Building Subjects

Building Subjects
De Peter Yi, Nancy P. Lin, Renata Graw, Jeremiah Chiu
Standpunkte, 2019

Paperback | 6 x 9 inches | 175 pages | English | ISBN: 978-3952457719 | 30 CHF

Publisher's Description:
Building Subjects, the fourth issue of Standpunkte Magazine, is a collaboration between the architect De Peter Yi, the art historian Nancy P. Lin, and the graphic design studios Normal and Some All None. The publication revolves around collective housing in China, an architectural challenge expressive of the country’s ongoing negotiations between its rich history and undetermined future. The study combines typological research with the modes of the architectural manifesto by establishing an exchange between culturalhistorical observations, the consideration of contemporary socioeconomic pressures, and evolving architectural aspirations. Through a close reading of spaces from monumental utopian communes in Beijing to round earthen dwellings in the Fujian province, Building Subjects stages collective housing as a key to residential architecture in China. The publication is simultaneously inward and outward looking, and this duality is also reflected in its meticulously composed layout: documentary photography and detailed axonometric drawings are juxtaposed to establish a correspondence between old and new, between reality and projection. By means of a close reading of basic architectural form—spanning from the early eighteenth century to the present—the authors not only offer insight into a previously under-documented category of buildings, and reflect on their relevance for our understanding of collective space in conversation with Chinese architects Li Hu and Meng Yan, but they also provide a template for a new way of approaching architecture.
dDAB Commentary:
As the description above makes clear, Building Subjects is a collaboration between an architect, an art historian, and two graphic design studios. Surely the first two are responsible for the content — the drawings, photographs, and text (descriptions and interviews) — while the two graphic design studios are responsible for the book's unique format: a landscape-format book in a portrait-format package. The content and design could be seen as a single entity coming out of the collaboration, but it's the design that comes to fore, particularly in the way it makes the book very special and maybe even draws attention to a subject that might go overlooked otherwise.

As the table of contents in the first spread below reveals, the book is fairly compact. It explores four types of housing, two traditional (Tulou and Lilong), one from last century (Urban Commune), and one a specific building (Urban Tulou) completed about ten years ago, a building that shows how incorporating traditional typologies into contemporary development is possible — if difficult. Each type or project is described in brief chunks of text, b/w photographs, and axonometric drawings that use gold ink to highlight certain places in and around the buildings. This gold ink is reiterated in some of the text, most notably the two eight-page interviews; here the color makes reading the text tricky in the right — or should I saw "wrong" — light. Otherwise the design is a delight.

The four spreads after the table of contents below start to explain how the landscape/portrait book design works. On the shelf, the book stands upright. But if one wants to lay the book flat and see a full spread, one needs to open it beyond the first fold, to the landscape format, in which four numbered pages sit side by side. With my small photo setup at home, my camera couldn't capture all four pages, but hopefully the design is still clearly presented here. The last piece is the wallpaper-like cover, another distinctive element that makes the whole book a standout — even if it doesn't literally stick out beyond other books on the shelf.

Author Bio:
De Peter Yi is an architectural designer currently practicing with Studio Gang in Chicago. Nancy P. Lin studies modern and contemporary Chinese art and architecture. Renata Graw is part of Normal, a collaborative, multi-disciplinary design practice based out of Chicago. Jeremiah Chiu is a Los Angeles-based artist, musician, and graphic designer.
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