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Lars Müller – Book Builder at Harvard GSD

» June 10, 2009

Lars Müller – Book Builder at Harvard GSD

Recently, Lars Müller successfully completed a guest lectureship at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In the seminar “Building Books,” he joined forces with students from the Department of Architecture to explore the role of the architect as author and editor. Student projects executed for the seminar were exhibited in the Gund Hall Gallery, and received considerable attention.

At the conclusion of the seminar, Lars Müller was invited to curate an exhibition for the Special Collections Department of the Loeb Library with the title Book Builders: The Architect as Author and Editor. On the basis of selected 20th century publications (from Le Corbusier to Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, and others), Lars Müller highlighted the author role played by many architects and the outstanding importance of the book as a medium for conveying ideas and engaging in reflection on the architectural profession. Supplementing the presentation was a selection of volumes designed by Lars Müller.

Building Books – The Architect as Author and Editor

The course reflected on the responsibility of the architect to communicate his or her overarching ideas and visions, as well as on the potential of the book as a medium.
Does it suffice to realize important buildings and plans and then simply await the well-intended and perhaps even knowledgeable interpretations of critics? We called this stance into question to investigate the role of the architect as author and editor.

1. We amassed experience in editorial interpretation and transformation by updating a given set of contents (Le Corbusier, une petite maison).
The entire contents of Le Corbusier’s small publication une petite maison (1954) was made digitally available to students. The task was to analyze its contents while undertaking a reevaluation of the role of editor—to make a selection and develop a structure that would make possible a contemporary interpretation of its contents in book form.

2. We came to appreciate the role of the architect as author by bringing a collection of content—for which each student was individually responsible—into book form.
Students were asked to view themselves as authors and to prepare a collection of content based on their own praxis in a form that was ready for publication as a book. The emphasis was on content development and conceptual and structural implementation. The graphic realization, while not unimportant, was secondary.

We came to the conclusion that the architect must acquire the intellectual tools to go beyond the implicit claims of practical achievements and convey convictions in word and image. In this context, the book emerged as an ideal medium of communication.

It is encouraging to realize that this attitude on the part of architects has a long tradition. This is made evident by the small exhibition “Book Builders: Architects as Authors and Editors” on view in the Special Collections Department of the Loeb Library.

Book Builders – Architects as Authors and Editors

The historical perspective is encouraging. Ever since Vitruvius, important architects have been aware of the necessity to convey the theoretical superstructure of their creative activities in an independent medium. They recognized that as authors, they would need to assume the same responsibility for such publications as they did for their buildings.

The twentieth century—which I would like to designate as the century of the book—offers a multiplicity of instances of architectonic and urban planning visions that manifested themselves in book form prior to their physical realizations. The authorship of such architects was equally visible in their buildings and in their theoretical and occasionally polemical writings.

Throughout history, each substantial transformation in the attitude, style, and form of architecture found its initial expression in book form. As initiators and editors of magazines and as authors of books, architects contributed substantially to democratic debates on architectural culture, paving the way for the societal acceptance of new concepts and forms.

This should embolden those contemporary architects who lay claim to leadership roles within their discipline to present their convictions and ideas via the book medium.

The book will outlive the building.

“Books last longer than buildings. If it were not for Palladio’s Quattro Libri, we would never look at his villas today. The fact that, at the end of his life, he redrew all of his projects as he had conceived them, and not as they were built, speaks to the initial statement. In different ways, the same could be said of Le Corbusier, Venturi, and Koolhaas.”
Peter Eisenman

“I wrote not for the pleasure of phrase-making but rather because, in our profession, the effects of contingency are terrifyingly powerful. Driven as I was by a certain passion, when I could not build (because of the depression of 1929, of the Hitlerian threat between 1933 and 1939, of the war until 1944, of the post-war years up to 1947, and so on), then I drew or had drawings done … and when things could not be drawn, they were put into words in talks on every continent and over thirty years…. And when I was not speaking, I put ideas down in sequence, one after the other, which led to the making of many books.”
Le Corbusier, Les Plans de Paris, 1956-1922

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