So… finally! After more than a year in the works, the 20th issue of MAS Context, a special issue under the motto “Narrative”, is out. Talks about this issue started on October 2012, amidst the MAS Context: Analog event in Chicago that also featured the “Architectural Narratives” exhibition, originally intended to be called “Building Stories”, after Chris Ware’s eponymous magna opus –that is, until we found that Mr. Ware was opening an exhibition himself in the same city, on the same dates, and under the same title! In any case, the exhibition, which featured some works by Jimenez Lai and yours truly was accompanied by a text, also entitled “Architectural Narratives”, which dealt with the varying relationships that architecture and graphic narratives have maintained throughout the years. Happy with our previous collaborations in Ownership and Communication, Iker Gil, chief editor of MAS Context, suggested the possibility of expanding it into a whole issue of the magazine, and, after some hesitation (a whole two minutes), the ball was set rolling.
As the editor’s note points out (and I’m not going to put it in between quotation marks because I wrote it myself), Architecture and narrative, as Victor Hugo nostalgically pointed out, have walked hand in hand through history, crossing paths without really risking the extinction that the archdeacon of Notre-Dame gloomily predicted. Moreover, today, in a moment where the conjunction of the crisis and the entrance into a new stage in the communication era impulse the discipline into new, multiple directions, the narrative aspects of architecture come to the front, and comics are not alien to this. The last few years have seen an increasing enthusiasm within architecture on the possibilities of graphic narrative, both from a historical point of view, with a blossoming of either academic or informal studies on the exchanges between both disciplines, and from architectural practitioners. Even in a moment of digital explosion such as the one we are living, comics and graphic narrative are the new ‘cool’ in architectural schools (sorry), making it into architectural design courses, and showing up as a new fashion in architectural representation/communication. There we have, most notoriously, starchitecture’s enfant terrible Bjarke Ingels and his excessive (but still pretty well crafted) Yes Is More, which we discussed some time ago, but also Herzog&De Meuron’s MetroBasel, Wes Jones’ Beyond Dubai, Jean Nouvel’s Louisiana Manifesto, Neutelings&Robdeen’ European Patent Office at Leidschendam, Olivier Kugler & Fletcher Priest’s Freethinking, and a long etcetera. Even more interesting are those instances where the comic book form is used as a parallel research environment, prominently presented in the work of Jimenez Lai in Bureau Spectacular, but also by Studio CEBRA’s toons, or Leopold Lambert’s Lost in the Line.
Thus, MAS Context: Narrative(s) was set to offer just a glimpse of the phenomenon with no aim to exhaust the topic—even if some of the authors of the essays have built some rather encyclopedic works on it themselves- but wanting to offer a taste of the different faces that this interaction between architecture and graphic narrative presents. Within its overall theme, NARRATIVE tries to explore this issue from both sides of the of the line that separates these two disciplines, and is roughly divided into three big sections: the first one deals with the presence of graphic narrative in disciplinary architecture, both past and present, and includes the works of some architects who have used graphic narrative in their work, in one way or another. The other side would be covered, in the second section, by those comic book artists who have also crossed the border between disciplines, making forays into the built world. Finally, the third one, an addendum entitled in our drafts “Beyond the (Comic) page”, moves conceptually towards both sides of the spectrum, briefly covering the tangents with (implied) written narratives and emerging animation practices in architecture.
We have been so lucky as to being able to feature an impressive team of contributors, which includes legendary names both from the comic book and the architectural field, who have contributed with their works and their words: Originally entitled Narrative(s) or Narratives (although finally simplified for the sake of clarity) the issue features a combination of essays and, primarily, interviews, where these creators explain their works in their own words, therefore providing the readers with different narratives on the issue of (graphic) narrative. Thus, illustrating the role of comic book artists as architectural performers, we are proud to include interviews with comic legends François Schuiten, acclaimed author of the series Les Cités Obscures (along with co-writer Benoît Peeters), Joost Swarte, Dutch creator of the ligne claire (also in a literal sense), Marc-Antoine Mathieu, author the of mesmerizing series Julius Corentin Acquefacques, and two architects who crossed to the other side and stayed there: Italian architect-turned-comic book artist Manuele Fior, and Tom Kaczynski, artist and chief editor of independent publishing house Uncivilized Books.
On the other side of the spectrum, the magazine features an interview with Sir Peter Cook, who graciously answered our questions in his London office, on the making of ‘Amazing Archigram 4’ (the Zoom issue), as well as three stories by Wes Jones&Partners, Jimenez Lai, and Léopold Lambert (aka The Funambulist). And, in its last part, the issue closes with a conversation with Jonathan Gales, who sheds some light on the work of London-based office Factory Fifteen. Many thanks to all of them for their kindly collaboration, and also to the conductors of the interviews: Clara Olóriz, from the AA, who also made all arrangements to meet Mr. Cook, Léopold Lambert, who provided his knowledge of Borges, Kafka, and the French language, in the interview with Mr. Mathieu, Andrea Alberghini, author of Sequenze Urbane, La Metropoli nell Fumetto, who contributed his mastering of Italian and of Manuele Fior’s work, and both members of Barcelona-based publishing House DPR, Ethel Baraona Pohl, and Cesar Reyes Nájera, who took some time off their extremely busy schedule to interview the equally busy members of Factory Fifteen. A very special thanks must go to cultural anthropologist Mélanie van der Hoorn, author of the monumental “Bricks and Balloons – Architecture in Comic Strip Form”, who shared with us her extensive research in the form of not just one, but three articles. Last, but not least, we have to thank Chris Ware for putting the icing on the cake by sending us a drawing from his seminal Building Stories for the cover of the issue, masterfully designed by Renata Graw, from Plural -thus replacing my own rather banal design, which you can enjoy (irony, yes) below.
Jones and Partners
Also below you can check the table of contents of the issue, which are fully accessible via MAS Context’s Page, or downloadable in .pdf. Also, MAS Context will be printing a limited edition of the magazine, so if you want a hard copy of it, you’d better be fast in contacting them.
MAS Context: Narrative, Winter 2013, with contributions by Andrea Alberghini, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Sir Peter Cook, Manuele Fior, Factory Fifteen, Iker Gil, Jones, Partners: Architecture, Tom Kaczynski, Jimenez Lai, Klaus, Léopold Lambert, Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Clara Olóriz Sanjuán, Cesar Reyes Nájera, François Schuiten, Joost Swarte, Mélanie van der Hoorn, and Chris Ware.
Edited by Iker Gil (Chief editor). Guest editors: Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana, Klaus.