques. Even remembering the sublime Art Institute of Chicago, or the vast Tate Modern in London, I can’t help but think that the art gallery of today is now largely patronised by a public that gazes with disinterest at the art, and which consumes in the museum’s gift shop with an ‘appetitive urge’.
The Beauty Supply District charts the rise and fall of that neighbourhood in Katchor’s imagined city. Time passes, luck runs out, and businesses close for good. The urban landscape changes subtly, each erosion contributing to an imperceptible yet unmissable evolution. Yet more reasons to hunt down those out-of-print copies of Katchor’s earlier book Cheap Novelties: The Pleasure of Urban Decay.
Returning to The Evening Combinator in Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, we meet the architect Selladore. Whereas in The Beauty Supply District we witness the gradual evolution of the urban fabric, here we get to see a brief glimpse of a ‘visionary’ architect. After almost three decades of buidling almost nothing, he’s starting work on his greatest project: a massive mixed use development that will tower over the city, where residents will travel to and from their apartments by means of elevated railways that pass directly through each and every residence. The troubled architect finds his building plans scuppered when The Evening Combinator (a nightly journal of the city’s dreams) publishes perverted tales from Mr. Selladore’s strangest dreams.
The depiction of the architect as a mad and disconnected visionary with unworkable designs on his city is nothing new in popular culture (see the Fountainhead for one), but his situation in Katchor’s parallel universe makes him somehow more believeable and more receptive to our pity. I want to come back to Selladore the architect in due course, but I’d appreciate some alternative interpretations of his character – is he a figure of mockery or sympathy? He – or rather his imagination of the what the city could be – seems somehow at odds with the loving feel of the tired and jumbled city that Julius Knipl usually explores.
Part three will follow in the next couple of weeks, but feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.
The French comic book publisher Glénat has just released this new book, Capitales Européens en BD. Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that created the European Union, it collates a large number of excerpts from recent comic books that are set in European capitals.
Citizens of some of the E.U.’s newer member states might be disappointed not to see their cities represented; the collection omits a few states without explanation. I’m pretty sure that if the editors had looked hard enough, for instance, they could have found small scale local artists depicting Sofia or Ljubljana. Ultimately the collection offers snapshots of Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Bucarest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Nicosia, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, Talinn, Warsaw and Vienna. The emphasis remains largely on the known centres of European comic book publishing, with the largest entries for Brussels, Paris and London. The majority of artists included seem to be of western European origin, a shame considering the potential this book had for showcasing central and eastern European talent that might be unknown to a wider audience more used to the artists and authors included.
Fans of these Franco-Belgian albums will enjoy the collection, but it does unwittingly offer perhaps the strongest argument yet for non-European commentators to fall into the trap of describing a single ‘European’ style of comics illustration. The complex classical architecture of western Europe is beautiful rendered by the precise line drawing of authors such as Tito or Borile, Rivière and Carin. All four seasons of Paris, past, present and future are rendered full of atmosphere and some dark flashes of mystery. Occasional sparks of artisitic independence and brilliance emerge, such as the views of Madrid drawn in striking monochrome by Cava and Bel Barrio.
You can order the book direct from Glénat (€14.99, with prefaces in French, English and German, ISBN: 9782723457842). The caveat I suggest is that you should at least flip through a copy before buying, so as to not be disappointed by what is largely an ‘old-Europe’-centric album. I had naïvely hoped to have seen Slovenian artists included, even if they were young and outside the mainstream of European comics publishing. Is there really not one Hungarian comic book illustrator who could have shown be Budapest?
Thank you AM for recommending me this article from the New York Times earlier this week, reviewing the recently completed Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum in the Netherlands.
Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk stand out from the usual Koolhaas clones. Still relatively unknown in the United States, their firm has steadily built a reputation in Europe for bold designs that draw on everything from primitive temples to comic-book illustration and the decorative ephemera of Andy Warhol. They also have something as rare in architectural circles as raw talent: a sense of humor.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, Encased in Glass
The New York Times, 26 May 2007, retrieved 29 May 2007
No… it’s not just the reference to comic-book illustration that interests me, but (still fresh from reading about Joost Swarte and Mecanoo building the Toneelschuur in Haarlem) the idea that a sense of humour can be conveyed in a building. How interesting that this should be found in a major public building dedicated to archiving, exhibiting and celebrating the broadcast image and sound.
Big news folks… “no words no action” (i.e. myself, wearing my dissertation hat) will be coming to the United States of America in September to conduct some primary research and to do an interview or two. I don’t want to go into the specifics, but all will be revealed here in due course. I’m both honoured and excited to have the chance to meet the people I’ll be meeting.
Meanwhile, if you’re going to be around in either of the following cities, please drop me a line…
10 – 16 September 2007: New York City, NY
17 – 28 September 2007: Chicago, IL
My special thanks go to: L.N. in NYC and A.M. in Chicago for graciously offering to accommodate me; the US Government for maintaining such a bankrupt US dollar; and US Airways for continuing to price trans-Atlantic flights in dollars, thereby allowing me nab an absolute bargain for my flights with my British credit card…
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.
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.
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
…for the prolonged absence, I’m swamped with work that has a much more immediate deadline than this project. Normal service will resume shortly.
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.