Best of DAM Architectural Book Award
Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt/Main
– 14 January 2018
The Architectural Book Award offered by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM) in Frankfurt/Main has been in existence since 2009. Now in its ninth year, it will be staging a little show of the prizewinners and the shortlisted books to date.
It will take place on the third floor of the house in Frankfurt, where exact reproductions of some of the bookcases in the DAM library have been chosen as a background. But this choice has its drawbacks as there are omissions in the alphabet. Consequently, time and again, we encounter books about 20th century architects about whom much was written – Le Corbusier, for example, whereas Frank Lloyd Wright is not represented. Nevertheless, this exhibition design is not without its wit, it illustrates how architectural books are used in studios – much the same can also be said of graphic studios – as educational wallpaper. There are small real shelves in front of it where the award-winning and shortlisted works invite you to look and read, and if this is not possible because they are out of print, there are substitutes and references to DAM’s library. Readers can study the works on recreated tables that date back to the designs by the Frankfurt architect Ferdinand Kramer, a homage that begs the question why the DAM did not manage to secure the originals which were available for a small sum a few years ago from Frankfurt’s Goethe University.
In addition, there is a central space in which this year’s selection will be on display from 12 October 2017. Until then, DAM is showing its own publications, a promotional activity, which met with criticism at the launch on 9 September. This launch, however, offered plenty that is worth thinking about. It is true that the organiser of the prize, Christina Budde, was missed at the discussion with the audience which was only twenty strong, but the director of DAM, Peter Cachola Schmal, and the publishers, Thomas Kramer (Park Books) and Andreas Ruby (Ruby Press and Swiss Architecture Museum in Basle) provided arguments and contradictions concerning the design and economics of books on architecture. For how is the requirement for good quality in reproduction and choice of paper tolerated with the smallest assertion of joy when many books are copied digitally in China without a licence so that students can take the text home with them? Here we meet Papanek’s act of revolution. And is the desire for country-specific awards according to gross national product not simply a do-gooder’s attitude and therefore hypocrisy? Above all, however, for whose benefit is the publishers’ self-praise for producing exactly the right kind of beautiful books, if standards of quality are not defined? For from an artistic and technical production point of view not much of what is on display in the exhibition is on a higher level than the massproduced goods of the shamefully unnamed publishers like Taschen – from whom the podium wanted to set itself apart – where things worthy of note such as the reprinting of the “Arts & Architecture” magazine had been achieved.
At least in the latter case an explanation of terms would have contributed towards elucidation. For “the most beautiful architectural books” are not necessarily the “best architectural books” and vice versa. All that aside, DAM’s dedication for architecture in books, which also goes hand in hand with the architecture of the book, is to be welcomed. And the fact that the overview shows how countries such as Turkey and Mexico are increasingly being taken into consideration demonstrates a gratifying development. Long may it continue.