Kind of Boring
Actar Publishers, February 2021
Paperback | Page Size inches | 244 pages | English | ISBN: 9781948765138 | $34.95
Being boring (or boringness) has been one of the qualities of architecture an architect desperately tries to avoid. Not to provoke (or at least try to provoke) some reaction from one’s audience is to admit to a lack of ideas or an absence of creativity. In Kind of Boring, Paul Preissner rejects the idea that architecture should demand anything from its audience. The “boring and dumb” architecture documented in this book leaves us alone. In this way, the work of Paul Preissner Architects produces a conceptual space, a meaning independent of our relationship to the work; we can only understand (or misunderstand) it.
Kind of Boring looks at the origin of architectural ideas behind a work and the theoretical and practical consequences resulting from an architecture that prioritizes class politics through experimentation with formal practice. The book presents an alternative to contemporary architecture through a kind of work which embraces normalcy, and weird deviations from such, making a kind of architecture which explores basic form, anonymous history, and the effects of indifference and inattention to make the normal weird.
The book composes source material for the ideas behind the projects mixed with the projects themselves to present architecture in the same way it is understood (or misunderstood) in the world; within visual contexts. The projects are then offered for deeper review through their drawings and contributed essays, inquiring into an architecture which resists genre categorization, appreciates sloppiness in a field committed to precision, and makes room for intuition and less formal precedent. Through a lot of drawings, some essays, and many pictures, this book documents what happens when architecture stops begging for our attention and instead makes space for reflection.
Paul Preissner runs Paul Preissner Architects; a pretty good office located in Oak Park, Illinois. Along with Paul Andersen he is the commissioner and co-curator of the Pavilion of the United States at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia.
Boring is in. Or so it seems based on recently published architecture books that include Andrew Atwood's Not Interesting, Christian Parreno's Boredom, Architecture, and Spatial Experience (review forthcoming), and Paul Preissner's Kind of Boring. The last, obviously the topic of this commentary, has a subtitle (Canonical Work and Other Visible Things Meant to be Viewed as Architecture) that hints this monograph is also a manifesto — kind of.
The book starts with 56 pages of color photos and other images on glossy paper, ranging from architectural models and details of buildings to some of the most generic snapshots you'll ever find in an architecture book; e.g., a sandwich cut in half, sitting on a plate. The back of the book has 46 more pages of color images on glossy paper, and sandwiched in between — pun intended — are 130 pages of drawings and text, with green ink on pink matte paper.
If a cut sandwich on a plate is "meant to be viewed as architecture" (the layers of bread and filling do have the qualities of a building section, I guess) then the book itself, with its sandwich of papers, is also a work of architecture. I'll admit that after being perplexed by many of the images at the front and back of the book — it felt like a weird Instagram account arbitrarily lifted to the page — the book's own architectural structure redeemed it.
The roughly fifteen projects documented with drawings by Preissner and "text drawings" by Tim Kinsella are keyed to the color images through letter-number codes: A1, B2, etc. The more I looked at the projects, the more I learned what those color photos, renderings, and models were by flipping back and forth. Though not a project, a couple images that stood out from the rest turned out to be American Framing, the four-story wood-frame pavilion Preissner and Paul Anderson are building at the Venice Biennale. That project looks like fun, which is actually how I'd describe this book: kind of fun, but hardly boring.