YES IS MORE or Less [Zoom!/zzzzrrtt!/thud!/blaam! – me not] – Klaus in CLOG Magazine 01

I rarely publish articles under Klaus’s name (I have a whole different personality just for that). However, when Kyle May approached me in order to collaborate with a short review (a sketch of an article rather than a long text) on BIG´s “Yes Is More”  in the debut issue of Clog Magazine, it seemed most appropriate.

Clog aims, according to its editors, at slowing things down, with each issue exploring “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen.” The first issue, focused on Bjarke Ingels Group, gathers together a sort of critical aleph, showing a cloud of different glimpses/glances from an extensive list of contributors, including Michael Abrahamson, Iwan Baan, E. Sean Bailey, Greg Barton and Michael Keller, Aleksandr Bierig, Janine Biunno, Gabrielle Brainard, Greg Broerman, Sean Burkholder, John Cantwell, Dan Clark, Justin Davidson, Obinna Elechi, Fake Design, Graffitilab, Rúnar Halldórsson, Jonathan Hanahan, Han Hsi Ho, Julia van den Hout, Karrie Jacobs, KiBiSi, Klaus, Jonathan Kurtz, Alexandra Lange, Kyle May, Stephen Melville, Michel Onfray (translated by Charlotte van den Hout), Carol Patterson, Ethan Pomerance, Jacob Reidel, Team JiYo, Erandi de Silva, Bernd Upmeyer, Oliver Wainwright, Human Wu, Sung Goo Yang and Ying Zhou.

Along with the official launch in October 1, 2011, Clog will feature a tête à tête with Bjarke Ingels in the Storefront for Art & Architecture on October 7. For further details, check CLOG’s website. Find my few scribbled lines below.  A full version with images here.

Click to read

You can find a short preview (it used to be longer) of Yes is More at Taschen’s site here. A useful introductory analysis of the book by John Hill can be found here, and a review of Clog here.

Also: A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. Baunetz.de uploaded some images of Clog: Big, in their blog here, including one of Yes is More or Less.

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Clog: BIG. Online press, blogs, tweets, social media, and other digital forums have drastically increased the speed at which architectural imagery is distributed and consumed today. While an unprecedented amount of work is available to the public, the lifespan of any single design or topic has been reduced in the profession’s collective consciousness to a week, an afternoon, a single post – an endlessly changing architecture du jour. In the deluge, excellent projects receive the same fleeting attention as mediocre ones. Meanwhile, mere exposure has taken the place of thoughtful engagement, not to mention a substantial discussion. CLOG slows things down. Each issue explores, from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen. 
Clog: Big is edited by: Kyle May (Editor-in-Chief), Julia van den Hout, Jacob Reidel, Human Wu, The Office of PlayLab, Inc. (Design)
16 comments
  1. biri said:

    very interesting, klaus.
    i really liked bjarke ingels’ “yes is more”: the guy knows what a comic is.
    i always wanted to put on “paper” my thoughts about the book, but i’m too slow and lazy and (strangely) in the last twelve months i’ve been really busy [but i still practise star(ve)chitecture, of course].😉
    i was also very curious about clog.
    maybe it was just that RED. but now that i glimpse what’s in there, i can say i’m quite excited.

    • klaustoon said:

      Thanks, Biri. Well, don´t be too hard on yourself. After all, this short article only happened due to external insistence. If it had been up to me, it would be several thousand words long – and still remain unfinished. As for slow and lazy, you only need to take a casual look at this blog and see the posting cadence and the total absence of any posts during the three months of Summer to get rid of any unproductionism-induced guilt. And you wrote a book, too! (http://www.unilibro.it/find_buy/Scheda/libreria/autore-alberghini_andrea/sku-12318092/sequenze_urbane_la_metropoli_nel_fumetto_.htm)

      That said, I have to admit that even if these little exercises kind of catch me on the wrong foot at the beginning, once I start they flow really fast, and it´s frankly exhilarating to see something done so fast. Even the constraints help going down to the point, which is somehow refreshing when you´re used to stretch your arguments throughout endless pages. But I digress…

      Getting back to BIG , I have to admit that I´m more interested on him/them as a phenomenon than as architectural designers. And this could be extended to Yes is More. I find it interesting that it has been produced, and also that architects are so fascinated by it, because there’s really nothing really new in there, from the point of view of graphic narrative, and -I’d say- even from architectural representation. Actually, the book is really conservative in its use of representational codes, narrative and imagery. So at first I found it really surprising that people in the profession saw it as a grounbreaking effort.

      But then, thinking it round and going through its -endless- pages (I read it with the sole purpose of writing the article) I realised that its value was really due to its adequate, by-the-book use of comics conventions, which is something we rarely see in the efforts done by architects to present their projects (or anything else, for that matter) in comic form. Don’t get me wrong: I love Warren Chalk’s Space Probe! from 1964, but the reason why he could get away with it , and turn into a montage something that was fundamentally a collage was the fact that, save for the occasional Liechtenstein picture, he used exclussively images from comics – and just from a very few of them.

      Yes is More shows an understanding of this very simple fact: a comic book is not just a collage (let’s not get smartass-ly demagogic here), and takes advantage of choosing a few, efficient strategies to construct its narrative.

      • biri said:

        well, thank you for the kind words and encouragement.

        that said, i totally agree with your point of view.
        i didn’t know “yes is more” had such an impact on the “architect’s community”: i live in a small, very conservative place and i doubt anyone on the local board of architects bothers or even knows about the book.
        that said, thinking that some people found it “groundbreaking” makes me smile.
        probably it’s just because it’s unusual and/or “cool”.
        what makes it really special (in my humble opinion) is the knowing use of the comic vocabulary. bjarke ingels is well aware of what he’s doing here. he knows how things have to be done. it’s not a mask. it’s not a fake. this is a real comic.
        of course he’s “simply” acting as the scott mccloud of his personal “understanding BIG”. the bolt is replaced by the baloon, and he uses materials “at hand” in building a photostory (sort of).
        “but” he’s doing his job very, very well.

        p.s.
        i’m sorry for my bad english… i hope that what i wrote above makes sense.

  2. klaustoon said:

    Yes, I guess that the impact of Yes is More has been possibly circumscribed to a certain corner of the architectural field, but the mirage of an extended public presence is sort of connatural to the internet era. In any case, the more or less unanimous appraisal of the book is there, in the multple reviews of it one can find floating around in the net. I think I´ll link a few more. It´s funny how comics are periodically discovered by discliplinary architecture, be it in the form of exhibitions about the portrayal either of architecture or cities in them, or, as is the case, in the ways graphic narrative can be used as a tool for architectural design/representation/research. The fact that such an unintellectualised (even if unquestionably well crafted) attempt such as Yes is More has been so universally (that again…) applauded speaks tons about the stage we are in the exploration of these peripheral tangencies between both fields.

    You’re right to bring in the presence of McCloud’s ghost behind the narrative of Yes is More. McCloud’s Understanding Comics springs immediately to mind when seeing Ingles’s ubiquity in the book, as well as for the breaking-of-the-fourth-wall approach that goes together with the expositional nature of the narrative. It;s funny, however, that in the case of Understanding comics this makes it sort of a meta-comic (an essay in comics form reflecting on the very nature of graphic narrative), while YIM couldn’t be a more straightforward use of the medium. But I’m sounding really repetitive here, I think.

    And don’t wory about your English. I think it sounds very nice against my pedantic writing.

    • biri said:

      oh, yes! YIS is totally straightforward in its use of the comics form. and i think this is the strenght of the book.
      it’s “simple” AND it’s catching.
      what really amazes me is the way existing materials (renderings, pictures, video stills) were arranged in an effective narrative sequence.
      that was very skillful, since i think very few of that material (bjarke/scott avatar apart) was done specifically for the book.
      and the narrative aspect is of utmost importance in catching the reader.
      YIS is not just a cool catalogue: it’s a convincing story.
      (i’m not referring to the content of the book in itself. i like you very much, guys, but you can’t simply sweep pollution under a wooden carpet – maybe i’m wrong, but it’s not that simple).

      • klaustoon said:

        Well, I very consciously stayed away from any criticism of BIG´s architectural production, since -thankfully- I was asked to write a review of YIM (when you wrote YIS, it is a typo, isn´t it? because if it means “Yes Is Sore”, then you’re way more cynical that I thought… :]). Also, there was a very limited space, so I stuck to the analysis of the book-as-a-comic, and did not enter the realm of architectural discussion, which would probably had led to a much more sour article.

        Going back to topic, and sort of trying to sum it up, I’d say that it shouldn’t be a surprise that YIM shows such an easiness in handling the linguistic -won’t go as far as saying “structural”, because that bears other implications- side of the medium. After all, it’s communication we’re talking about here, and I don’t think I’d spring much disagreement if I said that this is BIG’s (and by BIG I mean Bjarke Ingels himself) strongest point.

  3. klaustoon said:

    On those issues, btw, I’m looking forward to read the book that Melanie Van der Hoorn is writing on architectural design and comics.

    • biri said:

      thanks for the news: i didn’t know anything about this book, and of course now i’m looking forward to it too!

  4. biri said:

    i also didn’t want to take into account the content of the book.
    i’m not that critical about BIG’s architectural production as you are. i think projects like the vm houses or the mountain are well worth a closer look at, for example, expecially compared to the shameful depressing speculative overbuilding that plagues the territory i live in.
    but i’m well know for my indulgence (you were right: YIS was a typho!).

    getting back to the topic, it’s communication we’re talking about and i think bjarke ingels (like his old partner julien de smedt) is a born communicator. luckily his (true) knowledge of the medium makes YIM [🙂 ] an engaging reading: the narrative is flowing, the tale well built, words and pictures complementary and not redundant (that was a “BIG” risk).
    maybe the font inside the baloons is a bit too much “comics-like”; maybe the front cover refers more to robert rodriguez’s than frank miller’s sin city…
    but i think this little “mistakes” are deliberate, because the book’s target clearly is the general “BIG” public, the one that probably has just a casual knowledge of comics (or none at all).

  5. klaustoon said:

    Hm… “Yes is More” aimed at the BIG public. Well, that’s so rich in double meanings. I’ll resist the temptation to delve into sarcasm. But I agree with you. I hadn’t thought of the connection between YIM and other appropriations of comics from the (other) media, but that’s actually a very interesting point.

  6. biri said:

    well, as we both already pointed out in this discussion, YIM is undoubtedly a “comic”. take scott mccloud’s definition of comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader” and here you are.
    for us it may be self-evident, but for the general public it’s not that simple. people tend to think of comics as ink drawings with baloons. photostories are comics but are not perceived as such: comics are (in the present day, at least) “cool”; photostories are (still) “rubbish”.
    YIM is superficially more similar to a “photostory” than a “comic”.
    how to make it LOOK like a comic-comic, even if it already IS a comic-comic?
    take a look at the font inside the baloons. have you ever seen anything more “comic-ish”? (hope the word “comic-ish” makes sense!)
    and the interesting thing is that “adult” comics tend to use more and more fonts of a different kind, probably for exactly the opposite purpose.

  7. biri said:

    coming to BIG/sin city, it’s evident that the movie’s visual style inspired the image for the front cover of the book (just take a look at the ending of the opening episode “the customer is always right”).
    a direct reference to frank miller’s comics instead can be found in the inside pages: that “BIG CITY” so obviously inspired by the “BIG fat kill” and “sin CITY” logos (capitals are mine).
    and this is also interesting.
    because it’s the front cover that catches the eye in the bookstore.
    nowadays comics-inspired movies are succesful and lots of people talk about comics; but readers are less and less.

    to sum it up i think YIS is a succesful marriage between linguistic competence and marketing skill.

    • klaustoon said:

      So many interesting points here.

      The reference to photostories as a type is actually a good starting point to review YIM, especially since it´s not at all uncommon whithin the different attempts at the use of graphic narrative from the architectural field [If I recall correctly, Joseph Grima made some of those in the past – Am I right?], one that enters into relation with other uses of sequence and the cohabitation of words and pictures, such as in Enric Miralles’s latest works [HIS works, not all that came afterwards]. YIM escapes somehow the immediate association with photostories because of its conscious detachment from the soap-operistic approach that prevails in the medium/genre.

      Funny, though, that it’s precisely this one of the aspects I miss in the book. It reads very much like a conference with slides, with Ingels giving his speach looking at the audience while the slideshow plays on his side. Ther’s very little in YIM in the way of cinematic play: There are very few repetitions [alliterations or else], and very little play with the evolutions of the figures throughout the page. There’s also a very restricted use of humor in the shape of gags or sketches which the book, I think, would have greatly benefited from. Generally speaking, the book EXPLAINS the events rather than SHOWING them, and this takes it sometimes closer to an illustrated book -presence of balloons aside.

      As for the Sin City reference, I saw it when flipping through the book – The “Big City” double page is unmissable. I just didn’t give much thought [actually none] to its meaning in relation to the viewing public. I met Miller’s book at the time it was first published, and it’s so ingrained in my comic book reading history that I just didn’t think of it as a strategy of cultural identification.

  8. lexcurso said:

    I quite agree with your article, some references between architecture and comics are really good. Also, since you seem to be a good person, I guess that you decided to save the book/comic/flyer or whatever it should be called from burning. However, I’m not such a good person, seduced as a young chap by the dark side, so in my mind it burned regardless. There are many reasons for this, but the main remains the annoying fact that “yes is more” is always placed in the comics section (at least in the stores around me), and as a comic I find it absolutely reportable. As a not that interesting attempt at showing BIG´s architecture in a different way, even if it has been done before, I guess it´s not that bad, especially when his very architecture is very questionable (but I don´t want to enter this discussion here). I do think it succeeds in displaying their questionable architecture in a different way so as to make people notice him. Wello done, they get the attention. If they had done their showing in a typical architecture book, I doubt I would had read it.

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