Why Do Architects Wear Black? (2009) edited by Cordula Rau
Cloth, 228 pages
Architects wearing black is a stereotype on par with architects wearing black, plastic-frame spectacles. Most architects don't abide by these fashion recipes, but if somebody outside the profession comes across just one architect fitting the Corbusian mold then, alas, all architects must do the same. That Le Corbusier's and Philip Johnson's proclivities for a certain attire has trickled down to numerous enough architects to become a popular stereotype -- and not Frank Lloyd Wright's cane and pork pie hat -- is evidenced by this small book that asks architects, "Why do architects wear black?" Packaged in a small, sketchbook-size format are a hundred or so answers to that question, one response per spread with the original handwritten answer opposite the typed, translated text and the name of the architect, designer or draftsman. Spanning seven years, the answers reveal as much about the personalities as they do about the question itself.
The decision by Cordula Rau -- an "industry manager who left his white-blue, silver-shimmering world of car bodywork and dove into the pitch-black, mysterious world of architecture" and was asked that very question shortly after such leap -- to retain the handwritten responses is an important one. Not only does it reveal the answer in the original language (and in some instances revealing incorrect translation, even from English to English!), it lets the reader dapple in the realm of graphology, to see what the cursive, the composition, the white spaces, the messiness (or cleanliness) of the writing reveals about the architect. Only a few include doodles, surprising for a profession that uses drawings more than text to describe ideas. Many of the responses are simply one short sentence; in some cases they are only one word ("Green" in one case, "Fear" in another). Answers range from the enigmatic to straightforward, personal reasons for wearing or not wearing black. Certain strands of thought can be discovered while flipping through the book: black is a (non-)color that allows other colors to stand out, black is an easy choice, black is fashionable, black is tragic, that question is false.
Priced at just under thirty dollars, this is the kind of book that will be given to an architect, rather than purchased by one for his or herself. Many will get a kick out of how well-known architects (Peter Eisenman, Jaques Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, etc.) answer the question, though these aren't necessarily the most interesting. Thinking about the book's design -- its small size, cloth cover, ribbon bookmark, its sketchbook qualities -- I couldn't help but yearn for some blank pages at the end to add responses from famous architects I might come across. Oh, to stumble across Frank Gehry again, look him straight in the face and ask, "Why do architects wear black?"