Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story edited by Blank Space
Blank Space Publishing, 2014
Paperback, 256 pages

The subtitle of this book, which collects the winners and runners-up from the more than 300 entries to the first Blank Space Fairy Tales Competition, is a telling one. "When architecture tells a story" means that the story is most important and secondary is architecture; the latter serves the former, in other words, not the other way around. But in a number of the "fairy tales" in the book, architecture actually serves architecture. Story is either an afterthought to architectural imagery or something that is confused with architectural theory; in the case of the latter, and without pointing out any offenders, at times I found myself growing tired of pronouncements about architecture, which should be elsewhere but not here. A fairy tale, like poetry or other forms of narrative, gains its power as much from what it doesn't say than what it does say; and what it says should be clear, not muddled with high-sounding prose. Statements can be made in various ways, and the fairy tale format provides one that should depart from the architect's normal way of stating things. I would recommend that entrants to the Fairy Tales II competition heed my advice and simplify – let the architecture serve the story and let the story be where your imagination goes.

[2013 First Prize: "Chapter Thirteen" by Kevin (Pang-Hsin) Wang and Nicholas J. O'Leary]

I should say that the above criticism does not apply to every tale in the book, as some of the stories held my interest and transported me to the places their authors envisioned. Here, it's important to point out the importance of the visuals that accompany each story; these are not text-only stories (God forbid, this is architecture, after all!). In most cases the illustrations are more effective than the writing, and the best tales find a way to balance the drawn and the written. Given the strong visuals throughout, I found myself wanting larger images on the page – heck, larger pages even. The fairly standard, 5.5x8.5" page size that seems to be the default in our age of digital printing is a detriment to the beautiful drawings and the time it took to create them. A drawing from the winning fairy tale, above, is a good illustration of this: the drawing is more than twice as big on my laptop screen as on the printed page. Perhaps Blank Space will consider a larger page size, or they will devote more real estate on the page to images rather than, well, blank space.

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