BOOK CLUB: An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures Without Architecture
Sitting somewhere between sourcebook and picturebook, An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures Without Architecture by New York based-MOS Architects represents an endearing combination of novelty and follow-through. The publication presents numerous individuals cut-and-pasted from a vast archive of architectural collages and drawings, compiled in a lavish tome adorned with gilded edges and thumb indentations. Some of the figures stand alone or in the company of others, like the cartoons by Léon Krier featured on the book’s covers, while others are accompanied by various props like a silhouetted groom leading a horse in an entry by Luis Barragan, or a bereted artist at an easel painting a vase of flowers, taken from a perspective sketch of the De Kunstlinie Theater and Cultural Center (1998) by SANAA. At 7.5 pounds, and almost 3 inches thick, the book is an exhaustive and exhausting work including entries by historical heavyweights like Palladio and Borromini alongside contemporary practices including Tatiana Bilbao, Go Hasegawa, and Office KGDVS. Packed full of so many examples, it’s hard not to think of both the massive body of architectural work this collection represents and the tedious labor involved in assembling this collection.
Today’s Encyclopedia grew out of MOS’s contribution to the 2016 Istanbul Design Biennial (themed around the question “Are We Human?”) where a limited-run first edition of the book was accompanied by a room-sized interactive “selfie curtain” — printed with life-size figures from the collection with cutouts in place of arms and faces that invited visitors to stand in and pose for photos. The specimens presented in MOS’s collection, whose apparent functions oscillate between that of reference and prototype, illustrate the biennial’s thesis that, rather than serving humans, design’s real ambition is to redesign the human itself.
Assembled alphabetically, the juxtaposition of the figures also offers incidental revelations, indexing noteworthy practices from Alberti to Zumthor, as well as a history of representational mediums and reproduction techniques from intaglio prints and renderings in ink and wash, to colorful vector graphics and digitally manipulated photographs. Across the volume’s 1,255 pages, colorful dots of enlarged halftone patterns, pixelated compression artifacts, and organic blots of ink contrast with the sharp edges of the Photoshop masks used to liberate the figures from their habitats.
In spite of the apparent objectivity of its task, much of the collection’s appeal lies in the sense of intimacy it affords, which is partially a consequence of its subject matter and partially a result of foregrounding things that were not intended to be the focus of our attention. Stripped from their contexts and standing at attention, the figures become characters and tease insights into their creators’ psychology and approaches. Some function as projections of their authors’ ambitions or desires (oftentimes embarrassingly transparent avatars), others as strategic solutions to a routine problem (cursory scribbles and ink blots economically satisfying the minimum requirements for signification), some are treatises in technique, some are badly drawn, some stoically generic, some imbued with personality. Spanning 1,192 entries, 288 practices, and eight centuries, the Encyclopedia presents this idiosyncratic population, immersed in unseen worlds, and asking little more than to be looked at.
Text by Stephen Froese.
Taken from the upcoming PIN–UP 26 Spring Summer issue.
An Unfinished Encyclopedia of Scale Figures Without Architecture, edited by Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample, and MOS (MIT, 2019).