Books On Books Collection – Johann David Steingruber

Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972)

Architectural alphabet (1773/1972)
Johann David Steingruber
Casebound, sewn, headbands. H356 x W260 mm, 112 pages, including 33 facsimile prints. Published by Merrion Press, London. Edition of 425, of which this is #9. Acquired from Chevin Books, 24 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several professional and academic architects and designers as well as academics from other disciplines have delved into the intersection of the alphabet and architecture. A few of them have also noted the intersection’s expansion to include artist books and fine press works. Since Johann David Steingruber’s effort in the 18th century, it has become quite a busy intersection.

Originally published in installments at Steingruber’s own expense, the volume opens with its gloriously long title in an “arch of contents”, the columns inscribed with thumbnail images of the letter buildings to come. Although the title page lists 1773 as the publication date, the last installment came in March 1774. In his lifetime, Steingruber published three other works, illustrated and described toward the end of this facsimile, but Architectonisches Alphabeth became his most famous — “postcard” famous.

Architectonisches Alphabeth: bestehend aus dreyßig Rissen wovon Jeder Buchstab nach seiner kenntlichen Anlage auf eine ansehnliche und geräumige Fürstliche Wohnung, dann auf alle Religionen, Schloß-Capellen und ein Buchstab gänzlich zu einen Closter, übrigens aber der mehreste Theil nach teutscher Landes-Art mit Einheiz-Stätte auf Oefen und nur theils mit Camins eingerichtet, wobey auch Nach den mehrest irregulairen Grund-Anlagen vielerley Arten der Haupt- und Neben-Stiegen vorgefallen, dergleichen sonsten in Architectonischen Rissen nicht gefunden werden, zu welchen auch Die Façaden mit merklich abwechslender Architectur aufgezogen sind.

Steingruber dedicated his Architectural Alphabet to Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his first wife Frederica Carolina, not to be confused with the paying dedicatee of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. By a baroque coincidence, however, the first Brandenburg concertos, the ones composed by Giuseppe Torelli and influencing Bach, were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, then George Friedrich II, Alexander’s great-uncle who employed Torelli as court composer. Like Torelli, Steingruber too had to be satisfied with his payment as an appointee — court and public surveyor, and later principal architect of the board of works — even though he went to the trouble of making sure that his employers’ monograms and their associated buildings appeared in the span above the roman arch.

Steingruber seemed unaware of other building designs from alphabetical foundations. This facsimile’s editor gently and genially fills in the missing context. John Thorpe (1565–1655?), an English architect, drew up a property based on his initials. Thomas Gobert (1625-90), a French architect, produced Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louis XIV, a manuscript whose building plans spelled out “LOVIS LE GRAND”. Anton Glonner (1723–1801) designed a Jesuit church and college around the monogram “IHS”.

There was not much chance of these letter-shaped edifices’ being built. Nevertheless, Steingruber adds matter-of-fact descriptions to his elevations and plans, calling out heating, kitchen, toilet and servants’ arrangements as if conferring with a prospective client ready to commission one of these typographic palaces. Who would not want a serif with a view? Or conduct guests on a tour of the bowl, capline, crossbar, stem, stroke and tail of the property?

The main text appears to be set in Van Dijck (before Robin Nicholas’ revision between 1982 and 1989) and printed on a cream laid paper. The special earmarks of Van Dijck — the sloped apex of the A, the stepped center strokes of the W, the non-lining numerals and especially the downward stroke at the top of the 5 , the tilted lower bowl of the g, etc., identifiable in Morison’s A Tally of Types and Rookledge’s Classic International Type Finder — all seem to be present.

The laid paper is not only tactilely pleasant, it visually supports the clarity of the facsimile prints. Their sharpness outdoes what is achieved even with the zoom function applied to the freely available digital version, which can be seen in the interactive comparison below.

Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel edition (1995)

Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1995)
Johann David Steingruber
Facsimile edition prepared by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel. H356 x W260 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.

In smaller dimensions, this edition does not present the prints in their full size. Partially making up for the deficit is the Munken Pure paper’s brightness, against which the Garamond Berthold typeface and photolithography work well. Also, the book includes French, German and English text as well as illustrations that broaden the context to the present. Alongside Steingruber’s elevations and plans, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel have included several birds-eye views of inventive roofing of 20th-century architectural models inspired by Steingruber’s plans.

Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander’s monogram buildings reduced alongside reductions of Steingruber’s original foreword and explanations of Federica Carolina’s and Alexander’s buildings.

Not satisfied with some of his efforts, Steingruber offered second options; here, for the letter A, and later, for the letters M, Q, R and X.

Verso: Paula Barreiro’s roofing design for Steingruber’s letter B.

Verso: Helge Huber’s and Alexandra Krull’s roofing designs for Steingruber’s letter C.

In another instance of positioning Steingruber’s book in the history of alphabetic architecture (or architectural alphabets), the editors include a complete set of small reproductions of Thomas Gobert’s designs and elevations spelling out “LOVIS LE GRAND” from his manuscript mentioned above. Although created a century before, his drawings do not seem as stylistically distant from Steingruber’s as those of the 20th-century rooftop drafts do. Driving home their point that “the design of alphabetical buildings must not be based slavishly on a Baroque roman type or a classicist roman version”, the editors conclude by drawing attention to Takenobu Igarashi‘s 20th-century sculptural celebrations of the alphabet in aluminum, concrete, wood, chrome and gold.

Photo: Mike Sullivan, “Igarashi Alphabets“, Typetoken, 25 November 2013. Accessed 26 March 2021. Displayed with permission of the reviewer.

In print and online as well, new original and secondary works have continued to busy the intersection of the alphabet, architecture and artist books. Richard Niessen’s The Palace of Typographic Masonry (2018) and Sergio Polano’s “Architectural Abecedari” (2019) are two recent examples. And, as if to confirm the busying of the intersection, we have Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z (2020) in print and making up for the scarcity of Igarashi Alphabets (1987).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Igarashi, Takenobu. 1987. Igarashi alphabets. Zurich: ABC.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Morison, Stanley, and Brooke Crutchley. 1999. A tally of types: with additions by several hands. Boston: D. R. Godine.

Nomiyama, Sakura, and Takenobu Igarashi. 2019. Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z. London: Thames and Hudson.

Perfect, Christopher, and Gordon Rookledge. 2004. Rookledge’s classic international typefinder: the essential handbook of typeface recognition and selection. London: L. King Publishing.

Polano, Sergio. January 2019. “Architectural Abecedari“, Casabella, 893, pp. 62-75 + 100-101 (eng.). Milan.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Marlene MacCallum and the “Shadow Cantos”

Shadow Canto Series (2018-2019)
Marlene MacCallum

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)
Marlene MacCallum.
Handbound artist’s book with slipcase, pamphlet binding with gatefold structure, digital pigment print on Aya. H237 × 175 × 10 mm (closed dimensions). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Opening the book’s gatefold. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Leafing through the book. Top view of binding and folds. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

According to the artist, Canto One had its dual inception in the death of a cedar waxwing at one of her windows and an image from Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962), a novel consisting of the fictitious poet John Shade’s 999-line poem of the same title: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”. While MacCallum’s Canto One appropriates and overwrites Nabokov’s text and, in her images and constructions, alludes to Shade’s imagery of the viewer seeing reflections and doublings of the interior and exterior spaces, the work stands entirely on its own but, in light of what follows, also as the opening movement to what feels like a long poem or symphony.

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)
Marlene MacCallum
Hand bound artist’s book with slipcase, accordion binding with hard covers, digital pigment print on Aya (bird images) and Niyodo (music images), slipcase constructed of stained Tyvek wrapped around eterno boards, H237 × W160 × D14 mm (closed). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Unfolding side one of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Canto Two layers images of a dead bird lying on the ground with photos of anonymous graffiti art depicting birds in flight against the concrete walls of an underpass in Rochester, NY. The sense of counterpoint raised by the images carries over to the reverse side of the accordion structure.

Unfolding side two of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Between a single bird image across the two end panels, MacCallum has overlaid further bird imagery on musical notations from Bach, Mendelssohn and Satie that are merged into composite images across the interior accordion panels. The way the images of birds, ground and wall, and musical notation dance with one another foreshadows another intricate play in Canto Three.

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)
Marlene MacCallum.
Hand bound book work with image accordion suspended over text accordion. Images are digital pigment prints on Digital Aya, hand-set letterpress poem and blind embossed soundscape letterpress. Case bound with digital pigment print covers. Dimensions: H237 × W159 × D11 mm (closed), H236 × W30o mm (page spread). Edition of 16, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Just as much as do the images, the structure of this work’s binding amazes — repeatedly. The top views show its intricacy but only partially.

Circling around the standing view from left to right, the view of a room unfolds and a dancer’s shadow appears and disappears.

After the standing view concludes and the horizontal view is to be indulged, yet another structural surprise comes from the printed text at the foot of the panels behind the folds and still another surprise at the head of those panels: single lines of embossed text evoking sound. Together, the images on the exterior panels and the printed and embossed texts on the interior appear to be reminders to look not only in the corners but to the floor and ceiling of the room as well.

With MacCallum’s other works (see Further Reading), the Shadow Cantos put her work in the same class as Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Abelardo Morrell’s A Book of Books (2002). If Shadow Cantos is an open series, a fourth volume has high hurdles to clear, which are perhaps raised even higher by the next work.

Shadows Cast and Present (2019)

The artist gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals grant program for funding this project and the CBC/Radio Canada for partnering to provide a national platform for this new work.

Given the conceptual and synesthetic play within the three cantos, this digital re-imagination of them follows on with a natural ease. With the assistance of Matthew Hollett and David Morrish, the artist has created an online variation of the long-poem format. Images, text, video and soundscapes come together in an interactive presentation of shadows cast in domestic spaces and by daily activities. Click on the image above or here to view.

Further Reading

Marlene MacCallum“, Books On Books Collection, 2 September 2019.

Levergneux, Louise. “New Year, New Work“, Half-Measure Studio Blog, 5 January 2021.