"Something about the size of that book is mysterious,” said Steven Holl, FAIA, as he set down Steven Holl: Scale, his latest collaboration with publisher Lars Müller.
Launched this past Sunday at Artbook @ MoMA PS1 in New York alongside Steven Holl: Color Light Time, another joint effort with Müller, Scale is a selection of projects that examines Holl’s attention to proportion. At the twin book launch, Holl and Müller discussed how making books is like making architecture—just at a different scale.
Analyzing how scale or the lack of it (“scalelessness” is Holl’s term) exists in architecture, Holl focused on the human scale. Light fixtures, door handles, the way a person uses a trowel to smooth a building’s concrete—these are all essential details to get a true sense of scale. Thinking in terms of scale simply means “to be conscious of scale,” he said. For example, he cited his Cité de l'Océan et du Surf Museum in France, where he “wanted to give the feeling of being under the sea.” To contrast the expanse of the museum’s courtyard with “the grand horizon of the ocean,” small pieces of Portuguese stone give a hand-scale to the space. These stones are about as big as the Scale book, he noted.
Scale follows 2002’s Written in Water, which collected 365 of approximately 10,000 watercolor paintings Holl has made in conceptualizing his work. “The watercolors are a straight-forward documentary of process,” Müller said. In Scale, he continued, “there is a micro-macro cosmos of Steven’s work in this one book.” Müller included photographs of buildings in Scale, contrasting Holl’s miniature watercolors with oversized photographs of buildings. “You find yourself flipping back and forth” between the two books, Müller said.
“Making a book with Lars is totally a collaboration,” Holl noted.
“We love to go for dinner and chat about whatever, and a book title pops up,” Müller said.
Scale’s companion book, Color Light Time, features illustrations as well as essays by architect Jordi Safont-Tria and professor and writer Sanford Kwinter. Holl contributes a third essay. When the discussion turned to the structure of the book itself, Müller explained that the binding, which he developed in close relationship with the binder, is meant to truly lay flat. “As Steven’s skills have evolved, so have mine in making books,” Müller said.
Their collaborations evolve over email and through PDFs, Müller says, but he likes to “see and feel Steven when we take decisions.” Process is of utmost importance in creating a book. “The process is as with making architecture,” Müller said, adding, to Holl, “Books always have stories, like your buildings have.”