File Under Architecture

Judge a Book by its Cover By: Lavanya Gunturi

Part 1:

The book I chose to check out was File Under Architecture by Herbert Muschamp. The book caught my eye on the self, because it looked more like a cardboard box than a book. Books that are fragile are usually stored within a custom box, so I assumed that the book was within the cardboard cover for protection. I was immensely surprised when I realized that the cardboard was the cover of the book, and could be opened like a regular cover. This made the book feel original, and honest.

The book’s binding was fraying and there was tan fabric tape over the binding. I thought the binding was held together using packaging tape. However, when I felt it, I could feel the fibers in the tape, leading me to assume that it was fabric.  I inferred it was bound originally with stiches and covered in tape in recent years to prevent the binding from coming apart. In places where the tape was coming apart, you could see the worn out stitches. The brown tape added to the ‘cardboard’ style of the book. The binding had the name of the book as well as the name of the author printed on it.

The book itself wasn’t inviting. It looked old and tired. The binding wasn’t the best and the entire book was brown. However, it invoked curiosity. I was interested to understand the reason why the book was made with cardboard as well as the content it held. The cover was simple. It had the outline of a rectangle with the title and author typed within the rectangle. The outline as well as the title and author were black in color. It was physically straight and well preserved. Even though it was written a long time ago, there were no bends in the cardboard. However, the cardboard has thinned, the fiber of the cardboard can be seen. The back cover has a long quote on the back by the author. He writes that he considers himself an architect – of books. He continues to explain why he considers himself an architect and why he likes to create book.

The size of the book was 6.7 by 9.7 inches. The book’s height was about 0.7 inches. When I held it in my hand, it felt light. The cover added the most weight. It weighed about two pounds. When I rifled through the pages, I could hear then ‘flutter.’ I could also hear the spine of the book crack as I opened it. Most of the pages were intact. As I got to the pages in the middle, some had come undone from the original binding. Some of the pages were crinkled, as if they were once wet and had dried out. They were thin, and some of the fibers within the parchment could be seen. When I knocked on the book, it sounded like tapping on cardboard, however the sound wasn’t as hollow.

The book’s contents are Muschamp’s manifesto. The typography used in the book looks like it was printed using a typograph. The type’s size is probably with the range of 9 and 13 points. The main content has generous leading. Each column in about four and a half inches in length, with just enough room to have margin notes. Some of the margin notes have the same typographical style as the main content, however some are cursive, capitalized, bolded, underlined etc. While the main content in black ink, the margin notes are a dark brown with a reddish tint.  Each page has page numbers at the bottom left. There is text on all pages, however, only some pages also have margin notes. In the very beginning of the book, Muschamp includes his sources for the quotes he uses in his manifesto. He underlines the source names.


Part 2:

Herbert Muschamp was a writer for the New York Times. His architectural reviews were personal, deep, and very critical. His original reviews made him one of the most influential architecture critics of his time. Muschamp wrote about how the right architectural designs can be inspiring. He drew on film, literature, and popular culture to write passionate review. He criticized the modern architects for being too arrogant.

I personally think that this book is in the collection because it is physically unique. It’s content also speaks to modern times, making its purpose timeless. The content with the boos can be controversial. He has a low opinion on architecture and calls it “worthless” on the very first page of the book.

When I was researching the manifesto only, no reviews or summaries came up. There was very little information about the content of the book. I had to read exerts from the book in the library to gain a better understanding of what the book was about. I started out by reading the very first page, which is the same quote he has printed on the back cover. He argues that architecture doesn’t last very long, and the old style architectural is long forgotten.

As he continues, he states that architectural history does not exist. He believes that “architecture is a record of its success as well as its failure as an end” and vise versa – making architectural history nonexistent. As I read on, I understood why people found his work to be too wild. In one paragraph, he states “pyromania is the only pure form of architectural expression left” a quote which I could not decipher.

In most his manifesto, he writes about how the purpose of architecture has been reversed. Before it existed as a means to establish rational ordered patterns by which civilization could exist simply. Now architecture is chaotic, complex and uses sophisticated techniques that are not necessary. Rather than constructing civilization for the people of the world, its breaking down the culture.

After reading a couple of exerts and analyzing the book, I learned a lot about the time period, and the author. It was eye opening, and while I do not completely agree with all of Muschamp’s beliefs, I gained a new perspective into post-modern architecture. When comparing the content of the book with its physical appearance, the style made sense. The author was honest and passionate, worried that architecture has gotten too complicated. This is reflective in the book cover, which is simple, direct but genuine. I hope to explore the subject further to understand post-modern architecture and its effect on society.



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