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When shouting in italics isn't enough for this breathless, excitable book, it boldly screams. And when that's insufficient, it underlines it as well - and in red. It quickly becomes tiring. Every idea is WHAT WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! No point left unexclaimed.
As a character in a book, Bjarke Ingels is best when he's bigging-up himself. He does that bigtime. He's not the first architect to make great claims for his buildings and won't be the last but, just because "YES IS MORE" is a comic, we shouldn't assume it's all true. Or that it's a simple book designed to efficiently entertain and inform us.
Once past the cover page, we have foreplay as foreword. A double-page spread of Ludwig Mies speech-bubbling "Less is more" is followed by Robert Venturi with "Less is a bore", Philip Johnson with "I'm a whore", a shout-out to Remment Koolhaas ("more and more, more is more"), a nod to Barack Obama ("Yes we can!") and, finally, B.I. bringing this false sequence to the false conclusion of "Yes is more". This is no simple book. In the credits, B.I. is credited with "Text". Whether this is for writing, dictating, or approving the text we don't know, but between that text and us are three translators and eleven (!) text "editors". We can be sure that every image and word has been crafted and calculated to create the impression of sincerity. Enjoyably audacious visual puns and cheesy verbal ones strike the right tone between intelligence and informality. Too clever by half, this book is a sophisticated and hard-nosed marketing tool for a successful architecture and publicity machine. It is wrong to dismiss it.
Although this review is a book review and not an architectural one, with BIG, it's impossible to completely divorce the two as both buildings and book are exercises in brand-building. Nevertheless. Although some might see it as a plus, the comic book conceit leaves no place for plans or sections that make demands upon the reader by requiring curiosity and skill to interpret. Instead, relentless commentary not only tells you what to think about a model or a graphic, but how brilliant it is as well. B.I never lets you get a word in edgeways, let alone a question.
The book claims to present the complexities behind the designing of buildings in a simple and accessible fashion but book format forces a chronological sequence onto it and the comic book conceit adds a tempo to that. The messy process of designing buildings become linear and compressed. Those lines are direct, wrong choices never made, alternatives rarely explored, and fruitless paths only documented if it leads to a "WE SUDDENLY REALIZED THAT..." breakthrough moment before a happy ending. Despite pitfalls that are always overcome, the sequence of one inventive step after another invariably leads to THE SOLUTION! In true comic format, the hero always wins, even if sometimes it's only a pseudo-moral victory against villainous clients unforgivably lacking in vision and money.
But, for architects, disingenuous-ness is par for the course. If you believed Le Corbusier, for example, you'd think he invented concrete columns and slabs. If you believe the commentary for "Bureaucratic Beauty" on pages 128-135, you'd think BIG invented the use of daylight setbacks to maximize floor area and, in the process, sculpt the upper floors of buildings. This is presented in reverse, with the funny roofline being the raison d'etre and - quelle surprise - "THE CLIENT LIKED THE INCREASED NUMBER OF SQUARE METERS!" Fact: Entire neighborhoods in Tokyo have been shaped like this for decades, and for the same reasons. Never ever trust anything an architect says.
All you really need to know about BIG's USP-cum-architectural stance is contained in a 600-word essay upfront. Titled "Yes Is More! A Theory of Evolution", it's illustrated by Charles Darwin bubbling "it is not the strongest of the species that survives but the one most adaptable to change". For architects, there is a lot of truth in that. It was the end of the line for Louis Sullivan, for example, when he failed to understand that the owners of department stores and office buildings didn't want to waste money on ornament, no matter how "organic" he said it was. Just like every contemporary starchitect, BIG have correctly concluded that the only clients these days with the money, the land and the desire to build are rich rulers and property developers.
So why did BIG create an "archi-comic" for people like us, unlikely to commission them? It goes like this. "YES!" and "MORE!" are two things rich rulers and property developers love to hear. Rich rulers and property developers aren't known for their architectural judgment. All that rich rulers and property developers want architects to do is to create an image that generates some MEDIA NOISE and sprinkles the FAIRYDUST OF FAME on their pet project or country. When the time comes for them to choose an architect, all they ask is "Who's big right now?" This book targeted at you, my friends, is part of that process.