clearly complex

Singular Plural  –  book design Geninasca Delefortrie Architects, Neuchâtel

The architect and architecture critic Alberto Alessi was commissioned to produce a monograph for Geninasca Delefortrie Architectes from Neuchâtel in Switzerland and suggested us as the book designers. After meeting Laurent Geninasca and Bernard Delefortrie and visiting their buildings it was clear to us that they take a very special approach to design. The way their architecture is embedded in its setting seemed particularly remarkable. Alessi’s editorial concept addressed this aspect already in the title: “Singular Plural”. The buildings display a strong diversity and rich personalities, which, through charming gestures, engage in a relationship with their contextual neighborhood. Alberto Alessi divided the content into six chapters using the following argument: “reflecting the title, the publication is like an open matrix built up of different elements, which allows several different ways of reading it. A polyphonic dialogue running through the entire book incorporates the views of various participants; in the process the assumptions behind the practice, analyses about the relationship between architecture and context, architecture and clients, between public and private are all discussed. An examination is made of the architects’ work between program and interpretation and of the various tools that lead to the final product: the form and the beauty of things.” The selection and placing of the projects were based on the criteria of this classification.

Reinhard Gassner

The buildings presented appear several times in the book. They are exhaustively portrayed once and, additionally, at other points they are allocated to further thematic areas in the form of small black and white pictures. This has to do with the title “Singular Plural”. Even where individual projects are associated with certain main qualities they always also embody a sum of the special architectural approaches taken by Geninasca Delefortrie. Each text consists of several voices and positions and they are therefore set like building blocks laid loosely one on the other, flowing, yet with distances where there were pauses or a change in theme during the discussion. This text is always placed at the beginning of each thematic section. The buildings themselves are presented in just a few lines on the introductory double page with plans. Reduced to essentials, the coherent plans are presented at a scale specific to the particular project. It seemed to us that the classic kind of architectural photography was suited to the book’s editorial line only at certain places. We felt there was a lack of the “plural” to the “singular”. Therefore we asked photographer Thomas Jantscher to make further photographs of the selected buildings in situational contexts. Even though they conflict with the standard smooth aesthetic of depicting buildings, in agreement with the publishers and architects many of these new photographs were used for the publication.

To underline the polyphonic quality the list of contents on the double page is linked to plans of all the buildings at the same scale. It offers an alternative visual entry to the buildings. On this project panel the buildings engage in a relationship with each other, revealing at a single glance the continuity and, equally, the independence of the design work of Geninasca Delefortrie Architectes. Like a whale that surfaces in order to breathe in air, the Stadion de la Maladière in Neuchâtel greets us. So heavy and yet so light, the building connects itself in waves with urban space, the surface of the water and the horizon. Through their formal and content-related language the architects succeed in incorporating their buildings in their surroundings in a calm and natural way. Boundaries are recognizable but the view outside from inside is left open wherever this seems to them to be necessary and right. The interplay of transparency and translucency is used according to the right recipe. For instance the pedestrian bridge winds over the River Areuse in the surroundings of the town like the roots of a tree through the forest and provided me with inspiration for the design of the cover. The aim was to capture the permeability of light and shade, of indoor and outdoor space that is practiced here. Instead of print we decided therefore to use stamped typography on the cover. In four lines the capitalized words “Singular Plural” are printed over each other several times, showing a transformation from one term to the other. This metamorphosis is strengthened by a grid of points and lines.

The technique of laser punching allows fine textures and details. We tested various intensities for the grid on black cover board over white natural paper. At first glance, the permeability of the capital letters to light produces an iridescent typography image on the cover, while still closed; it is only when the cover is opened that the light shining through creates the visual surprise effect, along with constantly changing light reflections on the inside cover.

Andrea Gassner