Some monographs are published as intellectual exercises, to engage the curious would-be architect. Others grace coffee tables and can help while away an empty afternoon. Many aid architects in getting more work. And for all the ways that a reader can look at a monograph, there are just as many ways for an architect to get one published.
So who gets a monograph? Sometimes the path to publication is surprising—and that's exactly the point. Many architects aim for a boutique publisher like Monacelli Press, a New York City imprint that was started 14 years ago in a SoHo basement and currently has offices overlooking Norman Foster's Hearst Tower (in case the staff ever forget about the sweeping power of architecture in their day-to-day bookmaking). Now owned by Random House, Monacelli was the publisher that issued Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau's S,M,L,XL , the seminal 1997 monograph that, editorial director Andrea Monfried says, “everyone wants to do the new version of.” That's a tough call, but she points out that what S,M,L,XL's creators did is crucial: They thought holistically about the relation of the book to what it describes.
“There are so many different ways of organizing the book—from the structure to the table of contents—that for every architect, there has to be some relation to the way they practice,” Monfried says. Monacelli's 2000 Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects monograph, named for the fluid relationship the two principals see between Work/Life , is a perfect example. “The trick,” Monfried says, “is to get your personality to come through.”
Practically, it's a matter of the basics. The editorial group at Monacelli will figure out the book's specifications—the number of pages, number of photographs, print run, and so forth—and get an estimate from the printers. “We do feel that each book has to carry its own weight in the marketplace,” Monfried explains. If it can't? “We adjust as necessary.”
Some publishers, like Images, based in Australia, get around the market-driven publishing game by offering an entirely different service. For a fee (often hidden in what's called a “buy-back agreement,” in which the architect agrees to purchase a certain number of copies), Images will take a group of files and turn them into a book. It might sound excessively businesslike, but if you consider a monograph's role in publicizing a firm's work, it makes a lot of sense. “A book carries a lot more weight than the simple brochures we all hand out,” says Laura Cabo, a principal at the Boston firm Gund Partnership, which just published a monograph with Images. “There's something so special about a hardback that just makes your work seem very precious.” Images distributes its books globally.
Rizzoli, a venerable publisher that puts out monographs by starchitects like Zaha Hadid and Richard Meier, is more in line with Monacelli in its market-driven model. Hadid and Meier might seem like safe bets, but editor Dung Ngo says that Rizzoli has “always tried to support architectural books of all stripes.”
Rizzoli's differently striped books include Peter Eisenman's ultradense Ten Canonical Buildings 1950– 2000, which isn't exactly beach reading. “We have to [honor] our responsibility to bring such books out,” Ngo says. If a book like that doesn't support itself, Rizzoli hopes to pick up the slack somewhere else, like with a Frank Lloyd Wright book (and how many architecture students can say they own about 15 copies from well-meaning family members?). “We're a little more nimble” because safe books can offset riskier ones, says Ngo.
The most nimble book publisher on the block these days might be Princeton Architectural Press, which is associated with the younger, hipper side of the profession. One way PAPress finds under-the-radar designers is through its connection to the Architectural League's Young Architects program. The other? “We start looking really, really early,” acquisitions editor Nancy Eklund Later says, citing a recent KieranTimberlake Associates monograph as an example of a before-its-time adoption. “We look at a body of work, and the editorial staff translates that into a book in our heads,” is how she explains the selection process, which comes both from in-house recommendations and architects who approach them. “It's a lot of gut.”