Report

Everything is Architecture: Bau Magazine from the 60s and 70s

London

27 July 2015

Austrian architecture magazine Der Bau was established in 1925. Der Bau was originally a uniform trade magazine, but in 1965 a group of architects, artists and academics transformed it into an experimental and radical publication that sought to explore architecture beyond the realms of building design and construction. The resulting magazines are the subject of a new exhibition at the ICA in London.

“Der Bau was published by the Central Association of Austrian Architects (ZV) which is sort of like the RIBA of Austria,” says ICA associate curator and lead exhibition curator Juliette Desorgues. “It was a bit like the RIBA Journal but a lot drier than that. It was very much about urban planning and matter-of-fact reporting.”

In 1964 a group of artists and architects – led by Austrian architect and designer Hans Hollein and including architectural theorist Günther Feuerstein, artist and architect Walter Pichler and artist Oswald Oberhuber – approached the ZV proposing a visual and editorial redesign. “Hollein, Pichler and the others proposed that they would take it over because they felt that it was just too boring,” says Desorgues. The ZV agreed and in 1965 the first issue of the new magazine was published.

“The magazine was originally called Der Bau and they stripped it down and called it just Bau,” says Desorgues. “They rethought the very principles of architecture and what that meant in the political and social context of that time.”

Under the editorship of Hollein, Bau gained a reputation for its experimental approach. It considered the role and implications of architecture beyond buildings, instead focusing on the realms of popular culture, art and politics. One issue for example explored the architectural potential of the spacesuit as a means of housing the body.

This multidisciplinary, experimental approach to editorial was also reflected in Bau’s visual identity. A large format, glossy magazine, Bau featured playful and brightly coloured graphic design throughout its pages. Whereas previous Der Bau covers had been dominated by buildings, the covers of the redesigned magazine were punctuated by striking graphic design, imagery and typography that were informed by architecture, urbanism and popular culture.

Everything is Architecture features 24 original magazines that are displayed within the ICA’s Fox Reading Room in a series of glass vitrines. “Obviously there is a paradox of showing magazines under vitrines,” admits Desorgues, “but there is something really great about showing the originals.” The magazines are grouped according to theme and the exhibition opens with a 1968 edition of the magazine that featured Hollein’s Everything is Architecture manifesto, the same manifesto that inspired the exhibition title.

Six further themes follow. One, dedicated to graphics, explores the magazine’s striking visual identity through imagery and typography. Another looks at the magazine’s international voice, with Bau often featuring contributions from international artists and architects. Another theme explores the magazine’s unique approach to advertising – often, according to Desorgues, using “lots of popular imagery, colours and being very ‘poppy’.”

The exhibition marks the first time that Bau magazine has been exhibited as a complete series in the UK. In light of the magazine's striking visuals, it was important for Desorgues that the exhibition showcased Bau's content as well as its graphic design. Key texts from the magazine, alongside every issue’s contents page, have therefore been translated into English for the exhibition.

The exhibition title, Everything is Architecture, is taken from a manifesto written by Hollein for a 1968 issue of Bau. In the manifesto Hollein, who won the Pritzker Prize in 1985, claimed that everything is architecture – in Hollein’s worldview a lipstick, a pill, a portrait of Che Guevara and an astronaut suit are all architectural.

“The manifesto was very much in tune with the ethos of the magazine – it was an extraordinary magazine in its approach and the way the editors asked artists to contribute,” says Desorgues. “They were architects very much going beyond bricks and mortar.”