Take a book for example. You don’t know that it’s a stack of paper sewn, glued or stapled together on one edge. Or that its pages (say 80–300 grams) can be Coated, Uncoated, Rough, Pure, Glossy, Bright, Mexican Tablecloth, Grey Cardboard or some combination of these in a single binding. Or that texts and images are printed in ink, such as blue, bright blue, cyan, or split fountain (but almost always black). Or that a text will look different depending on it’s font – bold, book, roman, light, monospace and so forth – available with or without serifs and from one or more font families called a typeface. The exercise is impossible.
Each issue of OASE, the peer-reviewed bi-annual dutch Journal for Architecture, is different. It examines a new theme, reflected in its title, and it “stands out by not resembling any of its peers, nor any previous issues”(148). For issue no.100, the editors attempt to discuss the formal complexity and graphic design of architecture journals through historical, self-reflexive and indirect analysis – in essay, interview, and catalogue form including every OASE colophon and cover designed by Karel Martens.
It opens with an academic foray into self-published “architects’ magazines”. The kind made by practising architects who, over the years, assumed the role of editor, designer and publisher. In the 19th century – this you easily don’t know – architects were some of the first artists privy to printing technology as they would have to carve directly their plans, details and diagrams onto steel plates themselves. The less-known nuances in publication design are here given light; imagine, before pagination, numbering was applied to columns of text. The magazine format became known as a conduit for new thought but this is also how they became popular – by distributing ideas sooner than considered books and official translations could go to print.
Martens, the long-time designer of OASE has, even longer, been teaching the discipline of graphic design. What he calls “a collaboration with the avant-garde” has resulted in a number of joint design credits, many of which can be read on the cover of OASE 100. They include his daughter Aagje and former studio assistant Roger Willems (Roma Publications). When establishing the Werkplaats Typographie, a graphic design masters programme in Arnhem, he brought in the journal as a practical client for him and one or two students each year. The typeface Jungka (used in this and three other issues) was also a collaboration, designed with former WT student Jungmyung Lee – herself co-founder of Helsinki Type Studio.
Looking at the front and inside flaps of OASE 100, covered in every colophon detail since issue 28 and itemized as index-like lists that are arranged by category, you can’t help but notice one thing. Those don’t go there. Almost as a reminder, the credits of the current issue are also near the back where designers typically put them. Through his work both as a designer and a teacher, Karel shares a kind of mindset with you. Sometimes, by way of an impossible exercise: “I often say, try to act as if you don’t know what a book is, like you’ve never seen a book cover before” (2010 interview with Harmen Liemburg).
There is one thing that the centennial issue of OASE overlooks in its title when emphasising the architecture of the journal – though for the reader examples are abound. And that is, both the practice of architecture and that of graphic design have something to learn from a practice that edits. Impossible as the act might seem, it’s something worth celebrating.