This book is a paradoxical project. With no fewer than 927 pages and 6,536 illustrations it is a gigantic thing, yet its monumental character is negated by the thin paper and soft cover. It is the report of a trip by landscape architects, architects, artists, photographers and critics through the United States, organized and paid for by the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture. In between the overwhelming numbers of snapshots a little searching reveals a number of pictorial and written essays designed to promote research into public space, the object of this triennial study trip.
For the panel, the design of this ‘phone book’ aroused both awe – if only for the offset printing on such shoddy recycled paper – and amazement coupled with hilarity. After all, what is here so exhaustively presented and encyclopedically recorded is no more than a collection of the momentary impressions of a tourist, even if that tourist is a professional who is intimately familiar with one of the books in the equally exhaustive bibliography put together for the occasion. Inherent in the form chosen by Irma Boom for this travel journal is a wink to the reader or spectator, but the book-cum-report is also a prestige item for the Foundation. Precisely what it is that she is presenting here is something that the designer leaves neatly unstated – with all the ambivalence that that entails.