Sep 14, 2012

Editing 'Tokyo and Utopias' in Berlin:

Further editorially constructing the future.


Sep 4, 2012

Wiel Arets: Autobiographical References

Role: Assistant Editor
Publisher: Birkhäuser, Basel
Design: Irma Boom, Amsterdam
Pages: 536 
Size: 15.3 x 20.5 cm
ISBN: 9783034608114












It was in March 2009 that Wiel Arets first mentioned a Mr. Robert McCarter to me, later revealed to be the “Ruth and Norman Moore Professor of Architecture” at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States of America. I had just begun at Wiel’s studio—tasked with overseeing production of the office’s new publications—and was quite eager to delve into the editorial process. But little did I know, it had already begun.

Wiel and Robert had first crossed paths in the early 1990s at Columbia University in New York City, later at the University of Florida, and more recently when the two met for dinner in the Oud Zuid neighborhood of Amsterdam. During dinner, as Wiel later informed me, their dialogue gave way to a proposal: Robert was interested in writing a new book on Wiel’s work. At the time, however, Wiel was concerned that he was too young for a monograph similar in format to those Robert had authored on Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn. The timing, and a traditional monograph, just didn’t seem right.

The art of research became solidified as a cornerstone of Wiel’s design and working method during his time at the AA, the Cooper Union, Columbia University, and the Berlage Institute. Wiel was only interested in conducting research for any new professorships he might take. And it was the prospect of conducting research with Robert on the topic of “A Wonderful World” that eventually lead Wiel to accept the “Ruth and Norman Moore Visiting Professorship” at Washington University in St. Louis, at Robert’s request.

Intensive immersion within Wiel’s studio and archives allowed me to uncover a treasure chest of immaculately produced books, all published on his work throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. What was missing though, in this series of titles, was a book on the life of Wiel Arets; one that went beyond simply presenting his work alongside essays, and instead offered the reader a complex layering of autobiographical references. As Wiel’s life story had yet to be editorially told, and as Robert had already been to the Netherlands numerous times to visit Wiel’s work, the foundations of what would eventually become Wiel Arets: Autobiographical References, seemed to be taking shape. And it was the combination of these factors that placed me in the unique situation to compile this book, together with Robert.

After setting aside time in his schedule for six separate visits to St. Louis—and one side trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to see Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum—dates for the spring 2010 studio were set, and Wiel’s trans-Atlantic flights were booked. The studio would be entitled “A Wonderful World: A New Map of the World,” in which graduate students were challenged to rethink and redesign the map of the world. At first the project might seem to be utopian in nature, but further explanation affirms it’s firmly rooted in the tangible world of today; “What’s most important,” states Wiel, “is the idea that everything within reach of a 72 minute flight belongs to our environment; this is the new commute, and everything within it we feel is part of our neighborhood. And in 288 minutes, less than five hours, we can fly to any metropolis in the world, and in this way, the world becomes our new metropolis.” Passenger flights that take humans around the world, in just a few hours, are certainly in the near future.

Robert and Wiel took the time to record hundreds of hours of one-on-one interviews, discussing Wiel’s life, work, and views on the world as they relate to architecture and design. Also recorded were the lectures of Wiel, in-studio debates, final presentations, guest-jury sessions, and student interviews. In March 2010 Robert and the studio’s students visited the Netherlands for a weeklong tour of Wiel’s built work, stopping at other significant architectural works along the way. Later, in January 2011, Robert returned to the Netherlands, this time to the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, where he and Wiel brought “A Wonderful World: A New Map of the World,” in the form of a master class, for one final round of map making.

It was at this moment that Wiel, Robert, and myself, met with Irma Boom in Amsterdam to discuss the book’s design. While the book’s content was clear, the book’s form had yet to take shape. Wiel had previously collaborated with Irma during 2005, while working on the book Living Library: Wiel Arets (Prestel, 2005)—published to accompany the opening of the Utrecht University Library—and we both agreed she was the only person that could transform the carefully edited imagery and words into a timeless publication.

Collecting these series of intercontinental discussions, teachings, dialogues, and experiences is Wiel Arets: Autobiographical References, a publication that has editorially been three years in the making by Robert McCarter and myself, a year in the making by Irma Boom, and a lifetime in the making by Wiel Arets.