Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review: MOS: Selected Works

MOS: Selected Works by Michael Meredith, Hilary Sample
Princeton Architectural Press, 2015
Hardcover, 288 pages

In early 2013, MOS Architects released their first book, Everything All at Once. Those eager for a full-blown monograph on the small yet highly inventive practice of Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample were probably disappointed, since, as the subtitle of that book attests, it comprised only the "Software, Videos, and Architecture of MOS." The architecture in that book was limited to temporary structures and pavilions, so buildings were missing alongside the software and videos. This meant a more traditional monograph would follow soon enough. While Selected Works can be seen as that missing piece, it's still far removed from a traditional monograph, which collects projects through photographs, drawings, models and descriptive text, putting them alongside an essay or two by outside critics. These ingredients are all here, but the way they are shaped and combined is wholly unique and just as satisfying as their first book.

A couple unique aspects are evident even before opening the book. First, the book is small for a monograph. MOS opted for a size closer to that of, say, a guidebook or a (slim) bible than a coffee table monograph. This lends some immediacy to the book, allowing it to be read while held rather than on a surface, be it a coffee table or desk; I started reading it on the train during my morning commute. Second, the S and W of Selected Works appear to be a bit odd; in fact they are, respectively, an upside-down S and M. Not just an effect for the cover, the inversion of these two letters occurs throughout the whole book. I noticed something was amiss when reading Sample's two-page introduction, but, given the human brain's capacity to gloss over oddities or right the wrongs when reading, the s's and w's do not distract. Perhaps this subtle typographical trick, which goes unmentioned, is the duo's way of subtly indoctrinating readers into their unconventional realm.

[Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample | Photo courtesy of MOS]

Moving on, the table of contents lists the buildings (no software or videos here) – not in the order they appear in the book, but by typology (Art Space, Community Center, Mixed Use, etc.). The projects are assembled in chronological order – or so I'm guessing, since no dates are given. So the table of contents guides people where to find certain pavilions or houses, while a browse through the book takes readers forward in time, revealing to them how themes and forms are repeated and reassembled. Each project is documented with (mainly full-bleed) photos, which works well with the small page size, one page of text in a pretty big font (maybe 100 words, tops), and drawings and models. Echoing MOS's website, these are not thorough presentations, but they do get across the basics of the projects and what makes them tick. Some projects are as short as two pages, while the longest is 24 pages.

Interspersed among the projects are occasional double-page spreads with far-from-glamorous photographs of MOS's New York studio: a row of desks and somebody napping on the floor; a cluttered desk with colored pencils, speakers and an issue of Detail; and another desk with foam and chip-board models heaped upon each other, the antithesis of the crowded yet orderly presentation of models in front of Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample, in the photo above.

Following the projects are three essays, the next and last ingredient in the Selected Works: "On MOS Making Holes" by Lucia Allais, which was published originally in 2010 on MOS's Afterparty installation at MoMA PS1; "MOS Practices ... What the !@#?" by John McMorrough, who is still trying to understand MOS's work in this, his third essay on the duo; and "Screenshot Aesthetic" by Matthew Allen, who theorizes on one medium of MOS's representations. These essays are fine, illuminating even (especially Allais's), but the inclusion of MOS's "Office Policy" is the real gem of the back matter.

Like an architectural manifesto written in legalese, the "Office Policy" expresses the simultaneous playfulness and seriousness of MOS. Cases in point: "Understanding that the gathering of new material is crucial to the success of the firm, you may be required to attend obscure and unpopular lectures in order to take notes or recordings that can be utilized in routine Office mash-ups. Collecting, on the verge of hoarding, is essential to the Office." and "You should aim to produce architecture which functions like a form of music that sounds right to some and like noise to others. The Office should be thought of as an experimental pop band." MOS, the Blonde Redhead of architecture.