Kelly Bair, Kristy Balliet, Adam Fure, Kyle Miller (Editors)
Actar, November 2018
Paperback | 7 x 9 inches | 200 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1940291963 | $34.95
Possible Mediums presents a collection of sixteen speculative design mediums by emerging architects. Each chapter defines an active medium in contemporary architecture through descriptions, drawings, and objects. Possible Mediums arranges projects according to shared technical and aesthetic traits, creating a vibrant taxonomy of design. Descriptive texts explain the working principles behind each medium and introduce design concepts intended to inspire students and professionals alike. Through its many contributors, Possible Mediums establishes design as a collective endeavor propelled by the open exchange of ideas and techniques. Possible Mediums is not a systematic theory, a manifesto, or a banal survey; it is a projection of architecture and knowledge to come.
The second Chicago Architecture Biennial took place in late 2017 under the theme “Make New History.” The exhibition, which I covered for World-Architects, was curated by Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, who observed that “a generation of architects has noted a renewed interest in precedents of architecture” and are “producing innovative and subversive works grounded in the fundamentals of the discipline.” I used the shorthand of Postmodern(ism) to describe the contributions in this ilk, though I’ll admit that’s a bit disingenuous: less nuanced than the curators’ description and a severe simplification of what some young American architects (many Midwestern, refreshingly) are doing today. Deciphering the common tactics and design theories embedded within the work of such studios as Bittertang, Bureau Spectacular, Design With Company, Norman Kelley, and WOJR is not something I’ve tried, to be honest, but the best resource to be had is definitely Possible Mediums, which began as a summit at Ohio State University in 2013, continued as a traveling exhibition the following year, and recently made its way into book form.
The lovely, visually rich Possible Mediums book presents the projects of around 40 young architects as a sort of taxonomy: the cover lays out the formal terms that categorize their work, from artifacts (“man-made objects gathered and reused in the composition of new constructions”) to volumes (“sequences of contained spaces resulting from the articulation and accumulation of surfaces”). The drawings, renderings, and models are presented exclusively in b/w images (outside of 16 color pages inside the front and back covers), giving them all almost equal stature — fitting considering how the editors accentuate how the contributors to the six-year-old Possible Mediums project are more a collective than a group of individuals. Formally, the installations, speculations, pieces of furniture, and so forth come across as goofy, grotesque, and playful — all un-self-conscious. Even so, it’s clear the work is all serious and well-considered. If, like me, you were intrigued by some of the contributions to the second Chicago Architecture Biennial or other these-kids-really-like-PoMo installations and projects in recent years, Possible Mediums is the book for you.
Kelly Bair is Partner of BairBalliet, Principal of Central Standard Office of Design, and Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. Kristy Baillet is is Partner of BairBalliet, Principal of Balliet Studio, Faculty at SCI-Arc, and Associate Professor at The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. Adam Fure is Principal o T+E+A+M and Assistant Professor at University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Kyle Miller is Architecture Program Director at Syracuse University in Florence and Assistant Professor at Syracuse University School of Architecture.