Hyphen Press

The architects of the book

Architectural and design publishing has seen remarkable changes in recent years. How does this sector of publishing work now? How did it come to have this structure? What part does the design of these books play? This article tackles these questions and suggests some answers. After a wide-ranging survey, we profile a number of publishers that help to make up the liveliest sector of the present scene. This text was published, with many illustrations of the books discussed, in ‘Domus’, no. 847, April 2002.

There is a familiar paradox, much cited by lovers of books and printing, that the more we rely on electronic display for reading images and text, the greater is the quantity of old-fashioned books that we publish. Looking at the heaving stacks of books in large metropolitan bookstores across the world, looking at the piles of barely inspected books in our homes and offices, the paradox feels true. But if it should be true, it is not the end of the story, not a cause for complacent satisfaction in the book world; it is rather a clue that helps expose the complicated set of factors and tendencies that constitutes publishing now. Design is one of these factors, and through the design of a book the currents of publishing flow, if often by default. This analysis could be applied to books of all kinds, but we focus here on the design of books about architecture and design. This is a ‘sharp end’ of the publishing scene, where design plays an important role in giving attractive presence to books for the people likely to buy them. Design is also needed because the material of these books is often complex: in need of editorial transformation and much refinement in presentation. The goal of humane, enlightened publishing must lie in that place where these two senses of design are in mutual support of each other.

In the mid-1980s a number of changes in the publishing world gathered speed, and these factors still shape the book landscape: the ownership and organization of publishing and bookselling firms, the increasing dominance of the English language in specialized arts publishing, the technical changes in production, the ways in which design is conceived and takes place, the sense of international interconnectedness both in the publishing industry and the subjects it produces books about. These things are hard to disentangle from one another.

To make a map of the ownership of publishing firms now would be a long project. In very general terms, recent decades have seen a furious amalgamation and subsequent incorporation of independent publishing houses. The mid-1980s were the years of fastest change, when ‘who owns whom’ became a game of dizzying speed. The established American publisher Random House by then incorporated once independent imprints such as Jonathan Cape, Chatto & Windus, Knopf, Pantheon, and Doubleday. In 1998 the media conglomerate Bertelsmann acquired Random House. In the same year Bertelsmann acquired Springer Verlag, whose holdings had grown to include Birkhäuser Verlag für Architektur, the well-established Swiss firm with a strong literary and visual art publishing tradition. While its roots reach back to a family firm in mid-nineteenth-century Germany, in international perception Bertelsmann is a company that owns companies across the media field (magazines, printing, book clubs, music, Internet, as well as book publishing) and employs many more accountants than it does editors.

What of the formerly independent publishers now? The imprints still exist, and are still attached to worthwhile books. One cannot really discern a ‘Bertelsmann’ quality in them, nor can one see any connection between their books and those of other publishers within the Bertelsmann empire – say, Birkhäuser. Yet something has changed. The books that these firms publish take fewer risks. When they take a new step, it tends to be a step already taken by an independent publisher still guided by instinct and belief rather than precedent. Culls of editors, rapid turnover of personnel, job insecurity – it all makes for poor conditions in the workplace, for a loss of nerve. The conglomerated firms do not keep their old titles in print. A slow-selling book will be pulped or remaindered after a couple of years, with consequent loss of cultural memory. If it was worth anything, then before long the disappeared book will have to be reinvented all over again. And the controlling company will be on the lookout to develop ‘synergies’ and tie-ins between the products of its parts.

Language and design

Publishing, by its very nature, has always been a search for economies through production in greater numbers. For years, if not centuries, publishers have looked beyond national boundaries for others to share in the project of publication. A look through the copyright pages of books on architecture and the visual arts published since 1945 reveals a common story. During this time, there has been an unprecedented exchange of titles across national and linguistic boundaries. Traditionally, books were published in the language of the original publisher. In literary fields, translations were common, but in the area of the visual arts, the notion of multilingual or transnational editions was an exception, or at the very least an anticipated condition rather than a given. The large constraint here was that of the language of a text. Images have no such limitation. This, and the traditionally higher cost of the reproduction and publication of images – by comparison with text – encouraged the co-edition, in which the firm generating a book or a series will, before publication, agree to sell rights, or simply finished copies, to a publisher in another country.

The energy of the post-war years gave rise to a spirit of collaboration between like-minded publishers on both sides of the Atlantic. When the German publisher Gerd Hatje began to produce books on Nervi and Le Corbusier, on Gropius and Mies, it was done with the collegial support of other publishers who would make editions of the same title for their respective linguistic and cultural markets. Thus what had originated as a Hatje title in German appeared in English in the United States under Praeger’s imprint and in the UK as an Architectural Press title. The dissemination of visual culture became an international possibility. By the 1980s, this exchange of translation and distribution rights had reached its peak. It became commonplace to see a book such as Carlo Scarpa: L’architettura nel dettaglio offered in four or five languages – the fruits of an earlier year’s negotiations at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the annual venue for the bartering of publishing rights. The original Italian-language edition was published by Jaca in 1988, the same year that the German edition was issued by Wasmuth. The English-language rights went to MIT Press, and the French-language edition was published in Belgium by Pierre Mardaga. The Spanish edition was produced by Editorial Gustavo Gili in 1989. Heavily illustrated books on architecture, photography, art, were expensive to produce and the print runs necessarily limited by market demands – some defraying or sharing of the costs became essential.

An alternative to the generation of separate language editions was the development and subsequent proliferation of multilingual editions, with the originator assuming the responsibility for translation into various languages, or else working out a system of co-editions involving other publishers. What such co-operation between publishers allowed for was an effective diffusion of verbal information and images formerly available only to those with access to foreign titles and the ability to read foreign languages. The introduction of titles across linguistic boundaries made possible the kind of architectural culture we have today, with historians, theorists and critics, as well as architects, from disparate traditions finding new audiences.

Throughout the 1980s, the need for individual linguistic markets held firm. By the end of the decade, the demand for English-language books had begun to increase greatly, and today the primary linguistic market for almost any publisher in the fields of architecture and design is the English-speaking market. The higher print runs necessary to serve this market allow for lower production costs, resulting in lower unit prices for the books themselves, thereby permitting an ever wider dissemination. With this potential for an expanded audience, publishers have become increasingly reluctant to relinquish the rights for what is, in fact, the most profitable market for illustrated books. The list includes Actar and Gustavo Gili (Spain), Birkhäuser and Lars Müller (Switzerland), Skira (Italy), Axel Menges and Hatje-Cantz (Germany), 010 Publishers and the NAi (the Netherlands). The list could go on to include publishers from Finland, Japan, and further. But what are the consequences of this single-language publishing phenomenon? In the past decades, while the possibility of selling foreign-language rights for a title allowed for some financial reassurance to the originating publisher, it also restricted the design of any given title. The layout of the book had to be such that it could accommodate text and captions in a number of languages, variously requiring lesser or greater amounts of space. These constraints necessarily limited the freedom of the designer, resulting in an all-purpose style of graphic design. The same constraints apply to the design of multilingual editions, though to a lesser degree.

Perhaps the company to exploit most fully this dual tendency to publish multilingual editions and retain distribution to the English market was Taschen. Benedikt Taschen had started business life as a comic-book retailer in Cologne, but in 1984 he moved into the art-book trade. The company hit international architectural and design consciousness with its series of monographs on individual artists, architects, and movements. The books were issued either in single-language editions or as trilingual books (German, French, English). The design, by necessity, remained absolutely fixed so as to accommodate texts of varying length. In order to insert a body of text that involved a greater number of words (French as opposed to English), the type size was merely reduced. The integration of text with images was highly circumscribed with this model. What the book lost in elegance and design integrity it gained in economics. The books then flooded the market, leaving a disturbing trail in their wake. Taschen books are inexpensively produced and very affordably priced, and this has done enormous damage to the market for the more serious and substantial architectural monographs, leaving an uncritical consumer demanding little more of its heavily illustrated books than that they respond to the lowest possible price-to-colour-plate ratio. They have also engendered a certain resignation on the part of the book buyer in terms of content and design – one hasn’t high expectations of a clothbound book retailing for the price of an upmarket magazine.

In the production of books there are other factors of connection and homogenization at work, which apply to independent publishers as well as to the transnationally incorporated. Imagine, as is quite likely, that the books will be printed in Hong Kong or Singapore; imagine too that the work is designed by someone who may be French but trained in Switzerland and the USA; imagine also that the book is a round-up of recent world architecture designed by architects of enormous global mixing and wandering – no wonder that there is a certain homogenization in the product. The rise of English as a world language has intensified this process.

Lars Müller Publishers has issued separate-language editions of certain titles (Peter Zumthor, As found, Benzin) alongside bilingual and trilingual titles where appropriate, but has recently released a book on the work of the young Swiss designers Daniel and Markus Freitag in English only. While both subject and publisher are Swiss, no German-language edition has been published. Perhaps this is a fitting treatment for the subject of the book – the Freitag bags. Both book and bag address a global culture, predominantly young-urban-chic in character. And last December, the established art and architecture publisher Electa announced a new imprint to be called Electa Architecture, a joint venture with Phaidon Press. Electa will begin to produce its architecture titles in English again, with Phaidon taking on world distribution. The global dominance of the English language becomes manifest even in the highly limited field of design and architecture publishing.

The rise of graphic design

The procedures of desktop publishing, another child of the 1980s, have played in with all these developments. As originally imagined, it was to be a tool for authors and small groups to produce their own printed matter – and this happened, on the small scale. The much larger fruit of DTP has been possibility of integrating design and editing in publishing and the disconnection of typesetting and page make-up from printing. Designers have found themselves becoming typesetters, and editors have sometimes become designers. There are both dangers and advantages in this blurring of roles.

Accompanying all these developments has been a growing consciousness of design in book publishing, as in most other areas of life. ‘Design’ can have several meanings here. As applied especially to the overall look of a publisher’s output, or a series of books within it, design can be a way of identifying the product, of separating it from the books of a competitor. Design is also a process within the publishing office: the way in which a book is first conceived, the extent and type of its illustrations, the nature of the text, who will be commissioned as the writer, should it be put within a series or not, what size of page, what paper, which printer. Usually these decisions are not made by the person known as the designer, but rather by an editor or production manager. There is a strong case for saying that these are the crucial design decisions. In this view, the thing that is often called design – and which used to be called ‘layout’ or ‘mise-en-page’ – is no more than the outcome of a process that has gone on further back in the system.

The notion of the ‘integrated book’ – pictures and text as a unified whole – was a dream of the heroic modernists, and in mainline publishing it began in earnest in the years after 1945. But its full realization could come only with the introduction of DTP. When the same small computers and even the same software programs began to be adopted across the board, ‘design’ could invade the field of design and architecture publishing. Now the way was open for graphic designers to work on the insides of books, as well as their traditional ground of covers and jackets. These are the technical grounds for the change. The human endeavours that made it work followed on.

An early contribution here was Bruce Mau’s work for Zone Books in the USA. This was a new imprint, editorially independent but distributed by MIT Press. The list was one of high intellectual aspiration: new editions and translations of neglected texts as well as works of fresh scholarship. Among the presiding mentor figures were Georges Bataille, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze. Zone Books made their strongest impact with the ‘journal’ called Zone – an irregular sequence that began with a double issue on the city (Zone 1–2 , 1986) and continued with a three-volume landmark of intellectual chic, ‘Fragments for a history of the human body’ (Zone 3–5 , 1989). But after ‘Incorporations’ (Zone 6 , 1992), the series seems to have faltered. After the experimentation in the first issue – different papers, fold-outs, cinematic sequences of image and text – the design of these books was, in fact, not so unusual. For after the graphic declaration of the first Zone journal, what came to distinguish Zone publications were the quiet virtues of good paper, sewn bindings, and the flapped paperback covers across which ran background images. Bruce Mau brought a good competence in graphic design to this project, which enabled the quite large volume of books to carry a distinctive publisher’s identity with the minimum of individual styling.

S, M, L, XL (1995), made jointly by Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, has often been cited as heralding the sequence of fat books produced by architects and designers: not so much monographs on their work, but rather a continuation of the work by this other means. S, M, L, XL ran to 1,344 pages, and in the manner of Zone worked as a cinematic magazine rather than a book: extended sequences of images running over pages, ‘articles’ in different text formats rather than a sequence of identically styled chapters, a dictionary of quotations extending through the book. The whole ensemble seemed to act out the complexity, the disorder of the process of making buildings in the contemporary world. Published jointly by Monacelli Press (in the person of Gianfranco Monacelli) and 010 Publishers in Rotterdam, S, M, L, XL‘s first printing of 30,000 copies sold out in just a few months. For Monacelli it was one of the projects that he took with him from Rizzoli on leaving to set up his own firm. A second printing of 70,000 copies in a semi-authorized edition by Taschen is now exhausted too, but a reprint is promised. Other books clearly encouraged by this example have been MVRDV’s FARMAX (736 pages, designed by Roelof Mulder, published by 010 Publishers, 1999), Mutations by Koolhaas and others (720 pages, designed by Ramon Prat, Actar, 2000), Life style by Mau (626 pages, Phaidon, 2001) and The art of looking sideways by Alan Fletcher (1,064 pages, Phaidon, 2001). And now Taschen has issued two new bricks from Rem Koolhaas, Great leap forward (720 pages, designed by Alice Chung, 2001) and The Harvard Design School guide to shopping (800 pages, designed by Sze Tsung Leong and Chuihua Judy Chung, 2002). It is true that fatness and a certain grandiosity of vision links such works, but their deeper significance lies elsewhere.

S, M, L, XL by ‘Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau’ (thus the large-type billing on the cover) was a loud example of a tendency that had been gathering pace for some time: the place given to the designer as an equal collaborator with the authors. The realization that a designer could contribute decisively to content as well as form had arisen some time before, for example in the quasi-editorial role that the designer Otl Aicher played in the first set of Foster Associates monographs (Watermark Publications, published from 1989). Books such as those, and others even less showy in their results and surrounding hype, had proved the worth of design some time before the theory of the ‘designer as author’ came along in the mid-1990s. This idea was presented as following from the obvious truth that no content can exist free of the form in which it is presented to us. But the deduction that – therefore – the designer must visibly impress their own stamp upon the material does not follow. The ‘visible stamp’ effect happens anyway, and to start with that as a goal of design gets the process round the wrong way. Mixed in with this theory was something quite different: a sub-Hollywood cult of the ‘designer as celebrity’ in which characters such as Philippe Starck and David Carson were employed – eventually by large corporations – to spread their magic touch on the product.

A less personalized but also highly visible use of graphic design in art publishing can be seen in the changes at Phaidon Press from 1990 onward. In October of that year this old-established imprint, started in Vienna in 1923, was picked up from its then owner (the Musterlin Group) by Richard Schlagman and Mark Futter, outsiders to publishing. Design would form a key to the reinvigoration of Phaidon, which, despite a prestigious backlist of art history books, had been languishing within a succession of conglomerates. Schlagman, who in 1991 bought out his partner to become the hands-on and very design-conscious managing director, worked closely with his design consultants, the London firm Pentagram. Later a single consultant art director was appointed to oversee the output of what has been termed New Phaidon – so great is the break with previous incarnations. This was Alan Fletcher, not a book designer but a graphic designer through and through, who had been a founding partner of Pentagram. The new books were designed both in-house and by out-of-house designers – usually uncredited – within a flexible and developing house style. Lessons in risk-taking were learned from smaller, more experimental publishers, and one has begun to see Phaidon books becoming aggressively design-led. Works such as The art book (1994) and the sequence it has spawned – The photography book, The fashion book, The movie book, The garden book, The house book – are in the first place design concepts rather than books in any traditional sense. It was Alan Fletcher who had the idea of reusing transparencies from the by then enormous Phaidon archives. The concept is simple: 500 images, one per page, an A-to-Z ordering of material, minimal text, large format (29 × 25 cm, 512 pages). Later miniature versions of these books were published (16 × 12 cm). Later still ‘Art boxes’ have been issued, containing postcards and greeting cards. Phaidon seems driven to make books that are other than books. Thus the weighty photographic survey Century came with its own carrying case (book as luggage). Fresh cream, a compilation of new art, comes encased within an inflated plastic pillow (the book as life-saver). 10 × 10, a conspectus of contemporary architecture, employs the conventions of magazine design (abutted images and white-out-of-black text). The order of things, a collection of photographs by Norbert Schoerner, is a circular object: a sequence of images with no beginning, no end.

Last year Phaidon launched its ‘55’ series of photography books, promising the world that they would resonate with the same authority as the Penguin paperbacks of the 1930s. In fact, they are closer to the spirit of the French Photo-poche series created in the 1980s by Robert Delpire. Each book, 128 pages in length, presents 55 selected images from individual photographers spanning the history of the medium. The Phaidon texts are short, in some cases written by academics and specialists, in others by journalists. But authors’ names do not appear in publicity material or on the spines or covers of the books themselves. Booksellers were told that these books could only be displayed on the ‘selling machine’ a custom-built sales environment most closely resembling the magazine of a machine gun. At the low price of £4.95, and with such aggressive display, the books seemed destined to become merely impulse items.

Bruce Mau’s Life style reflects upon the possibilities, limitations, and challenges of ‘design’ through an emphatically visual treatment of its content. The book comes bound in one of eight different cloths. The very notion of multiple covers implies that, as consumers, we may choose for ourselves the colour or texture that most corresponds with our own lifestyle. Is it a design decision, or merely a marketing ploy? Booksellers have reported customers demanding a particular cover, and when not available, abandoning the purchase altogether (hot pink was the most popular cloth used). And now this tells us something: the book is no longer designed to be found in bookshops only. Furniture shops and other retail outlets have become the new sources for books on architecture and design, as well as for the values and trends that they represent. The radical publishers Verso knowingly rode this wave in 1998 when they issued the Communist manifesto in a pretty anniversary edition. Through all the various outlets, including Urban Outfitters in the USA, they sold 50,000 copies. Thus the book has become a fashion and decorating accessory. While interior design magazines have always impressed this use of books upon us, it is only in the last decade that non-traditional book retailers have fully joined the world of trade bookselling.

Taschen, similarly, has produced books such as Helmut Newton’s Sumo, sold with a Philippe Starck-designed stainless steel table to support its massive girth and weight. The similarly over-sized books on Neutra and the Case-study houses, with their respective wood veneer and PVC, continue this bid for the attention of the book buyer. But the risk-taking is all in the pricing and the format, not the content. As ever, Taschen plays safe with established figures in the architecture and design canon.

Even more esoteric subjects are granted exaggerated design attention. One can see this in the monograph Otto Treumann (010 Publishers, 2001), the first of a projected series on ‘Graphic design in the Netherlands’. Here a weak text is swamped by the design treatment: Treumann’s work becomes no more than the material with which the designer plays. Behind this series is the notion that a designer of a later generation confronts and engages in dialogue with the work of an old master. But what one sees in this case is rather the younger designer (Irma Boom) applying, in spite of the material, a number of personal mannerisms: ‘step and repeat’ images, the simulation of colour coding for purely decorative effect, and text shaped for visual effect rather than for the comfort of the reader. The book is being purchased and discussed for its Boom content as much as for its Treumann content.

So it seems that books have become a vehicle for graphic design and graphic designers. One could now fill quite a long shelf with these books in which young designers play out a dream of digital modernism: a cryptic title, an eccentric binding style, a very prominent bar code, images and text that go almost but not quite to the edge of the page, constant-digit page numbering that begins on the first leaf ‘001’ very long lines of sanserif text, photographs that would be rejected as substandard by a commercial laboratory. The recent 3D > 2D (Laurence King, 2001) conforms to most of these criteria: a book supposedly about architecture, but in fact a showcase for its designers (The Designers Republic, from Britain).

In the larger mainstream publishers, the designer’s increasingly present role in shaping the matter of books is aided and abetted by the marketing departments. Within the small firms, often run by two or three individuals with a supporting cast, one can find a coherence to the material published, the development of a list, and the part that design can play. Some achieve this through the concept of the series, itself a marketing device as well as an editorial decision. The independent European publishers profiled here all engage with their subject matter, and take editorial risks in publishing the work of emerging designers, rather than falling into the comfort of recycling old material in a different form. Their designers strive, with varying degrees of success, for a balance between the book’s form and its content, with the result that their role is inextricably bound up with that of the editor.

The identity of the independent publisher

Within the ‘independent publishers’ there are of course shades of independence, and there is certainly no pure state of freedom from which wonderful books are produced. An unlimited budget and no pressure of time lead to dull luxury. Rather, the wonderful books come from tensions, from resourcefulness, from opportunities seen and taken. It is just here that the independent publisher has advantages over publishers who have to answer to the wishes of a controlling presence: a corporate owner, or perhaps a large distributor who comes to influence the content and design of titles published. Rizzoli found Rem Koolhaas’s proposal for S, M, L, XL too unconventional. (Before he settled on Bruce Mau, the first designers Koolhaas had worked with on the book were the unruly Hard Werken group from Rotterdam.) It was only after Gianfranco Monacelli had left Rizzoli to set up his own imprint that he could go ahead with such an idiosyncratic book. In order to finance it he found a Dutch co-publisher (010 Publishers) who had known Koolhaas for years, understood the project at once and knew it was something that they had to do.

However, the idea that ‘independent’ equals flexible and ‘lively’ also needs qualification. Thus Prestel in Germany and the two big players in British art publishing, Thames & Hudson and Phaidon, would be classed as ‘independent’ (the ownership of each is in private hands, and the owners have a strong influence on editorial direction); yet, in size and global spread, they act ‘large’. Thames & Hudson pursues a design approach that is now less stolid than it was a few years ago – the pictures looked after themselves and the text was slotted in – but that is still unremarkable. Its rival Phaidon often gives the impression of having buried content in the desire to amaze with its design radicalism, and thus, in the lack of human presence in its books, joins hands with a Rizzoli or an Abrams. To further complicate the divide, consider Birkhäuser: now within the Bertelsmann empire and so non-independent, yet still doing some unusual or even eccentric books. The corporate support that Birkhäuser receives has allowed it to continue a programme reminiscent of the independent publishers with an interest in publishing the work of younger practices. And further, Birkhäuser serves, in distribution or co-publishing deals, a number of firms – Lars Müller, Princeton Architectural Press, August – that must still be considered independent. A strong feature of these more commercial firms – Phaidon, Thames & Hudson, Prestel, Birkhäuser – is their active support and promotion of backlist titles that built the identity of the firm and established its reputation.

The act of publishing always has an element of impulsive decision in it. Commodification of books may have gone far, but even in the largest firms there is no space for market research such as is conducted with cosmetics or food products. At most there is informal feedback from the bookshops to a publisher’s sales department, which then becomes part of an in-house gospel for the design of books, usually to inhibiting effect. The ‘buyers’ for the chain bookstores are especially influential here. Small publishers, still directed by editors rather than manager figures, are – for better or worse – free to follow hunches, free to take risks. The design becomes part of this editorial shaping and can respond to the needs of the particular material. The larger firms have bigger budgets and longer schedules, and they move more slowly. They look to the independent firms for ideas, either to co-opt or to imitate.

Surveying these smaller firms, a pattern emerges. A practitioner (architect or designer) falls into publishing almost without thinking, as if they are impelled to do it. Their first book is a mad venture: too many copies are made, or it is crazily under-priced. But from this they go on, realizing that their talent is for publishing books, with its requirement of a certain eclecticism of interests rather than the one-track dedication needed for the professions of architecture and design. But they stay within the professional orbit of their training, are trusted by their old colleagues in the profession and so gather titles to publish. Overseeing the editing and design of books is more manageable and more immediately satisfying than looking after the making of buildings.

These themes can be seen in the progress of Princeton Architectural Press, founded almost unintentionally in 1981 by Kevin Lippert, then a student of architecture at Princeton University. Lippert’s first book was a reprint of a classic text (Letarouilly’s Edifices de Rome moderne), which he sold in the first instance to his fellow students. From this and other reprints he went on to publish work by architects that were part of the contemporary North American scene that he had by then decided not to join as a practitioner: Diller and Scofidio, Steven Holl, and Lebbeus Woods were the stars of PAP’s early years, along with theorists such as Anthony Vidler and Beatriz Colomina. The design of these books followed on from the content and was eclectic, sometimes done by in-house editor-designers, sometimes by commissioned freelance designers, occasionally strongly shaped by the author/subject. PAP’s design policy is in the American grain. It is only rarely that one comes across an American publisher with a tightly defined design policy, and then one can usually trace a European influence at work. The celebrated instance in the field of architecture and design publishing would be MIT Press in the years 1966 to 1994 when Muriel Cooper was design director. Although her contact with Europe had been mostly indirect, Cooper’s work at MIT began to join the broad mainstream of international modernism. Since her departure, the sense of conviction in the design of MIT books has been lost. The books continue to come out at the same rate, are often impressive and interesting in content and exhibit the confidence of having the safety net of the institution behind them. Meanwhile, Princeton Architectural Press – which, despite its name, has no institutional connections – remains independent and expanding, though with the help of deals with two large players. Since 1996 the large and thoroughly commercial, though independently owned, Chronicle Books (San Francisco) undertakes their distribution in North and South America. And since 1997 Springer Verlag (now BertelsmannSpringer) has a financial stake in PAP, which brings with it distribution by Birkhäuser in Europe and elsewhere, yet allows a considerable measure of independent action.

The independence of a publisher is vividly tested in the business of co-editions, and here again language and design interact. In 2000 the SUN publishing house in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) published SuperDutch, a survey by Bart Lootsma of recent Dutch architecture, designed by one of the notable small graphic design practices in that country: Mevis & Van Deursen. These designers were early in readopting modernist habits – a very conscious grid, explicit use of the colours of process printing, sanserif type in simple columns – while the Anglo-American world was still in the grip of an anti-modern fever. The design of the book managed to reflect the flavour of this unapologetic but still colourful local modernism, both in the architecture it showed and in its own design, and yet be a book that called out for translation and international circulation. By contrast with the same publisher’s restrained survey Honderd jaar architectuur in Nederland, 1901–2000, based on a set of freshly drawn plans and elevations, SuperDutch was designed to sell, even in its logo-like title. And the SUN did sell English-language rights of the book to Princeton Architectural Press, for the North American market only, and to Thames & Hudson, for the rest of the world. With these English editions the book certainly gained in circulation and the original commissioner of the title would have received a quick, though limited, return from these other publishers. But something was lost: SuperDutch is now seen by most of the world as either a Thames & Hudson or PAP title.

Unlike the independent publishers we profile here, the SUN has not felt the need to put its books into English and set up the mechanisms to sell them outside the Benelux area. It publishes in the humanities mainly for the national educational market, and its language is Dutch. But for the specialist architecture and design publishers of small language communities, this issue of the identity of the list is a strong factor. They will publish in English and hope to reach the largest market with that edition, rather than sell rights to a publisher with powerful international distribution and see the book sell several thousand more copies. In the end, perhaps, no more money is gained by doing it all themselves, but their integrity as a publisher has certainly been enhanced. For the same reason of identity preservation, these independents now hardly buy in titles from other firms. The other side of these arrangements can be seen with the publishers who do buy in titles: coherence of design over the whole list will be lost. In the case of a large publisher with an extensive list this may not matter. But with a small-to-medium publisher, the effect of buying in is damaging to its overall identity. It is this indefinable quality – identity – that is the independent publisher’s most precious asset.

The report we make here on the state of architecture and design publishing is a critical one, and we have been less than kind to some of the more extravagant uses of design in the making of books. But this is our position, and we exemplify it positively in the choice of publishers that we now focus on. Some are firms with long and varied histories that have undertaken a series of metamorphoses; others have come on the scene in the last twenty years and are still growing; and we have added one teaching institution that acts as a publisher. All are engaged in generating books that reach out to the wider world beyond their own national boundaries. They are linked by the ideals of independence and of the integration of design into the whole business of publishing.

Publisher profiles

Editorial Gustavo Gili, Barcelona

Gustavo Gili Roig established the family firm of Editorial Gustavo Gili SA in 1902 with an eclectic and very personal publishing programme. The first titles dealt with subjects as diverse as religion, science, industry, literature, and interior design. In 1940, Gustavo Gili Esteve took control of the firm and began to specialize in the publication of German books in translation. Also at this time, the company began to publish books on fine art. In the 1960s the firm passed into the hands of the third generation of the family, and it was then that architecture and design titles began to take precedence. Again, the emphasis was on translation into Spanish of key texts on the history of architecture. These books, still in print, include works by Robert Venturi, Christian Norberg-Schulz, Colin Rowe and Leonardo Benevolo. A series of books on graphic design was developed by Yves Zimmerman in the 1970s, bringing to the Spanish market classic texts by Otl Aicher, Emil Ruder, Josef Müller-Brockmann, and others. Technical manuals, both in translations from the English or German and in the original Spanish, complete the core of the backlist. It is this part of the list that makes possible the financial risk-taking with contemporary material and has afforded both editorial independence and the opportunity for developing GG’s publishing programme. The sales from approximately fifty strong backlist titles allow for the more modest sales of other works.

Much of what is published today by the fourth generation of the family-run firm is still done within the framework of a series. Monica Gili sees the Spanish market as particularly responsive to this regularity in publishing, and so the books produced often fall into one of the several series already in development. While the structure of the series can certainly impose constraints on the designer, as a tool for the marketing of new titles it has proved successful.
The books are often now published with separate English-language editions after repeated unsatisfactory experiences with selling of rights. By the 1980s the English-language list had become strong enough to warrant its own catalogue. The Spanish/English monographic revue 2G, provides GG with a greater presence in the international market with subjects ranging from the houses of Schindler to contemporary building in the Swiss Alps. Like the other independent publishers profiled here, GG produces its titles in English as a way of retaining the identity of its imprint in the world market.

The firm employs approximately thirty people, including warehouse staff (GG handles all distribution and order fulfilment themselves). While the design of promotional material is done in-house, book projects originated by GG are usually given to outside designers, with the featured architect sometimes playing an active part.

Verlag Niggli, Sulgen

The imprint was founded by Arthur Niggli in 1950. Working from Teufen, in the east of Switzerland, Niggli specialized in architecture and art, publishing books on the European modern masters (Gropius, Le Corbusier, Nervi, Klee, Kandinsky, and many others). Also, from the later 1950s, he published the key works of the then very influential Swiss graphic designers. Among these books were Karl Gerstner and Markus Kutter’s Die neue Graphik (1959), Josef Müller-Brockmann’s Gestaltungsprobleme des Grafikers (1961), Armin Hofmann’s Methodik der Form- und Bildgestaltung (1965), and Emil Rude’s Typographie (1967).

By the early 1980s, when Arthur Niggli retired from publishing, the firm’s backlist was established. But Niggli had also begun to publish works on the local culture of East Switzerland, and the sense of innovation and internationalism of the first twenty years had been lost. Ownership passed into other hands and the imprint was then continued from nearby Heiden. In 1992 the publishing house was bought by its present owner, the printer Viktor Heer, and its present revival was started. This programme began to be developed in earnest when in 1995 the art and architectural historian J. Christoph Bürkle came to work at Niggli as editorial director. He had been (and continues as) an editor of Archithese – which was printed by Heer Druck and is now published by Niggli. Through his connections as writer and editor, Bürkle has introduced a flow of new titles to Niggli.

The special emphases of the first Niggli imprint continue, and the subjects are still mostly Swiss. They have included especially architects of what is now the ‘middle generation’, notably the monographs on Gigon & Guyer and Morger & Degelo. Books on heroic modernist and earlier architecture continue to appear. Niggli’s revived graphic design list is a strong one. Some of the classic titles have been kept in print. In the case of Ruder’s Typographie, this has been done with regenerated text setting and images. Books by Hans Rudolf Bosshard have been important additions, especially his Der typografische Raster and the magisterial Technische Grundlagen zur Satzherstellung. Bosshard also played a major part, as writer and designer, in the monograph Max Bill: Typografie, Reklame, Buchgestaltung.

Niggli Verlag now publishes around fifteen titles a year, produced by a small staff of five people, each of whom does other work. The books are designed out-of-house but printed in-house by Heer Druck. This marriage of printing and publishing on one site is an ancient one; other contemporary examples would include Hatje-Cantz and Verlag Hermann Schmidt, both in Germany. The printing business helps to fund the publishing, and a special intimacy between editing and production can be achieved.

Architectural Association, London

The AA School of Architecture is unique among architectural schools in its commitment to publishing books, and it operates very much in the spirit of the other independent publishers profiled here. All of the material it publishes is generated from within the school, starting life as exhibitions, conferences, or teaching projects. The books are edited and often also designed by its in-house publications department. Though the AA has a long history of publishing journals and occasional documentations of student work, its activity as a book publisher really started under the chairmanship of Alvin Boyarsky (1971–90). With the renovation of the school’s building in 1979–80 a public exhibition space was created, and with the exhibitions came catalogues, often introducing previously undiscussed work and becoming items of lasting value. The publications also became ambassadors for the AA, helping to spread the reputation of the school and bring in students from abroad.

Alvin Boyarsky certainly had the publishing impulse, and works of all kinds began to appear. Especially in series such as the ‘Boxes’ (of loose sheets), ‘Folios’ (also with loose sheets) and ‘Megas’ (large format books), the publications stayed firmly out of the field of normal trade publishing, tending toward the artist’s book – limited-edition publishing of cult architects, for example, Libeskind, Eisenman, Hadid, Tschumi – though a distinction of these productions was to be ahead of the field. Alongside these inner-circle productions there were monographs on then-unfashionable figures or topics (Lewerentz, Kiesler, Goldfinger, airships, the Italian colonie). Boyarsky also initiated AA Files (from 1981), a serious journal of architecture that could also act as a trial ground for development of material into book form.

Following Alvin Boyarsky’s death in 1990, Alan Balfour was appointed chairman of the school; publications continued, but at a much reduced pace. When, in 1995, Mohsen Mostafavi took over the chairmanship, the programme of publication began to quicken and showed a change of direction. Emphasis was shifted away from the small-press flavour of the Boyarsky years and moved toward a greater sense of ‘trade publishing’. Though the design of the books remains apart from that of large-scale publishing and each book is quite intensively considered as a separate title, there are now no limited editions, fewer outsize formats. New series have been started, among them ‘AA Documents’, ‘Current Practices’, and ‘Architecture Landscape Urbanism’. Urbanism features strongly in recent books, and there are correspondingly fewer monographs on individual architects. Among notable titles has been Robin Evans’s Translations from drawing to building (1997). While the AA pursues this more generalist path, it resists offers of assistance or incorporation from established trade publishers.

At present there are six to eight people associated with AA Publications, including designers who work on the whole range of printed matter that the school produces, though sometimes outside designers are commissioned to work on the publications. Around ten titles are published each year, in a schedule that is co-ordinated with the school’s exhibition and teaching programme.

Lars Müller, Baden

The first publishing venture for this Norwegian-born publisher living and working in Switzerland was Die gute Form, the catalogue of an exhibition held in Zurich in 1983. It was done with all the optimistic idealism of the new publisher, but with too many copies printed it was not a financial success. Nearly twenty years on, there are still unsold copies of Die gute Form. When Lars Müller went on to publish a German-language edition of Ian Carr’s biography of Miles Davis, he got the numbers right, and the edition sold out quickly. Since then he has concentrated on graphic design, typography, architecture, photography, visual perception, and product design. The list is eclectic and, like many independent publishers, Müller’s book production serves as an extension of his commitment to subject and content, and to preserving and documenting current ideas and recent histories. As the Gute Form catalogue suggests, he was early in investigating the recent, post-1945 history of modernism as well as its ‘heroic period’ between the wars (notably with reprints of avant-garde publications). Here inspiration had come in 1981, the year in which he worked with Wim Crouwel at Total Design in Amsterdam. He began to understand the need to document visual culture and history. The Dutch habit of taking seriously its own recent cultural development spurred Müller, returning to Switzerland, to investigate and disseminate slices of the visual-cultural history of his adopted country.

The office of Lars Müller Publisher / Lars Müller Integral (the graphic design business that helps to maintain the publishing operation) now employs between six and nine people. With the exception of certain titles on graphic designers – for example, those on and by Ruedi Bauer, Niklaus Troxler, Wolfgang Weingart, and Keith Godard – the books are designed by Müller and his assistants. He is involved in every step of publishing, from conception, through design and production, to marketing and distribution. While this degree of personal control brings great freedoms, the design is done with rigour. Limitations are self-imposed. As he says, ’simply because a designer has the means and the freedom to “do more” does not mean that he should “do more” ’. It is in doing too much that many books fail as books, succeeding only as promotional material for their designers.

One example of this notion of constraint is the use of a of 24 × 16.5 cm format for many of the titles published by the company. An economic use of a standard size of printing sheet, it also accommodates the third dimension with a certain grace. The dozen or so titles that now use this format range in length between 96 and 528 pages. Müller points out that the format will never make for an ‘elegant’ book. But what it lacks in sophistication it gains in flexibility and portability, disproving the old assumption that visual books must have a large page area. Müller refers to these books, not exactly monographs or simple histories, as ‘visual readers’.

The standard format may be one element of Lars Müller’s Swiss rationalism. A second sign of this comes with the unofficial house typeface, Helvetica, used in catalogues and frequently in books too. Much reviled in certain typographic circles, Helvetica will be the subject of a book, long in the making, that Müller plans to publish this year.

In addition to self-generated projects, Müller is involved in co-publishing catalogues and exhibition-related books with a number of museums. Including such collaborations, the firm has a self-imposed production limit of fifteen titles per year. While the list includes titles in German only along with multi-language publications, there is an increasing presence of English-only books. Like so many of his European publisher colleagues, he never sells foreign rights for these titles.

010 Publishers, Rotterdam

The firm was founded in 1983 by Hans Oldewarris and Peter de Winter, who came from architectural and urban planning backgrounds, respectively. At first the output was quite varied, including a number of books published on behalf of other companies or institutions and some bought-in titles. Another notable feature of the early years was a series of architectural models of classic modern buildings. For a time it also distributed AA Publications in the Netherlands. But 010 has always been firmly rooted in the architecture and design scene in the Netherlands. It publishes in Dutch and English, as appropriate to the titles, and sometimes in Dutch only; if successful, this is then followed with an English edition. Dual-language editions are now avoided wherever possible. While 010 has no other business with which to fund the work of publication, like so many publishers in the Netherlands it does rely quite heavily on the system of subsidy from foundations and government sources that is such a strong a feature of Dutch society. This encourages a focus on local themes and on the work of Dutch architects and designers.

010 Publishers has been a pioneer in the role given to the book designer, always naming the designer in catalogue descriptions as well as in the books themselves. The firm chooses designers to suit the book and thus from across quite a wide spectrum of approaches: from the serene and spare work of Reynoud Homan (usually with books that are predominately pictorial in their material), through the engaged and agile approach of Piet Gerards (predominantly textual), to designers such as Rick Vermeulen and Gerard Hadders at the ‘wild’ extreme of a postmodern fascination with kitsch and Americana. Oldewarris speaks of the ‘ideal meeting’ of author (or subject) and designer at the halfway point of ‘50:50’. Then something good and unexpected can happen, as it cannot if either party is too dominant in the relationship. As co-publisher of Koolhaas and Mau’s S, M, L, XL_, 010 found itself on the crest of the ‘designer as co-creator’ wave, which it has taken further in some subsequent projects (_FARMAX most obviously). But it is a distinction of the firm that it continues on a broad front, with very solid contributions published alongside experimental or even ephemeral work.

Notable series have been the ‘Monographs of Dutch Architects’ (from 1989) and the compact ‘Guides to Modern Architecture’ (from 1987), which has books on Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the whole country, with a rogue volume on Moscow. A new series, ‘Graphic Design in the Netherlands’, got underway in 2000 with an Otto Treumann monograph. Books tend not to be kept in print, but Herman Hertzberger’s Lessons for students in architecture (1991) is the prime backlist bestseller. To date 010 has published about 430 books. The two founding partners now work with three other full-time editorial colleagues.

Actar, Barcelona

Actar – ‘activity’ plus ‘architecture’, as coined in 1931 by the architect and landscape designer Nicolau Maria Rubió i Tudurí­ in his manifesto of the same name – was founded by a group of architects, designers, and photographers in 1993, and it is both a graphic design firm and publishing house specializing mainly in architecture and design. As such, nearly all of the work on Actar’s own titles, including editing and design, is done in-house. The underlying vision for the work of the firm of twenty-five people is to publish new material by contemporary young practitioners, presenting ideas and projects as well as built works. Actar’s early beginnings with the architectural journal Quaderns fostered an international network of collaborators, mostly in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. While publishing the work of both Spanish and Catalan architects, the current list is certainly international in scope. As with many other independent European publishers, Actar strives to maintain its position in the field of architecture and design not only by retaining control over production, including that of English- and French-language editions, but also over distribution. The rights for English-language titles are rarely sold to other publishers, though when co-publication arrangements were made in the past, they were with Birkhäuser, the Swiss multi-language publisher, rather than with an American or British imprint.

Actar publishes between twenty and twenty-five titles each year, and, while maintaining its commitment to the field of architecture, art, and photography, there is a steadily increasing interest in graphic design. Actar’s Albert Ferré considers this a natural progression, since architects and graphic designers now work in a similar manner on computers and often use the same software. The first title from Actar on the Dutch architects MVRDV was designed in-house by Ramon Prat, but the second, Costa Iberica, was done by the architects themselves. Further books in an ongoing initiative to publish new projects by MVRDV will also be the designed by the architectural firm rather than the publisher.

In addition to its self-generated books, Actar is involved in collaborations with institutions that share the same goals of the dissemination of information on contemporary art and architecture. The most notable product of this collaboration is Mutations by Rem Koolhaas and the Harvard Project on the City published in three separate-language editions with Arc-en-rêve in Bordeaux. In other fields, Actar also distributes books, including Photography in print 1919—1939, for the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and the graphic design magazine Dot Dot Dot.

Actar’s most recent venture, the ‘boogazine’ Verb, is the attempt to create a new forum that will have the permanence and authority of a book combined with the energy and spontaneity of the periodical. In its hybrid form, it serves as a vehicle for examining an architectural project or work in progress in detail. In many ways Verb illustrates the vision of this firm through its commitment to current work and experimental design initiatives, becoming a laboratory for experimentation in the presentation of architectural design and thinking that might later find extended form in a book. Several principals within Actar worked together on the journal Quaderns, during which time their characteristic design style was worked out, an earlier instance of the possibilities for experimentation and resolution through practice.

Linda Eerme & Robin Kinross / 2002.05.22