Fiction  > Avant Garde

Citizens Of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel

Citizens Of No Place: An Architectural Graphic Novel back

Jimenez Lai


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

“Plans are superior. It is impossible to evaluate anything without objectivity. You can strategize... conspire holism, map the future, intelligently assess your contexts! We can learn even more about space by isolating conditions in plan.”
“But plans rely on an unattainable gods-eye-view that humans can never experience. From human perspective, these complex plans are mere extrusions. In other words, your thick 2-D becomes just a bunch of boxes. Frankly, if I may, it is quite unspectacular.”

Wow. It’s a relative rarity that something even gets added to avant garde section on the Page 45 website but this definitely qualifies as I have never read or indeed seen anything quite like it before. However, being produced by someone who is a qualified professor of architecture and the founder and leader of the Bureau Spectacular, one shouldn’t perhaps expect anything of the ordinary. I would attempt to succinctly explain what the Bureau is, but the Wikipedia entry nails it perfectly and probably gives you an ideal starting point for imagining what you will find inside this work. And so I quote...

‘Bureau Spectacular is an operation of architectural affairs founded and led by Jimenez Lai since 2008. It is based in Chicago and closely affiliated to the Midwest Mafia of Architecture Schools. The office imagines other worlds and engages the design of architecture through telling stories. Beautiful stories about character development, relationships, curiosities and attitudes; absurd stories about fake realities that invite enticing possibilities. The stories conflate design, representation, theory, criticism, history and taste into cartoon pages. These cartoon narratives swerve into the physical world through architectural installations, models and small buildings.’

Each short in this work, therefore, is preceded by a quotation or statement about the single concept at the heart of the particular story, which is then explored in a manner that is part-narrative, part-draughtsmanship, part-symbolic, part-design, but always sequential art. Whether it is the ergonomics of individual living modules on a wafer-thin Ark spaceship travelling through the galaxy, or the challenges of living in the stratosphere twelve kilometres high, in an oxygen-deprived penthouse on top of the tallest building in the world, by the time you’ve reached the end of the story, you’ll find you’ve been nudged to think about the situation in a manner which is as engrossing as it is astounding. Lai clearly has more than a few social and political points to make here, but they are typically the subtext – although occasionally the outright punchline – rather than the main strata of the work. So in my eyes it seems that not only can design lead stories, but stories can also definitely lead design.

Finally, I really wasn’t going to go down the route of lazy metaphors referencing other creators or books on this work, as it deserves better, but just in case you’re not getting it from my review so far... in other words, short stories with scripts that seem like they have been assembled from mere shards of ideas by a hyper-focussed Grant Morrison, then interpreted by an autistic Jonathan Hickman on art, with occasional dashes of TEKKON KINKREET / THE INCAL stylistic oddities melded in, to just add a layer of genial softness to all the stark finesse and precision. All then design-distilled by Scott McCloud into something of rare beauty that certainly is comics, but also something more than comics. That’s what I got from it anyway, but just read it and marvel because Jimenez Lai is clearly a very clever and talented man.
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