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Learning to Spectacle | DesignNotes by Michael Surtees

Learning to Spectacle

Architecture and Books: Spectacle

Tonight’s design lecture was sponsored by the Architectural League and the Municipal Art Society. I came into the talk tonight without knowing much about the new book Spectacle by David Rockwell with Bruce Mau. Sometimes a little ignorance goes a long way. No preconceived ideas nor expectations. Just a guy sitting in on the conversation.

The night started off with David talking about the influences of growing up in both New Jersey, going to theater and then moving to Mexico at a young age. Reflecting on not how things looked, but what they felt helped influence some of the theories behind the book. He then moved on to defining what the working meaning of “Spectacle” means for the book. The breakdown for the what they are included Big, Bold, Brief and the what they do contained Connect, Transform and Immerse. With each of those headings he broke into simple examples that were in the book. A short two minute movie of the examples followed.

The discussion followed with Chee asking if the book’s premise was an oxymoron. Design brings order to chaos, yet under the subject headings that are Spectacle it seemed as though it was about creating chaos. The quick response was that it was more about creating opportunities, planning for spontaneity. Bruce followed that up by talking about the culture of no, regardless of the emotional effect. As opposed to cutting things down, think about the possibility. Emotional connections become real experiences.

What was really interesting was what was written on the cover of the book. Spectacle, David Rockwell with Bruce Mau. I’ve never seen a designer of the book placed in the same sentence as the author. I asked them about the line afterwards. Was it conscious or did it just happen? With some laughter it seemed like they had spent a lot of time with exactly how that was going to be expressed. David then went on to say that “it was the right thing to do”. During the discussion Chee asked Bruce about how he worked to place 3 Dimensional experiences into a book. For him it was about a cinematical experience – a sequence, flavour of expressions.

As for the overall talk tonight, the three of them shot out a lot of good sound bytes. Enough that I was curious about the book itself. With a bit of salesmanship it was mentioned that the first run of the book was sold out and that they were lucky to have enough for sale tonight. I’m not sure if I totally believed it, but it sure made people pick up the book quickly.

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  • Litherland

    I’ve never seen a designer of the book placed in the same sentence as the author. I asked them about the line afterwards.

    I remember the issue being raised around the publication of S,M,L,XL.

    I was about to write that Mau is the only book designer I can think of who has managed to negotiate that billing, but a quick scan of my bookshelves turned up the following: The 48 Laws of Power (designed by Joost Elffers).

    I would love to know about other examples. This is the sort of question that Steven Heller could answer without missing a beat.

  • http://www.michaelsurtees.com Michael Surtees

    Around the publication of S,M,L,XL? Geeze that was published when I was living in Medicine Hat – actually don’t ask me about that. 48 Laws of Power – “Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s finance minister in the first years of his reign, was a generous man who loved lavish parties, pretty women, and poetry…” Sounds like a book that I should check out…

  • http://www.disegnostudio.com Christina

    I’ve been meaning to buy that book for a couple of years now. Thanks for the reminder Caren.

  • chris

    surely you must know – as an information designer – that Mau has other books and that the main launch of his career would be SMLXL. And that he was listed on the cover as author. he’s built his mystique around this.

    but what about the marshall mcluhan/quentin fiore collabs? a little investigation would demonstrate that mau has lifted most of his ideology from the few books they produced. and apologies for my first post on your blog being about this. as a fellow ex-pat in the US i’m a little sensitive to Mau and his proclivities…

    but all of that goes out the window with that beard. seriously – wtf???!!!!

  • http://www.michaelsurtees.com Michael Surtees

    Chris – Almost. The cover for S,M,L,XL denotes Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau. The new book says with Bruce Mau. Ok, it means pretty much the same thing. While I wasn’t consciously omitting Mau’s other books with architects it seemed interesting at the time of me writing the blog post that night. As for your mention of marshall mcluhan/quentin fiore, it is something that should be investigated more closely. But by who and what would it really accomplish in the end? I’ve heard murmurs of Mau borrowing other ideas so perhaps there’s something to what you’re suggesting.

    and thanks for the visit.

  • chris

    I have always thought it interesting that Mau is vaulted up to status of author (by himself and others), and whether that authorial role be graphic/text/image or some combination of all. I do think that he rebooted the conversation of what can/could/should be done with content and the responsibility that the designer has to simultaneoulsy respect and question that content. A good dissection of Mau and his ideas are necessary, I think… especially if he’s aligning himslef with the likes of Rockwell.