Modern Swiss Architecture – Max Bill

Perhaps the most salient feature of being a teacher, researcher, and curator in graphic design history is dealing with images from Philip Meggs, «A History of Graphic Design» – the closest equivalent to a material embodiment of the discipline’s canon.

Over the years, I found myself looking for the artifacts that appeared on those pages, not so much to collect them as to assess their totality as design objects.

This week, I opened a package containing one of Max Bill’s Modern Swiss Architecture volumes. In Megg’s History, it’s only a tiny rectangle, identified as cover, commented in half a dozen lines total, counting the caption and the main text.

I already knew that the publication was not a book or a magazine but a folder containing loose sheets of paper, but nothing had prepared me for the tiny monogram on the back cover.

In a way, it’s so ‘unswiss’ but, at the same time, you can foresee Weingart’s interconnected letterforms, its decorative denial of white space. You can see Bill’s connection to Concrete Painting, and, from that, we get to Concrete Poetry and Semantic Poetry. These connections are made explicit in Robin Kinross’s wondrous essay ‘Unjustified Text and the Zero Hour,’ perhaps one of the best reflections on design and form. Bill’s cover also appears there as an example.

Many have complained about Megg’s being a formalist history of design that isolates design objects from their social, political, and professional contexts. However, perhaps Megg’s most overlooked omission is that its objects are also excised from their formal contexts, reduced to mere rectangles, and disconnected from their formal programs and methods.

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