Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The Anti-Monograph

A few weeks ago Mark Lamster put up a spirited defense of the architectural monograph, responding to a column by Martin Filler in Architectural Record that suggested the form was doomed by economics and sycophancy. (And, BTW, if Record is going to save itself by getting critical, let’s support the effort.) Mark wrote:

It seems particularly wrong to me to suggest that a singular genius will be required to reinvent the monograph format into something meaningful for today. This only reinforces the profession’s lamentable stratification into a system of stars and anonymous drones. (In the past, Filler has lamented the “Great Man” school of history, so this seems a strange proposition coming from him.) In any case, the standard monograph format — a critical introduction followed by a series of explicated projects — happens to be an efficient means of presentation, and in most cases needs no reinvention.

When I was editing monographs, and it was not so long ago, the first conversation I would have with an architect would inevitably begin with the architect in question stating flatly that he or she was not interested in a “traditional monograph.” That was fine with me. But then we’d start talking, and as we’d get down to the nitty-gritty, the book would move closer and closer to the “traditional” format. Not every time. But most times.
So it was particularly amusing to me to receive Reveal, the first monograph of the work of 13-year-old Chicago firm Studio Gang (published, coincidentally, by Mark’s old employers at Princeton Architectural Press; they are also my publishers for the forthcoming Writing About Architecture). Reveal was part of the launch of the exciting Van Alen Books, a new architecture and design bookstore (the only one in Manhattan) run by the urban institute of the same name, on Thursday, April 21.