The Most Beautiful Swiss Books competition was established to promote and reward top-quality book design in Switzerland. It was established at the behest of the famous typographer and designer Jan Tschichold in 1943. The competition is open to graphic designers, publishers and printers. An internationally staffed jury, currently chaired by Manuel Krebs, selects the most beautiful Swiss books each year.
The awarded books become part of an exhibition which travels to various cities around the world. When the books stop off in London this November, they will be exhibited at the ‘Thoughts on a Book’ event at Open School East.
The event this year will take a closer look into one of the awarded books: ‘Trix + Robert Haussmann’ edited by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen (Studiolo). Both the architects and the editors will give a talk about their collaboration, showcasing their process of working together.
Trix + Robert Haussmann may be counted among the most important Swiss architects of the twentieth century. Against the current backdrop in today’s Switzerland of a clear neo-modernist trend, it is fascinating to note how this architect couple were educated in, influenced, and eventually moved away from a particularly Swiss form of modernism. With the perspective of time, there is much to be newly discovered in their approach: the so-called ‘Lehrstücke’ (‘teaching items’) series, drawings, poems, fabric collections, or buildings they designed, such as the Boutique Weinberg and Shopville in Zurich’s main railway station. Trix + Robert Haussmann’s designs can be found in a diversity of forms and which today help to shape our daily lives.
The way in which the surprising design of the Da Capo Bar adapts itself to the original architecture of Zurich’s main station is emblematic of their practice. While the trompe-l’oeil murals in the interior of the bar imitate the historic façade, this imitation classicism is broken down through bizarre mirror elements, as illusory means are used to create a surreal setting. Such design elements deeply rooted in Mannerism dissented not only from modernist doctrine but also everything that had been done up until then in Swiss architecture. Far removed from the tenets of modernism regarding the transparency of architecture, their playful designs followed their own form of critical Mannerism which manifested itself both creatively and explicitly in 1980 as ‘Manierismo Critico’. In one of their nine model-like ‘Lehrstücke’, for example, an imitation ancient column with individual drawer segments represents ‘the disruption of the form by the function’.
Since the founding of their joint studio Allgemeine Entwurfsanstalt (General Design Institute) in 1967, they have critically and ironically questioned the rigid doctrines of architectural history. That same year, their first joint work was produced for the ‘Chair-Fun’ exhibition of the Swiss Werkbund. In its rejection of all functionality, their ‘Chair Quartet’ anticipated the critical-ironic tone of their later manifesto: in addition to the frame of an Eames armchair converted into a ‘Maso Chair’, three Thonet chairs woven into each other, and an apparently melting ‘Choco Chair’, the exhibition featured a shining anti-chair made of neon tubes which threatened to collapse under the slightest load. To this day, Trix + Robert Haussmann continue to work on their complex body of work, encompassing architecture, design, architectural theory and urban planning.
Biography by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen