The “BOOM” of the architecture of books lifestyle
Irma Boom is one of the 21st century’s masters of book design. With her work, she reaffirms the survival of this form of reading and learning, as long as the reader is surprised and the book features an architectural dimension.
One of the major debates of our time concerns whether books can survive. Are books relevant and useful objects, or relics from another time? The answer is in the hands of the new generations; those who inhabit the social networks see the book as a source of exclusive information and as a pleasure discovered by means of an underdeveloped sense: touch. We are seeing a rediscovery of the joy of leafing through pages, of the smell of paper and ink, and of the act of reading, whereby the book sparks a new dimension in our thinking. There is a future.
“Beyond the conventional book industry, the unique and singular book follows its own path; in my work as a designer, I always start with the content and knowledge it holds. The beginning of my construction process, like with a building, requires a scale, a structure and a clear functionality, depending on the context it represents”. These are the principles of one of the 20th and 21st centuries’ great graphic designers and publishers, Irma Boom.
“The three-dimensional book is not just a cult object, the information on the internet is very similar, it does not delve into detail. The vitality of the book extends alongside the reflection of screens in different moments, in one the speed and, in the other, the assimilation of concepts and knowledge. This generates intimacy and, nowadays, we need intimacy”, she explains.
In a career spanning 30 years, this friendly, communicative and ever-smiling Dutch designer has given life to over two hundred books, and taught at Yale University and other universities around the world. She has been awarded the gold medal at the Leipzig Book Fair and the Vermeer Award, and she was honoured by the MoMA in New York with a retrospective on her work.
Her books carry a hallmark of identity, they are each completely different, unusual and extreme publications and, in each design, Boom turns experimentation into reality. She has designed books for Pirelli, Fondazione Prada, the MoMa, the Rijksmuseum and Chanel, although she is particularly known for her conceptual partnership with the architect Rem Koolhaas.
They have worked together on iconic publications, both in architecture and graphic design: “S, M, X, XL”, “Elements of Architecture” and the new work, “Countryside, A Report”, all published by Taschen.
And, as a representation of her career, the book that recounts her journey, a tiny red book with which she encourages reflection on the object of desire and the tool that the book represents, “Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book”.
We met the designer at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, before the outbreak of the pandemic. Here, the visionary exhibition by Rem Koolhaas, “”, and the book (Taschen Books) that accompanies the exhibition, a book that aims to be accessible to everyone with its reasonable price and a portable design, were unveiled.
“With this work, I have returned to the simple pocketbook. The concept behind the research for the book was based on the idea of returning to roots, the coexistence of contemporary, digitally-connected life and nature, but not as a resource for exploitation. I liked the idea of a book that accompanies us as we move through life. The book is a set of short essays with very different points of focus from Rem Koolhaas’ collaborators, each coming from different fields, a collaborative work with eighteen experts and a compact book to take everywhere. A travelling book”.
“Elements of Architecture”: Encyclopaedia – Smart skyscrapers
Elements of Architecture (Taschen, 2018) is an encyclopaedia, a compendium of the functional and fundamental elements of contemporary architecture, in a format that resembles a large, efficient and intelligent tower.
“To provide information and images with flexibility, we designed a large-format book, a compact volume (weighing four kilos), a tool that is very easy to use, with its own internal navigation system, that is very intuitive; a smart building. It is like a bible, it is not read from beginning to end, but rather you consult details and passages”, says the designer.
The work between designer and architect is entirely collaborative: “On this publication, myself and Rem Koolhaas worked very closely. We both believe that, despite the initial uncertainty about the current status of the book, digital screens magnify the interest in these books. New technologies and printing possibilities provide ample scope for my approach to book design”, she says.
“BOOM”: Mini book – Micro homes
“Everything is done in book publishing, I like to look at history, to observe how any innovation we propose has its reference in the past. The tiny books have always captured people’s attention as curiosities, but they also sharpen our attention to each page. I use them as a preliminary model of the books I design, because it gives me a broader perspective”.
This book is about the minimum scale of observation of the work carried out -like the micro homes that MIT predicts will be the future of housing- and also about colour (in red with its immediate power of attraction). Measuring a tiny 38 x 50 mm, and with 704 pages published by the University of Amsterdam, “Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book” represents Boom’s heart and the heartbeat of the books that will remain in our hands.