Friday, October 04, 2019

New Investigations in Collective Form

New Investigations in Collective Form: The Open Workshop
Neeraj Bhatia (Editor)
Actar/CCA Architecture Books, June 2019

Hardcover | 8 x 8 inches | 192 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1948765169 | $39.95

Publisher Description:
New Investigations in Collective Form presents a group of design experiments by the design-research office The Open Workshop, that test how architecture can empower the diverse voices that make up the public realm and the environments in which they exist. More than fifty years have passed since the publication of Fumihiko Maki's seminal text, Investigations in Collective Form, which argued for collective form as an organizing device to address the increasingly fragmented city and public realm. Today, we continue to face urban challenges – from economic inequality to a progressively fragile natural environment – that, in order to be addressed, require us to come together in a moment when what we collectively value is increasingly difficult to locate. Working within the fluctuating and indeterminate conditions of the urban realm, its public sphere, and its ecological context, this publication examines how collectivity can be formed today.

With contributions by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Neeraj Bhatia, Peggy Deamer, Clare Lyster, Keith Krumwiede, Jenny Odell, Albert Pope, Rafi Segal, and Charles Waldheim.
dDAB Commentary:
The good: New Investigations in Collective Form has some of the most beautiful presentation drawings and renderings I've seen in a while. Documenting the work of The Open Workshop, led by Neeraj Bhatia, and accompanying a 2018 exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco, the book is crammed full of plans, sections, perspectives, diagrams, and other drawings. This is the case given that the studio has built very little (pavilions mainly, presented here with photos as well as drawings), has entered a number of competitions, and has produced — I'm guessing, it's hard to tell — other speculative projects. They're young, so this output makes sense and is hardly an issue. Impressively, Bhatia sees some big names in US architectural academia (listed above) contributing words on his studio's work. Ostensibly it's about collective form and was inspired by a 1964 book by Fumihiko Maki, Investigations in Collective Form (a PDF link of the hard-to-find book), but the projects can be appreciated for their beautiful media as well as their still relevant messages.

The bad: New Investigations in Collective Form should have a page size that is 25-50% larger. The highly detailed drawings that permeate the book — starting with amazing diagrams about the 2016 US presidential election and ending with plans of a house in Germany that I hope gets built — have such fine line weights and small text sizes that the 8x8" inch page size leaves some of the information hard to read or decipher. I carry around a small foldable magnifying glass, something I rarely get out when looking at books; here I needed it to read the text of the election diagrams (Places Journal even has built-in magnifiers for its online presentation of the diagrams!) and much of the text in projects elsewhere in the book. The magnifying glass also came in handy with seeing details of the drawings that have such a dense amount of information they come across more as mood than information when seen without it. Even though the images of The Open Workshop recall drawings by pre-digital architects from decades or even centuries ago (many hatch patterns even look like woodcuts), one side effect of working in digital environments this century is a loss of scale that comes from always being able to zoom in and see more information; that information gets lost or obscured when printed too small. So I wish Actar had printed this book at 10x10" or even 12x12", turning the drawings by Bhatia's studio into works of art — highly legible works of art.

Author Bio:
Neeraj Bhatia is an architect and urban designer from Toronto, Canada. His work resides at the intersection of politics, infrastructure and urbanism.
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