© Chris Ware


Architectural Narratives

Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


In October of last year, we organized our second MAS Context : Analog event in Chicago. A one-day event that combined twelve presentations, an on-site bookstore by Temporary Services and an exhibition, it featured the work of architect-graphic novelist Jimenez Lai and architect-cartoonist Klaus. Both had been part of MAS Context before, appearing as contributors to our “LIVING” issue in the case of the former and the “OWNERSHIP” and “COMMUNICATION” issues in the case of the latter. This was the first time, however, that their work had been displayed in the same room, showing the different ways in which they use narrative and drawing either as a way to conceptualize architectural form and space, or as a tool to reflect on/criticize/satirize the profession and the discipline. Jimenez Lai, who last year published a compilation of his comics stories in the graphic novel Citizens of No Place (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), possibly embodies the use of comics as an architectural research tool. Thus, Lai plays in his stories with the ambiguous spatiality produced in the conflation of flat, linear drawing, and the espace multicadre (multi-frame space) of the comic book page in order to explore notions of interiority and exteriority. And, even more interestingly, he integrates his production of sequential stories—drawn with a style located somewhere between the stylized dynamics of Japanese manga and Chris Ware’s diagrammatic abstraction—seamlessly within his architectural practice, where we can find different transubstantiations of his image world. Klaus, on the other hand, stands closer to the tradition of antique editorial cartoons, rejoicing in the anachronistic utilization of an old Franco-Belgian-school style (most notably, the École de Marcinelle style epitomized by André Franquin) that somehow corresponds with the elusive nature of his vignettes. Often in the form of in-jokes, they play satire both on architecture’s latest news and on the most remote corners of the history of the discipline. Thus, Klaus’ work belongs in the new rise of architectural satire, illustrating the power of humor as a tool for more complex thinking on reality, and, therefore, architecture. Both Klaus and Jimenez Lai portray, in the end, the fruitful products of architectural narrative, fiction and caricature, elements located in the periphery of a discipline that is reinventing itself.



Architectural Narratives exhibition, New Projects, Chicago, 2012 © Iker Gil and Matthew Messner


During the process of organizing the Architectural Narratives exhibition, the possibilities of continuing the exploration of the relationship between narrative and architecture as a full issue immediately sprang to mind, and our annual collaboration with a guest editor for our winter issue presented itself as a perfect fit.

Thus, encouraged by our successful previous collaborations and his ubiquitous presence as an architectural cartoonist, we approached Klaus, who accepted the role of guest editor, along with architect and scholar Koldo Lus Arana, who added his knowledge of the medium and his extensive academic research on the topic.

The result of this collaboration is NARRATIVE, an issue developed during the last twelve months in a long and laborious process. Divided in three parts, NARRATIVE—whose title refers both to the topic it covers and to the way the issue itself has been produced—explores the overlaps, parallels and interactions between graphic narrative and architecture, looking at them from both sides of the spectrum. Through a series of articles and interviews, the issue offers a look at the different ways in which architecture has used and uses today graphic narrative and comics at the work of book artists who either have an architectural background, or make forays into the construction
of architectural space (or both), and, finally, offers a glimpse at the architectural use of other forms of visual narrative, such as animation. There is, of course, no intention to cover the whole extension of the topic—even if some of the authors of the essays have built some rather encyclopedic works on it themselves, but rather of giving a taste of something that we believe, is a fascinating phenomenon, which is bound to keep grabbing the attention of the discipline, no matter its demodé nature. That said, we would like to express our gratitude to Koldo Lus Arana and Klaus, and the rest of the contributors, for making it possible to continue the path opened by last year’s exhibition in this issue, which may still continue its evolution in the future.

Besides our collaboration with Koldo and Klaus, this is also a special issue for all of us at MAS Context as it marks the end of our first five years: twenty quarterly issues, one special University issue, over two hundred articles, more than two hundred and fifty contributors, and the organization and participation in several events in Chicago and beyond. Not a small feat for a small independent publication like this one.

Thanks to Michelle Benoit, Andrew Clark, André Corrêa, Andrew Dribin, Renata Graw, Julie Michiels, and Paul Mougey for being part of the team at different stages of these five years. To Ethel Baraona Pohl, Alberto Campo Baeza, Pedro Gadanho, Jason Pickleman, Zoë Ryan, and Rick Valicenti for your insightful advice. To the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts for your continuing and invaluable support. To all the contributors that have shared their ideas, work, and stories from close and afar. And to all of you for being a critical part of this platform of exchange of ideas. Your comments, debates, suggestions and criticisms have helped MAS Context grow. You make working on MAS Context worthwhile.



Narrative has had invaluable help from: Andrea Alberghini, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Michelle Benoit, Andrew Clark, Sir Peter Cook, André Corrêa, Manuele Fior, Renata Graw, Shannon Herber, Sam Jacob, Tom Kaczynski, Jimenez Lai, Leópold Lambert, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Julie Michiels, Paul Mougey, Clara Olóriz, Steven Purvis, César Reyes, François Schuiten, Joost Swarte, Mélanie van der Hoorn, Alexa Viscius, Chris Ware, and Luus Willems.

Thanks to Daniel Bosshart, Design With Company, Alexandre Doucin, Factory Fifteen, Fantastic Norway, Jones, Partners: Architecture, Peanutz Architekten, Périphériques Architects, and Quiet Time for providing the images for the articles by Mélanie van der Hoorn.

A special thank you goes to Koldo Lus Arana and Klaus without whom it would have been impossible to explore this topic. Thanks to his knowledge and dedication, we were able to put together this issue.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

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