Print and Screen

The Future of Books in the Information Age


New technologies are fundamentally changing the publishing landscape. While many publishers seem concerned with logistical and economic aspects of this transformation, the shift from a physical book production to a digital delivery raises a set of cultural, legal, and spatial issues that will decisively affect the way we read, how we share information, and consequently how we organize, structure, design, and produce publications. The emerging information waterfall, the digital cacophony shaped by social media, networked databases and complex search engines, pose as many challenges as opportunities, and so does the related shift from the book as a physical object to the book as a composite of bits and bites.

“Print and Screen” sheds light on this intersection between physical and virtual realms. It is based on the conviction that print and post-print production are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary, that they are parallel modes of communication in a publishing environment that is defined by a plurality of media. The project aims to productively discuss new models of scholarly dissemination; it provides a platform to debate the shifting definitions of authorship and intellectual property and how they affect academic writing and publishing, as well as architectural and artistic production.

The project consists of a set of individual, yet highly interconnected and dependent threads. The colloquium on the future of books in the information age offers a platform to discuss the parallel existence of print and post print on the one hand, and issues of copyright on the other. The seminar is based on both analog and digital modes of representation and serves as a test bed for some of the ideas and techniques that emerged in the context of the symposium. And the master class offers opportunities for students to debate possible futures of publishing with distinguished guests.

Reto Geiser
Gus Wortham Assistant Professor
Rice University School of Architecture


This project is generously supported by
Rice University School of Architecture
Rice University Arts Initiative Fund
Rice University Humanities Research Center

Research Assistants: Joseph Altshuler, Monica Burckhardt, Rachel Grady, Amelia Hazinski, Mahan Shirazi
Student Bloggers: Bader AlBader, Sasha Plotnikova
Undergraduate Tutor: Sara Jacinto
Special thanks to: Carolyn Adams, Tami Andrew, Luke Bulman, Farès el-Dahdah, Caroline Levander, Noëmi Mollet, Jet Prendeville, John Sparagana, Sarah Whiting

Website design and development: Linked by Air


November 20, 2014
The Menil Collection Library
A Rice University Arts Initiative

Organized by Reto Geiser (Rice University School of Architecture)
and co-hosted with Eric Wolf (Menil Collection)

Based on the conviction that digital publications will not take over and obliterate printed books, but potentially produce them anew, this colloquium explores how architectural knowledge and artistic production are disseminated in a global media context of social networking, blogging, tweeting and other web-based interactivity, and inquires how these recent modes of communication affect the world of publishing. What are the advantages of printed books, and what are their limits? How can they be designed in more engaging ways? Are there intersections and overlaps between print production and post-print publishing? How can we take advantage of emerging technologies in order to create reading experiences that transcend the replication of the printed book in a digital format? Over the course of this one-day colloquium, six positions and projects are introduced by a group of international speakers, followed by responses of scholars, educators and practitioners to discuss the shift from print to screen.


Thomas Weaver, is an architect and educator based in London. He is the editor AA Files and responsible for the publications program at the Architectural Association.


Salomon Frausto is the Head of Education at the Berlage Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture and Design. An advocate for improved and diverse architectural literacy, he teaches, publishes and lectures internationally to sharpen awareness of the contemporary built environment.


Dan Michaelson is co-founder of Linked by Air and a critic at the Yale University School of Art. He specializes in the design of public space both physical and online.


Matthew Battles is associate director of metaLAB (at) Harvard and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He has published extensively on the history and changing roles of libraries in culture.


Thomas Weaver (Architectural Association)
Response by Luke Bulman (Thumb Design/Parsons The New School for Design)

Salomon Frausto (The Berlage Center for Advabced Studies in Architecture and Urban Design)
Response by Carlos Jimenez (Rice University School of Architecture)

Dan Michaelson (Linked by Air/Yale University School of Art)
Response by Dawn Finley (Rice University School of Architecture)

Seth Erickson (UCLA, Information Studies)
Response by John Sparagana (Rice University, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts)

Carole Ann Fabian (Avery Library, Columbia University)
Response by Eric Wolf (Menil Collection) and Reto Geiser (Rice University)

Matthew Battles (metaLAB, Harvard University)
Response by Lisa Spiro (Rice University, Fondren Library)



Lars Müller
Participant’s bio

September 29, 2015

A book lover and editor, designer, and publisher of more than three hundred titles, Lars Müller will discuss the value of books as objects and address an analog reality in times of digital saturation.

Robert Wiesenberger
Participant’s bio

October 26, 2015

Along with the original design for Hans Wingler’s The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago (MIT Press, 1969) and its various “re-stagings” in other media as prototypes for her later software research, this lecture will discuss how designer and educator Muriel Cooper anticipated the shift from print to screen in the early days of the digital revolution.

Jeffrey Schnapp
Participant’s bio

November 2, 2015
7:00–9:30pm (for seminar participants only)

Jon Evans, Sara Lowman, Eric Wolf
Participant’s bio

November 16, 2015

In this roundtable discussion, art librarians will discuss the future role of libraries, the realities of digital publishing in the arts, and the challenges of the preservation of digital publications.

Luke Bulman
Participant’s bio
December 6, 2015
1:00–5:00pm (for seminar participants only)

In this workshop the class will prepare the conceptual framework for a broadsheet publication that reflects the subjects discussed over the course of this master class.

A Humanities Research Center Public Humanities Initiative
made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

This public humanities master class addresses the intersection between physical and virtual realms in order to debate possible futures of the book. Three distinguished guests will offer different perspectives on publishing through the lens of the past, the present, and the future. Following the public lectures of invited guests, students will meet to engage the visitors in a hands-on workshop or conversation, and to critically discuss futures of publishing and the well-edited and designed book as its most important advocate. To conclude the series, we will engage three local librarians in a panel discussion focused on the challenges and opportunities of future publishing in architecture and the arts.

All lectures are free and, unless otherwise noted, open to the public, and will be held in Farish Gallery, Anderson Hall, School of Architecture, Rice University.


Futures of the Book — In Print

As the deliberate use of the plural in the title of this public humanities master class suggests, we embarked on a journey to explore various futures of the book. Since futures are not predetermined, and our perception of what’s next is in constant flux, we looked at various understandings and projections of the book’s future from the nineteenth century to the present day, and speculating beyond.

To conclude the master class, we assembled and designed a broadsheet that consists of imaginary patent drawings inked onto old-fashioned newsprint, as a playful, at times ironic, but equally optimistic speculation of what a future book might be.

The book will likely survive the twenty-first century. But just as mechanically reproduced books initially were modeled on the laboriously crafted manuscripts that preceded them, the books of the future will inevitably have to appear in different relations, arrangements, configurations, and materialities.

If you would like to get a copy of the broadsheet, please send an email to

The Evolution of the Archive

The evolution of the archive plays a role as crucial to shaping the future of the book as does the changing form of the book itself. If books can be thought to comprise a culture, libraries provide the social and logistic infrastructure that sustains and nurtures that culture. And the future of the library too, is being shaped by the growth of digital media.

Our stocktaking panel took place last week, with short talks and a discussion between us and three librarians who hold key positions at local Houston institutions: Jon Evans (Hirsch Library at the MFAH), Sara Lowman (Fondren Library at Rice University), and Eric Wolf (Menil Collection Library). Aside from the many obvious and hidden challenges of archiving today, one reality became increasingly clear: the digital era is an inevitability that libraries are wise to embrace.

Coming from the perspective of a boutique collection—that of a private art museum— Eric Wolf introduced the problem of print ephemera in the digital archive. While for him, the issue of archiving miscellaneous materials like checklists, gallery guides, and announcements ensures a record for exhibitions and events that are otherwise erased from our collective memory; the notion of the ephemeral serves as a useful launching point for investigating the implications of digital archives on the future of the library. How do librarians decide which materials are entered into the archive? Is all physical matter worthy of the labor that goes into digitization? What digital medium is best suited for print matter?

The paradox of the digital archive is that its mission is to concretize and to preserve, but that its medium is shifting, dynamic, and immaterial. Digital archives are fragile: they suffer the consequences of proprietary websites, broken links, and bit rot. The Menil’s answer to this has been a very systematic workflow in which ephemera are immediately entered into a system and made publicly available through the institution’s website. Recognizing that ephemera are in fact the type of materials most requested through inter-library loans, the Menil has prioritized increasing digital access to them. What was once—in the analog world—the disposable matter of one-night events, in the digital becomes elevated to the status of historical evidence. With the task of translating existing material to the digital, the librarian-archivist holds the capacity to imbue materials with importance.

In short, the archivist becomes a curator. Jon Evans described his work at the Hirsch Library as increasingly inflected with the task of quality control. To determine whether physical matter is maintained or disposed of; whether it is digitized; and whether digital matter enters the archive; the archivist makes judgments that are both qualitative and quantitative. Certain items may not have been requested for decades, but decidedly hold enough cultural value that they are preserved or digitized. Sara Lowman, on the other hand, matter-of-factly described Fondren Library’s one-copy policy: each item exists in the collection either in print or digital form. In deciding on the most appropriate format, Fondren librarians take into consideration an array of practical factors such as the prohibitive costs of acquiring bundled digital content and the shift of reading habits towards skimming and gleaning amongst digital natives.

Libraries are the social space of the book. Being a publicly accessible university library, Fondren has most strongly felt the effect of the digital on its very architecture and on its engagement by the public. The growth of the digital library has caused the physical collection to shrink, and the removal of book stacks has cleared space and made it available for users as study space. Fittingly, Fondren has taken advantage of this to create space dedicated to engaging the digital, through increased computer areas and media commons. Ironically, they have also introduced an element so old in the history of libraries that it was never in Fondren’s architecture to begin with: a large, traditional reading room where users can continue to make use of the library’s physical collection without leaving the premises.

The digital library brings about the opportunity to re-evaluate what we’ve inherited in the analog world—to both take stock of what we have, and to consider the valuation of books (both print and digital) in a time of seemingly infinite proliferation. In light of shifting modes of content production, we can examine what continues to be important in our information culture, and what can be left to the whims of history.

Libraries of the Book

Three librarians from three major Houston institutions converged on Rice’s School of Architecture on a cool autumn night to discuss the future of the library. Jon Evans of the MFAH, Sara Lowman of Rice University, and Eric Wolf of the Menil Collection were neither sanguine nor fatalistic. The small geographic swatch from which they were summoned reflects the cultured bubble we are privileged to find ourselves in. In a time when public libraries are slowly withering, private institutions are still fighting for relevance in this changing world. Evans calls our attention to the endangered legacy and methodology of humanistic thought, especially as “skimmer and gleaners” dominate contemporary library patronage. And as “digital surrogates,” as Wolf likes to calls them, multiply, the art library is the last battleground of print, besides the academy.

Rice University’s Fondren Library adds 40,000 books to its collection every year. It’s off-site storage space, the Library Service Center, has a 1.6 million-volume capacity, 75% of which is occupied. At the rate Fondren is collecting physical material, the LSC will reach capacity within a decade. If the LSC is where books go to die, then funnily enough it suffers from the same fate as graveyards: there will soon be no more room to bury the dead. Recycling is to books as cremation is to people. However, choosing which books to sacrifice is a challenge that requires inter-institutional cooperation. As Lowman, Rice’s university librarian, admits, universities across the country are sharing information about their collections with one another in order to document the redundancy across them. By consolidating their depositories, the collective overstock of library material can be culled to the point where only what is needed is stored at a few libraries and referenced across the whole system, while replicas are disposed of. As a case in point, Lowman questioned the need to maintain every issue of Time magazine from the past century in every library?

Digitization on the other hand has its own problems. While it provides a space-efficient alternative to actual books, digitizing entails value judgments with regards to what is chosen to be digitized. And that is something that is, in Wolf’s opinion, antithetical to the librarian’s role. A librarian does not curate (or make value judgements), he believes, but collects and provides documents for experts to do so. When digitization forces the librarian to make those judgments, the integrity of documentation itself is undermined. For example, Evans laments the selective scanning of periodicals; scanners of art magazines ignore advertisements, scanning only the articles, even though there is scholarly value in archiving the ads, especially their utility in signaling commercial trends within the artistic community. Information is essentially embedded everywhere. Librarians are responsible for creating the space where that information can be extracted and transformed into knowledge by whoever is dedicated enough to do so.

“Alone together” is the term Lowman used to describe the kind of atmosphere that most library patrons seek and which is most conducive of the transmission of knowledge. We are inspired by the very presence of others seeking inspiration. Without even interacting, a social transaction has taken place. On a broader scale, universities are projecting that social contract by collaborating and sharing resources. Some are alone together too; public universities have restrictions on the exchange of their research, since the knowledge they produce is legally owned by their respective states. In other words, private institutions have the liberty of producing knowledge and the liberty of fighting the fight to preserve and disseminate it.

Meanings of the Book

Editorial Rooms of the Phonographic Journal of the Future, from: Octave Uzane, “The End of Books” (1894)

Editorial Rooms of the Phonographic Journal of the Future, from: Octave Uzane, “The End of Books” (1894)

The future of the book poses an elusive question, as the term “book” itself has taken various forms and meanings over time. Without knowing what essential qualities make up what Jeffrey Schnapp has termed “bookishness,” we’re at a loss when we try to pinpoint its fate. Such a historically fluid medium naturally gives way to many futures—futures that can be discussed only after we consider what we want the book to be.

Joined by Jeffrey Schnapp last week, we worked through the various qualities of “bookishness” that might be most relevant in defining the medium’s future today. Those qualities of the book that we now take for granted—binding, for instance—were once completely optional accoutrements added to books by their owners. 

If this fluidity doesn’t complicate matters enough, the notion of inevitable change appears to have been a fate written into the very DNA of the book. Schnapp pointed out that as early as the end of the nineteenth century, there was already a simultaneous excitement and anxiety about the end of books (see: Octave Uzane, “The End of Books,” in Scribner’s Magazine Illustrated, July–December 1894). This neurotic frenzy has carried through as a naive and habitual impulse to leap from one mode of communication to the next, at a rate that exceeds the technological advances that enable this kind of progress.

Technological progress has of course moved at a slower pace than the flurry of speculations and theories about the medium’s future, but the two are inextricable in understanding the history of the book’s real and imagined futures. Shortly after the advent of print stripped the manuscript of its multimedia quality, early adopters eagerly speculated that text-based media would be entirely replaced by audio (Uzane, 226). Theory and history have often run in different directions, but they make up the collective desires for potential futures of the medium, and these dreams often resonate with reality only after some delay. 

Because of the overlap of these yet-unrealized dreams and the replacement of mature media by nascent ones (i.e., the highly developed manuscript by a very young print culture), progress has been nonlinear in the world of bookishness—steps forward have often begun with a few steps back. Rather than a periodic one-to-one substitution of the old for the new, the book has seen a more cyclical evolution in which elements from the past make a return once the stage is properly set for their reception.

Jeffrey Schnapp at Futures of the Book Seminar, Rice University, With metaLAB at Harvard, Schnapp has been working on a series of projects that understand the book as a metaphor in order to question its future relevance and potential applications. Schnapp laid out two likely futures: one, following a post-print paradigm, opens up a discussion about modes of communication that are native to digital media. The other, “print plus” imagines a hybrid medium in which conventional print is augmented by digital communication. Either way, in light of all we had discussed, we can understand bookishness as referring purely to a medium specificity. Whether manuscript, print, or hypertext, the book has only been able to progress through an intimate understanding of its vessel of communication, and through leveraging the unique qualities of its production.

Compatibilities of the Book

Jeffrey Schnapp at Futures of the Book Seminar, Rice University,

For someone who was originally trained as a scholar of medieval manuscripts, Jeffrey Schnapp is already preparing for the library beyond the book. Having pioneered the Digital Humanities, Schnapp’s current projects re-examine the ontology of the book and its attendant world, Harvard being the ideal place to do so since it maintains the world’s largest private library system. Yet, over 70% of Harvard Depository’s collection has never been accessed. That is a lot of information that has yet to become knowledge. If Oxford Dictionary is correct in defining a medium as “a means by which something is communicated or expressed,” then the book stored, and not engaged, is but a placeholder for that which we aspire the book to be, a transmitter of knowledge. It serves as the physical symbol of the abstract notion of preservation—that by maintaining the material, we equally maintain the information inscribed onto the material, even if that information has no value if not situated within the context of the corollary and ancillary information available elsewhere.

As an example of the challenges facing information preservation and utilization in the digital age, Schnapp touched upon San Jose State University’s venture into the preservation of software source code. Beyond texts, the DNA of the digital world poses a new challenge that may be more pressing than that of the book. Imagine if, in order to preserve it, dated code was transcribed and bound in the form of a book. The risk of that code forever vanishing with the demise of its online repository would surely be minimized. But then the string of characters and numbers, so logical in the computer’s mind, has in this physical form become the gibberish any programmer would tell you it is not when considered in its native digital setting. By removing the animating, interpretive force of the computer, the potency of code is neutered as it is translated onto the most durable and ubiquitous information-preservation medium known to man. New forms of knowledge are not always fully backward-compatible.

While the webpage is not compatible with the codex, it has much affinity with the scroll that preceded the codex. The chunking up of information inherent to the pagination of the codex is inherent neither to the scroll nor the webpage. Rather, the endless scrolling of the webpage mimics the endless panning of the scroll. That the scroll is designed as an instrument of oration—an aid in the verbalization of information rather than it visual digestion—fits perfectly within the narrative of the webpage where text is aided (and even supplanted) by the various multimedia that re-present the text to user in aural form, often accompanied by (moving) images. Text-to-speech technology automatizes the scroll-like function of the digital context such that endless text becomes effortless speech.

Is it a regression for the digital to become scroll-like after the fact of the codex? As Schnapp attests, “the book is always ending and is always beginning.” Humans have always been anxious about their precious. Yet it used to be that only hard bound codices were considered to be books, only hardbacks cherished and collected. Paperbacks were printed to be consumed and forgotten. They were temporary and ephemeral. The book was defined by its cover; unbound, a published manuscript was no more than a magazine bound for disposal. Nonetheless, we have come to accept all non-periodical forms of publishing as members of the book family. And this will keep happening. Rather than the substitution of one form of media for another, Schnapp speaks of the current shift in the publishing world as a “realignment within a different media ecology.” Since the book is essentially a constructed notion, every age introduces new tools for its reconstruction.

Was Muriel Cooper designing herself out of design?
Muriel Cooper, self-portrait with Polaroid SX-70, video imaged and printed at the Visible Language Workshop, 1977, Cambridge, MA.

Muriel Cooper, self-portrait with Polaroid SX-70, video imaged and printed at the Visible Language Workshop, 1977, Cambridge, MA.

To understand how we arrived at today’s media landscape, we can look back to the technological drive of the post-war years, and further back still to the machine aesthetic of the Bauhaus. Between these two eras in the world of design sits a curious figure named Muriel Cooper, whose persistent frustration with the present fostered a deeper engagement between designers and information systems. By designing the systems themselves, she and her collaborators consistently put forth modes of communication that anticipated media which were not yet there—the by-now naturalized world of hypertext and internet infrastructure.

This week, we were joined by Robert Wiesenberger, who recently curated “Messages and Means: Muriel Cooper at MIT” together with David Reinfurt. The exhibition, and Wiesenberger’s academic focus of late, has centered around Cooper. She was the graphic designer responsible for establishing the graphic identity of the MIT Press, as well as its early publications like The Bauhaus and Learning from Las Vegas. Her role quickly evolved to more progressive institutions at MIT, such as the Visual Language Workshop and eventually the MIT Media Lab. These initiatives sought to integrate research into design, and to broaden the designer’s role to a more general practice concerned with advancing systems of communication.
What became clear through our conversations about her work is that time and time again, her impatience with progress led her and her students to all but predict the future. The Bauhaus was what Wiesenberger called “a monument to an awkward age in the history of disseminating information”—given the sheer quantity of information in the Bauhaus archives, Cooper designed its interface such that the information is presented exhaustively and in a non-hierarchical manner, much like we would expect from a web archive today. 

Similarly, Cooper’s interest in László Moholy-Nagy’s notion of the “filmic” anticipated a transition from print to screen; from static graphics to dynamic interfaces. We see this play out in her designs for View from the Road and Learning from Las Vegas, books in which the cinematic experience of driving carries the organization of text and graphic as one’s eyes would follow the road or the horizon from a car. To accompany The Bauhaus, she created a stop-motion film that displays each of the book’s spreads in rapid succession; focusing our attention on images rather than text. Watching the film, you’ll notice that you retain a memory of all the images you see, regardless of the speed at which they pass you by. This suggests that we have yet untapped ways of absorbing information, and it was perhaps a premonition of the level of visual literacy we have today. Fittingly, it’s in part thanks to her work that we have a world in which images and text can mingle so freely.

Our conversation with Robert Wiesenberger left one big question left on the table: was Cooper designing herself out of design? Arguably, there’s a great agency in designing the system itself, especially for someone so anxious about the potential of being caged in by existing systems. And it was this push towards the abstract that, for her, granted the qualities of materiality and objecthood more and more weight as delved deeper into researching the digital. Cooper always advocated for design generalists: designers who can shift nimbly between media in order to advance the discipline. Today’s generalists have a historical vantage point, and a seemingly slightly less, to use Robert’s term, “awkward” stance in relation to technological advances. One thing we might learn from Cooper is that agency lies on all sides of the design process, and we can only tap into the latent potentials of information when we understand it from more perspectives than just the visual.

Histories of the Book


Once upon a time, a baby was born. She crawled to an iPad, opened a magazine app, and proceeded to pinch the screen, zooming in and out blissfully. Her parents were worried. They did not want to obstruct her particular interest though and thus gave her a magazine instead. The infant proceeded to play with it, but something was wrong. The magazine was not responding to her pinching gestures and she became wholly confused; the thing was broken.

The baby’s experience of the book was inherently different from its parents. Engaging the book did not mean holding it and flipping through. The book on the tablet device was something else entirely, an enterprise that entailed precise, guided touch. It tapped into some intuitive understanding of hand-eye coordination that was a blast for the baby to experience. The colors were vivid, the surface smooth, but what made the experience fulfilling was its interactivity—the zooming in and out as per the expansion and contraction of a pair of fingers. The baby was forever changed, its human experience foundationally altered.

When the first caveman talked he did the same thing. His subjective experience had a lasting effect on the objective meaning of humanity. Imagine if in their grunting and gesturing, cavemen feared that with their embracing of language they would talk their way out of body language (we would still live in the caves, or otherwise, we would probably be using highly developed and differentiated sign languages, which is itself an interesting thought). As humans, over three quarters of our communication takes the form of body language. Speech has not obliterated physical communication; it has only augmented our already-multisensory experiences such that our body language is at once subtler and more sophisticated.

The graphic designer Muriel Cooper envisioned a further transformation of humanity. As a designer who embraced technology, she believed in the power of multimedia in augmenting the human experience. By applying design to what was relegated to the domain of engineering, Cooper foresaw the ascendance of user experience in humanity’s engagement with technology. By designing processes and systems by which digital technology sustained design abilities of its own, she was projecting her own agency as a designer in support of universal access to design. But the question has arisen as to whether “she was designing her way out of design.” No, there will always be design. As with humanity’s development of language, the digital expands what it means to be human. The development of new conceptual tools develops and fine tunes humanity’s extant tools. It does not merely drive them to obsolescence.

But is the book obsolete now that the screen is our main information interface? Many have questioned if the e-book is a book at all. The lamentation of the physical character of the book is probably a product of retroactive appreciation of that which is now lost. Martin Heidegger postulated that we only realize a hammer is a hammer when it breaks and no longer functions as we have all the long unconsciously expected. Such is the book, now that touching and flipping no longer apply. Yet the book was not always the way we have come to accept it to be. For the larger part of our history, books were verbal constructions—ephemeral content of a value so high that warranted its memorization and oral transmission. It took two technological disruptions (or revolutions) to cement the book’s new physical status: the invention of paper and the printing-press. This change of medium, rather than obliterate the book, allowed it to flourish. The last redefinition of the book was certainly a success. Why shouldn’t the next redefinition as Cooper envisioned it be?

Economies of the Book


Lars Müller speaks of horizontal and vertical reading, one being a procession through the book, the other diving in and out, both of which he designs for. The leisurely pace and the frantic one are not mutually exclusive. He himself states that the back door to a building is usually more interesting than the front door; rather than accepting design tyranny as the status quo by casting away choice, the designer must offer a multiplicity of choices to the user. The book can provide a freedom a building cannot, offering endless points of access to a single body of content. This is especially true when there is a dearth of free time with which we can devote ourselves to books. While it is increasingly a privilege to have hours at hand to read and reread the book, many of us have but a few moments of respite to inspect a page or two.The vertical-horizontal book becomes an instrument of liberty, an emancipation of reading from the constraints of time.

The concept of publishing itself attempts to alleviate the socioeconomic pressures that would otherwise quell authors from devoting time to writing. Creativity alone can be left to the creators of ideas, since they can now rely on publishers to take care of the technicalities of dissemination. One could then presume that, with the advent of the internet, those technical difficulties are no longer omnipresent, and thus the socioeconomic constraints no longer apply. Yet online journals provide an interesting counterpoint to this supposition. While open-access journals attempt to provide knowledge to everyone, the cost of publishing that information is transferred onto those who are producing it in the first place. Authors who cannot afford to pay for their articles to be processed and published then must rely on traditional journals whose costs are covered by subscribers who have paid for access to the publication’s content. Open access to published knowledge does not seem to square with open access to the channels by which that knowledge is published. Authors need traditional publishers. Müller has a point.

Many traditional publishers, however, are reversing that relationship by requiring authors to (at least partially) fund their own publications. Publishers thus become the ones who need authors, inasmuch as a service provider needs customers. Yet, when publishing becomes an economic transaction, a publisher’s ownership of the book diminishes to extent that the whole enterprise becomes a non-automatic mode of self-publishing. In other words, traditional publishing is becoming an analog alternative to the flourishing world of online self-publishing. Publishers are unwittingly mimicking the online reality from which they are trying to distance themselves. The major disadvantage being that they still have the burden of dealing with physical realities. It is that challenge that Müller savors.

But is it fine for Müller to ignore the digital world that casts a shadow of obsolescence over his peers? Müller blames the “Big Five,” while they blame the small players like Müller. When he inquired with a large publisher as to why they weren’t experimenting with digital publishing, Müller was told that they were waiting for smaller publishers—the mavericks of the publishing world—to pave the way forward. Yet for Müller, that is an impossibility since his firm does not have the financial means to pursue those experiments. The large publishers who can afford it though are inherently conservative and change-averse. So is there a way out of this conundrum?

One way is to take the profit out it. Wikipedia, a non-profit, has proved that open access at both ends of publishing is a viable model, especially in the context of digital space. Statistically as accurate as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia universalizes expertise and readership; everyone is an author, everyone is an editor, and everyone is a reader. And covering nearly all areas of human knowledge within its framework allows for almost infinite cross-references and hyperlinks. Is it not exceedingly rare for one to enter Wikipedia and exit without taking multiple detours through various branches of human knowledge? Wikipedia epitomizes the concept of hypertext. One’s line of inquiry can jump across pages, fields, and media such that reading is no longer exclusively linear but can follow lateral, branching and cyclical paths. This is Müller’s vertical reading fulfilled, albeit digitally. Funnily enough, many are now attempting to reverse Wikipedia’s digitization of knowledge by converting this open-ended digital platform into physical books. Again, Müller has a point. Sometimes, one just has to have a book.

Analog Reality
Lars Müller on press approval for the reprint of Ladislav Sutnar's Visual Design in Action (2015)

Lars Müller on press approval for the reprint of Ladislav Sutnar’s Visual Design in Action (2015)

We began our discussions on futures of the book with a look at the curious case of the present. Having produced over 300 titles, and well-versed in the material and economic reality of publishing today, Lars Müller kindly offered some drops of wisdom regarding the present state and the near-future of the book.

To start the conversation, he first defined the “future” as an incremental continuation of the present. By limiting the distance between now and then, we’re put in a better position to be agents of change rather than the passive media consumers of so many dystopian nightmares. One observation we might make at this early stage is that it is much more difficult to envision alternative formats for new media with this myopic lens. Instead, we default to analogs from existing media: think of your computer “desktop” with its “folders,” “windows,” and “recycling bin.” When we think of digital publishing with this lens, we think of little more than a PDF version of a printed work. With few exceptions, by this logic, the new can never quite surpass the old.

This obstacle appears again and again when talking to Lars Müller — as well it should, for someone who has devoted much of his life to the materiality of printed matter. When prompted about whether he sees his own approach to materiality changing since the advent of the digital, he turns to the fundamental distinctions between the analog and the digital that repeatedly give analog the upper hand. 

Most striking is the importance of haptics and objecthood to our ability to absorb information. Our memory is a haptic one, and associations made between visual and sensory phenomena and text-based information go a long way in solidifying the subject matter in our consciousness.

For Müller, materiality is a realm unparalleled by the vibrant hues of RGB or the infinite plasticity of web design. The digital just can’t compete with the material knowledge that designers can put into books. Materiality gives a book its objecthood: the 2 millimeters of cardboard that Müller manipulates as a relief on the covers of Herzog and de Meuron’s Natural History is precious territory to him, much like the facade or envelope of a building. The book then becomes both an instrument — a thing with size, sides, weight, density, texture — and a document — a thing that can be tied to a specific year, and by default acts as a snapshot of the aesthetics and ideas of its immediate historical context. The digital offers neither of these, as anyone who has tried to look for the intact 2004 version of any given website might know.

Perhaps all we need to hear was best put by Müller himself: “Our analog body needs something more to touch.” Living in a material world, we’re just not sated by the digital.

Some Futures of the Book (According to Students in the Architecture of Books Seminar)


The future of books will always revolve around a system of checks and balances between practicality and sentimentality. The move towards the digital book came with environmental, economic, and communication benefits through conserving material, limiting production labor, providing ease of dissemination and user modification. The book, in its physicality, is an object one desires, and it is thus the designer who is in charge of creating this sentimental possession or, on the larger scale, a cultural artifact. The future of books must then be split into two separate questions regarding the digital and physical, each of which constantly references the other.

Michelle Chung

When considering the future or futures of the book one can’t help reflecting on the notion of futures in general. It seems incomprehensible to consider anything for indeterminate span of time stretching from now to eternity. The very far future of the book is likely to be death, while the very near future shows slow change. However, it is clear that the wheels of global and local economies, policies, and technologies are churning many changing futures of the book. While the digital book seems like the bright techno-utopian path for the dissemination of knowledge and graphic design, current IP policies along with digital format discrepancies and obsolescence create serious legal and technical obstacles for publications to meet the demands of permanence and fluidity that physical books still achieve so well. There is, however, only one certainty: that all futures are uncertain.

Dan Baklik

Books are one of few remaining prolific cultural items for which content is generated concurrently to form(at). Unlike a tablet, a single book is not designed with a multiplicity of uses in mind. Each is earnestly purpose-built; books need no software updates to continue functioning and their CSS is set in stone. In a world where few things stay the same over time and ownership has given way to licensure, print media is endearingly solid and physically satisfying. While culture is fast and careless, books are slow and considered; In McLuhan terms, culture is heating up, while books are stubbornly cold.

Mark Bavoso

Perhaps the future of books is uncertain. Some have decreed the impending extinction of print media. Though as humanity proliferates, and with it, the volume of narrative and graphic content, the impulse to record persists. And despite the best efforts of social media to outmode and erode the eternal nature of print in lieu of a non-stop filmstrip of fleeting moments, acquaintances and activities, books continue to endear themselves to us.

Evio Sereni Isaac


When El Lissitzky credited himself as “book engineer” in Vladimir Myakovsky’s 1923 Dlia Gólosa [For the Voice], the Russian artist not only suggested the strong ties between books and building, but also expressed his hope that the disciplines of art, architecture, typography, and engineering would eventually merge into an inseparable yet distinctive field. Over the past few decades, visual literacy has turned out to be a vital skill and an integral part of any ambitious architectural practice, and the well-edited and designed book is probably its most obvious manifestation.

Despite the repeated claim that printed matter will disappear in the age of electronic media, 
the book with its material presence, its durability, and its spatial and temporal qualities still seems to be a preferred medium for both artists and architects to broadcast their ideas, and to critically address a larger audience. Assuming that the creation of books is mutually informed by the conception of content as well as the making of form, this course is set up as both workshop and seminar.

In the first half of the semester, students engage in an in-depth analysis of seminal art and architecture publications, considering their historical background, conceptual and editorial framework, design and materiality. Each student designs a poster presenting the research in visual and textual form. Simultaneously, we will dive into the history of print and speculate about the future of publishing. In-class discussions of relevant literature introduce students to the theoretical foundations of graphic design and provide alternative takes on the book as a mode of discourse. Applying the insights gained in the first part of the class, the second part of the semester is dedicated to the actual “building” of a small architectural publication, which will reflect critical and editorial skills as well as the craft of bookmaking.

Based on the conviction that print and post-print production are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary, that they are parallel forms of communication, this class will investigate both modes of representation.

From Text to Visual Argument
From Essay to Book
From Book to Poster
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